Service Included

Service-DamroschGotham Creative Writing teacher Phoebe Damrosch's memoir, Service Included Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter, about working on the wait staff at Per Se, one of New York’s most elegant restaurants, was recently published by HarperCollins Publishers. The book was chosen as one of the Notable Books of 2007 by the New York Times, and Entertainment Weekly said, “The food is tantalizing, but what keeps you at Damrosch’s table is the writing.”

If you’d like to sample a taste, here’s a delicious vignette:

The couple sitting on table eight seems to me the picture of the American family. He is a broker with a soft chin who commutes from Greenwich; she is a dumpling of a woman whom I can see hanging clothes on a line while a pie cools in the window. They opt, with my prodding, for the Chef’s Tasting Menu and settle into their meal with grateful ease. As we began to chat, I learn that they recently moved to the area with a new baby and that this is their first dinner out together since she was born. They are having a hard time adjusting to the pace of New York (even if filtered by the commute) after having lived in both Washington D.C and Denver. She misses the outdoors, calling herself more “liberal” than her suburban neighbors. The pace of Wall Street exhausts him.

All of my tables are seated within minutes of each other, which means that just as I have the food and wine order from one table, another arrives. For this reason, I only have a chance to stop by table eight a few times during their meal to top off their wine and spiel a dish or two.

By the time it comes to their dessert, my other tables are under way and I have some time to chat. The dessert today is the “Snickers Bar,” a deconstructed version of the classic, with a chocolate sacher cake, salted caramel, nougat ice cream, and peanut milk gelee. The gentleman takes one bite and closes his eyes in ecstasy.

“This is better than pot.” He says definitively to his wife, who nods in agreement.

There have been times when a seemingly conservative guest has surprised me with a quote from the movie Airplane, a Simpsons reference, or leftist politics, but this one leaves me gaping. The fine dining waiter in me suspects that I should just nod and smile and pour a little more water, but the child of hippie parents from Vermont prevails. I decide to venture gingerly into the topic. Isn’t it my job to make the guest feel comfortable?

“Do you indulge?” I ask politely.

"Two or three times a week,” he answers, beaming at his wife whose rosy cheeks dimple in response.

You just never know about people, I think. This is the suit I make fun of on Madison Avenue, with his Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm, filing in with the other suits to a Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse with their cigar-smoking bosses. But little do I know that he is probably just jonesing for a rib-eye after smoking a blunt before getting on Metro North. I am filled with newfound appreciation for this man and determined to make him feel comfortable having shared such intimate details.

“That’s great!” I assure him. “I don’t smoke much myself, but I feel like it’s always been part of my culture. I grew up with my mother growing it beside the driveway, many of my friends are regular smokers…”

As I say this, I notice his face clouding in confusion. He looks over at his wife and then back at me and, for a moment, I think he is just surprised to have found a kindred spirit.

“I said pie.”
Copyright 2007© by Phoebe Damrosch.  Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.  All rights reserved.

To learn more about Phoebe and her book, visit:  To purchase this book, visit