Downsized from her boutique firm, Erin panics as she watches her career ambitions plunge into free fall. Why else would the savvy twenty-eight-year-old take a job as...a waitress? A favorable word from a family friend gets Erin in the door at Roulette, Madison Avenue's newest exclusive haunt and home to a celebrity chef with a talent for cutting-edge cuisine and spotting the weakest link.
Life behind the apron is even worse than she imagined-from mangling orders to overimbibing at a wine seminar, Erin finds herself in hot water with the egomaniacal chef and the owner's outrageous wife. And then there's the dismissive, surly clientele, all but Daniel Fratelli, a flirtatious TV news producer. Is Daniel really as down-to-earth as he seems? Or will he eventually succumb to one of the many glamorous uptown girls in his own social circle?
Determined to prove that she won't crack under pressure, Erin begins to master the art of waitressing-becoming part shrink, part slave, and part foie gras hustler. But her continuing series of disastrous missteps quickly sends her right back to the bottom of the food chain. Forced to prove her commitment by organizing the storage area and alphabetizing produce after hours, Erin wonders if she'll ever make it back to the real world. But with a little help from her quirky best friend, she comes up with an idea that might take her life in a whole new direction-and that's just the first course....
Starred Review. Penned by twins who've paid their dues in the restaurant biz, this whip-smart debut chronicles a brief slice of the life of Erin Edwards, a marketing manager who loses her job and cashes in family favors to snag a wait-staff position at Roulette, a top-flight New York City restaurant. Erin, devoid of waitressing experience, has a disastrous first day and comes under the scrutiny of Steve, the restaurant's grouchy owner, and chef Carl, who's as charming as he is terrifying. Luckily for Erin, seasoned waiter Cato Poole offers to mentor her. With Cato's help and friendship, Erin learns the ropes. Though Steve and Carl make it clear that they've got their eye on her, Erin manages to canoodle with a co-worker and a powerful television producer customer. This page-turner reads like recent restaurant-linked memoirs, with accounts of unrealistic expectations, slippery tactics, critic- and rival-driven anxieties and general kitchen mayhem. Chick lit standards like gossipy scenes with the best friend are mercifully short, and though the novel ends on a cheesy note, the rest of the ride is tons of fun, especially for those who've done time in the service industry. (Mar.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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The Dial Press
March 24, 2008
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Excerpt from Turning Tables by Heather MacDowell
I'm going to kill Harold.
While I'm at it, maybe I'll kill my father, too. They're the ones who got me into this mess. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be standing in a swank twenty-table dining room, wondering if the wineglasses are going to shatter.
"Whoever puts wilted flowers on a table is crazy! Should go to an asylum!"
My new boss, Gina, paces back and forth in stilettos and tight jeans, waving a limp white bloom. "How many languages I have to tell you in?" she shouts in a heavy Italian accent. "What did I do to deserve this?"
I stand frozen in a line of waiters, asking myself the same thing. What exactly did I do? Oh, that's right. Four months after being laid off, I let Harold, my father's golf buddy and one of the biggest liquor distributors in the state, talk me into taking a job at a "hot spot" called Roulette. "The owners are customers of mine, real sweethearts. And your dad tells me you can practically run a restaurant single-handedly."
Single-handedly? Did my father really think that I, a former marketing manager, could wait tables at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan? Did he honestly believe that a college summer serving chowder prepared me for this?
"Answer me!" Gina shrieks.
I jump. Somebody answer her. Please.
"The florist has really been slipping lately," says Cato, the waiter who's been assigned to train me. He has a spiky blond crew cut and wears a T-shirt that says Queen for a Day.
"I don't care! Is your job to choose what goes on the table!"
"It won't happen again, we promise," says Ron. His deeply lined face and humble manner say "waiter for life."
Gina tosses the flower onto the scrolled carpeting. "I can't run a business with promises. In my country, is different. A waiter spends his own money before he gives dead plants to a guest. I turn my back for one lousy minute and what happens? Everything goes to shit!"
I step closer to Cato, hoping to make myself invisible, but catch Gina's attention instead. "Ah," she says, leaning forward to get a look at me. She's older than I thought, probably in her early forties. "You must be the new girl. The one Harold sent us."
"Erin Edwards," I say, my voice shaking. "Nice to meet you."
She smiles and extends a skeletal hand. "Gina Runyan. You know Harold and Brenda a long time, I hear."
"Most of my life. I used to house-sit for them when I was younger." I don't mention that their cat ate Cheetos on my watch or that I hosted a three-day party for my senior class while Harold and his wife bicycled around County Clare.
"For other people we make two interviews and a background check, but Harold brought us Ramon, our best prep cook, and he says we'll be happy with you the same way."
Gina tilts her head and her waist-length dark hair swings out to one side. "What size you are?"
"Uh . . . six, usually."
"You look more like eight to me. We give you a nice uniform. I hope it fits."
Eight? "I'll try to squeeze into it."
"Is not easy being a woman, I know." Gina gestures to Cato. "This shirt you wear. You have a mirror at home? Purple is no good on you."
Cato's expression is calm and flat. "You're right. I look better in earth tones."
Everyone waits in silence while Gina moves from table to table, scrutinizing each centerpiece. Finally allowing myself to breathe, I glance around the dining room and take in my surroundings for the first time: cathedral ceiling, huge multi-colored chandelier, red velvet banquettes, walls covered in striped silver silk. It looks like three different designers ran wild and went way over budget.
"Mama!" Gina sets down the last crystal vase as a frail little boy runs into the dining room. He wears a navy blue school uniform and carries an overstuffed backpack.
"Nino!" she says, throwing out her arms. "How was your kindergarten today?"
He drops the backpack and flings himself against her narrow thighs. "Okay."
"Just okay? We pay a lot to get you in that school. You must like it." She turns his head with her hands. "Say hello to Erin. She starts working tonight."
"Hi," he says in a small voice.
"Hello there. How are you?"
He studies me with suspicious brown eyes. "Daddy says boys make more money than girls."
"Hush now!" Gina snaps. She gives me an apologetic smile. "He doesn't know what he says. Come on, Nino. You want a soda and some ice cream?" She takes his hand and pulls him toward a lounge filled with smoky glass tables and black leather club chairs.
"What, I don't get any ice cream?" Derek says when she's out of earshot. He has a wrestler's build and a deep, penetrating voice. One of his pant legs is rolled up, revealing a calf streaked with bicycle grease.
Jane, the only woman on the crew, grabs the wilted flower off the floor. "That's it. Feed the kid sugar so he's too wired to notice that Mom's psycho."
"Welcome to the family, Erin," Cato says. "Come on. Let's get you that uniform."