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  • Turning Tables
  • Written by Heather MacDowell
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780385338554
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Written by Heather MacDowellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Heather MacDowell

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On Sale: March 25, 2008
Pages: 350 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33757-7
Published by : The Dial Press Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Erin Edwards is an up-and-coming marketing exec who frequents New York’s hippest eateries—until the tables are turned. Now, newly unemployed, Erin only has days to transform herself into a first-class server at Roulette, one of Manhattan’s top restaurants. Can she make it in a world where survival is all about . . .

But life behind the apron is even worse than Erin imagined—within days she finds herself in hot water with Roulette’s egomaniacal celebrity chef and the owner’s outrageous wife. And then there’s the surly, dismissive clientele—all but Daniel Fratelli, the flirtatious TV news producer who may just be as nice as he seems. Determined not to crack under pressure, Erin sets out to master the art of waitressing—becoming part shrink, part slave, and part foie gras pusher. It seems like she’ll be hustling for that twenty percent for the rest of her life, until her quirky best friend comes up with the perfect recipe for success—or a second course of disaster.

In this smart, sexy, and wickedly observant novel, identical twins and onetime real-life waitresses Heather and Rose MacDowell bring a deliciously tart verisimilitude to this story of a young woman’s adventures at Manhattan’s most exclusive new haunt.

Excerpt

Chapter One


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.”

“He does?”

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.”

I trot to keep up as he leads me to the back of the dining room and down a slate-floored hallway. “So, what do you know about Roulette?” he says over his shoulder.

“Not much. Just what Harold told me.” He doesn’t need to know about the two anxious hours I spent digging up information I found on Google last night:

Roulette’s chef was first in his class at CIA, and cut his teeth at Le Bernardin under the late Gilbert Le Coze. . . . He combines French technique, a modernist edge, and an endless imagination, making New American food new again. . . . The wine cellar includes such treasures as a 1971 Pétrus Pomerol that orbited Earth on the Soyuz spacecraft. . . .

“We’re one of the top-five reservations in the city right now,” Cato says. “That means no slow nights and no empty tables. I hope you’re ready to work.”

With a tower of bills sitting on my coffee table? “Absolutely. As much as I can.” Anything to hang on to the rent-stabilized one bedroom I used to take for granted.

“That’s what I like to hear.”

He pushes open a pair of swinging doors and we step into the kitchen. “This,” he says, “is the center of our little universe.” I stop, momentarily stunned by acres of glittering white tile and stainless steel. The room throbs with the metal-on-metal clang of pots hitting burners, the drone of exhaust fans, and the loud voices of cooks. At least a dozen of them work at massive, steaming stoves; racks of well-scrubbed pans dangle from the ceiling.

“Guys, I want you to meet Erin,” Cato shouts.

They glance over and I give them a little wave that I instantly regret. “Hi.”

Cato starts reeling off names and positions, as if words like garde-manger and poissonier were actually in my vocabulary. I try to make up sayings in my head so I won’t forget anybody, but give up after “Lorenzo the sauce guy” and “hope-he’s-single Phil,” a grill cook with thick, bristly brown hair and blue eyes. Strange that I never thought of white double-breasted jackets as hot until this very moment.

“Carl won’t be here until the staff meeting at five,” Cato tells me.

“Carl. The chef?”

“Chef, commandant, demigod, take your pick. I prefer ‘food fascist,’ but what you call him is totally up to you.”

We start up a steep flight of stairs at the back of the kitchen. Each step is lined with slip-proof tape, and the walls are scuffed and splashed with what looks like dried coffee. “You haven’t met Steve, have you?” Cato asks.

“Not yet.”

“Then get ready. ’Cause you’re about to.” We turn at the top of the stairs and stop at a partially closed door marked “Office.” Cato knocks twice. “Steve?”

A muffled groan comes from inside. “Yup!”

I see a fleshy bare back, followed by a towel-covered rump, hairy legs, and brown loafers. Steve is lying on a massage table, his face pointed at the floor. The masseur, a muscular man in drawstring pants and Birkenstocks, looks irritated. “Can’t it wait? He’s finally starting to relax.”

“Just need to introduce Erin,” Cato says.

Steve raises his head and turns a slack cheek toward me. “Hi,” he says, straining to sound friendly. “I forgot you were coming today. Cato showing you around?”

“Yes,” I say. “Your restaurant is beautiful.”

“Better be. Cost enough to decorate. We have my wife to thank for that.” He slides over an inch and settles down heavily. “I’ll talk to you more in a bit. Right now, I need Alex to work last night’s party of twenty out of my shoulders.”

“Sure. That’s fine.”

Cato takes my elbow and guides me out of the office. “Sorry. I forgot Thursday was massage day.” He takes me to the end of the hall and ducks under a low doorway. “Well, here it is. The last frontier. I keep meaning to bring in some plants to liven up the place, but I’ve been so busy with acting classes and all.”

A row of metal lockers fills one wall of the cramped room, which is made even smaller by a slanted ceiling. Several chairs with blown-out seams sit around an old card table. A dented silver candlestick holds open the only window, letting in humid September air and traffic noise from Madison Avenue. The place reeks of sweat and cigarette smoke.

Cato opens a narrow closet and pulls out a slim black skirt and a white shirt with ruched sides. “Armani,” he says, handing them to me. “Ruin ’em and you’re out six hundred bucks.”

“Six hundred?”

“What’d you expect, J. Crew? I’ve only been here a year and I’m already on shirt number three.” He feels around the top shelf, then tosses me a package of black tights. “Here’s a starter pair. You’ll be putting them through heavy rotation, so you’d better stock up.”

“I will,” I say, planning to quit long before they wear out.

He takes a dark gray suit and lilac silk tie from a locker and drapes them over the back of a chair. “I’ll look the other way if you want,” he says, unzipping his jeans. “Otherwise just go ahead and strip. That’s what the rest of us do.”

We change in awkward silence. Uh-oh. I guess I am a size eight. When I turn around, Cato is no longer a would-be actor with a side job, but a polished, professional waiter. Even his crew cut seems stylish instead of funky. He punches in for both of us, then hesitates, frowning at my ballet flats. “You brought different shoes, I hope.”

I look down. “Why? I’m supposed to wear black ones, right?”

“Yeah, but you know how it is when service starts. Stuff falls all over, the kitchen floor gets slippery . . . If you’re not wearing rubber soles, you get airmailed.”

“I’ve never had a problem with them before, but . . . okay. I’ll wear different shoes tomorrow.”

“Good. See you downstairs.”

After he leaves, I stand in my uniform in front of the smeared full-length mirror. This is not how I pictured myself looking at twenty-eight. The glass is warped, making my small chin disappear and my hazel eyes seem farther apart. Even my hair is different—more red than light brown. Considering what I’m about to do, it seems fitting that I hardly recognize myself.

Maybe this is some kind of karma. My restaurant etiquette was never the best, even when I was earning a lot of money and eating out three nights a week. I made a habit of changing tables, leaving fifteen percent to the penny, and booking multiple reservations before choosing one at the last minute. Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, I felt a little superior to waiters, never dreaming that I’d end up becoming one. I was too smart for restaurant work, too confident that another marketing company would snap me up. I turned down three jobs because the salaries were low and the positions beneath me. That was more than two months ago.

What an idiot I was. It would have been humbling to work as an assistant again, but at least I’d be wearing my own clothes.

“You used to have such promise,” I mutter. “Look at you now.”

Fold corners to center line . . . turn over and rotate one-quarter turn . . .

After forty-five minutes of polishing silverware, scrubbing baseboards, and steaming wineglasses with a portable humidifier, I’m folding napkins into peaked shapes called bishop’s mitres. Despite Cato’s detailed lesson, I’ve produced some very unholy results. How could I have eaten out so many times and never noticed the napkins? Have they always been this complicated? If I can’t even fold napkins, how will I ever learn to wait tables?

. . . bring bottom edge up to top edge . . .

I slowly work through a mound of linen while the other waiters triple-check their sections. They squint at the tables from every possible angle, micro-adjusting spoons and sliding wineglasses a millimeter to the left. Ron stares at a red-and-white abstract painting, closes one eye, then taps on the upper corner. “There. That’s better.”

Six napkins down, dozens and dozens to go. “They were fighting earlier,” Jane says behind me. “Gina wants her mother to come live with them, but he won’t budge.”

Cato snickers. “Ten bucks she moves in by October.”

“Think they’ll end up getting divorced?”

“Gina wouldn’t dare offend the pope.”

“Knock it off,” Ron says. “Their personal life is none of our business.”

“I know. That’s why it’s so interesting,” Cato answers.

I hear a faint ring and glance up to see Derek pulling a cell phone from his trouser pocket. He snaps it open and ducks into the hallway. “Gimme a break,” he says. “Maybe if I get two more jobs and sell a kidney I’ll be able to afford commercial space in Manhattan. Try again.”

“That guy’s insane,” Jane says. She has blunt, eye-skimming bangs and skin that looks like it’s never seen the sun.

“He’s the only waiter I know who’s dumb enough to want to open a restaurant and stubborn enough to make it happen,” Cato says. He leans over my shoulder and surveys my progress. “Better pick it up or you’ll be folding napkins until you hit menopause. Here, pass me some of those.”

I push a pile of linen in his direction and shift from foot to foot. After only an hour on the job, my arches are throbbing. I start to lower myself into one of the velvet-cushioned chairs, but Cato reaches out and swoops me back up to a standing position. “Uh-uh. We don’t sit down when Gina’s here. Ever.”

“No leaning, either, unless you’re off the clock,” Ron adds, grabbing some napkins and heading for the lounge.

As we fold, Cato points out various employees and describes their functions and personalities. “Omar, head busboy, sends all his money back to Veracruz. . . . Kimberly, also known as Stepford Hostess. Answers to ‘Mario Testino at table two.’ . . . Alain, our French lady-killer bartender. He’s the fantasy of half the women on the East Side, single, married, or status unknown. . . . Chen and Luis, our food runners. Chen taught economics in China. Luis has the worst temper this side of the Pecos. . . . The guy with the little black glasses is Geoffrey, our sommelier. He has a genius IQ and can give you vintage statistics for the past hundred years. The cocktail waitress gets here at six. The lounge is her turf, so watch out or she’ll steal your chardonnay.”

“I could use help leveling tables in here,” Ron calls.

“Sorry, man, I’m trying to get a wicked stain out of the rug,” Derek says from under the front window.

Cato rolls his eyes. “This place would fall apart without me. Think you can finish the napkins on your own, Erin?”

I tell him what any waiter burdened with the new kid wants to hear: “I can handle it.”

“Great. Stick them in the cabinet under the wait station and meet us in the kitchen for the staff meeting in ten minutes. Whatever you do, don’t be late.”

“I won’t be.” But as soon as he’s out of sight, I start to wonder if I’ll be done by morning. The napkins seem to multiply as I fold them, and for every good one there are two that are lopsided or deformed. Bring the corners together, tuck one into the other . . . damn bishops. I glance at my watch. Approximately thirty napkins divided by seven minutes is . . . impossible. I’ll have to go faster.

One by one the waiters leave the dining room and walk toward the kitchen. I fold as if the place is on fire, and with only ninety seconds to spare I scoop the napkins into my arms and look around wildly for a mahogany hutch. It was near the kitchen, wasn’t it? I run into the hallway, pinning the hats with my chin. Maybe it’s behind that door. I stumble inside and find Steve, wearing a white terry-cloth robe and plastic sandals. He’s sitting in what appears to be a private dining room, a balloon glass of red wine and the Robb Report on the table in front of him. “What the hell are you doing?” he asks.

“Trying to find the wait station,” I say, horrified.

“You went right by it.” His voice is tinged with irritation. “It’s ten steps to your left.”

“Thanks. Sorry.”

“Close the door on your way out.”

I free one arm and shut the door too hard, nearly dropping my entire load. Racing back the way I came, I see Cato, Jane, and Ron striding into the kitchen with Derek on their heels. I locate the hutch, yank open the cabinet, and start madly piling in napkins. Maybe it’s the fact that half of them have collapsed, but they’re not stacking well. At all.

“Come on, come on,” I mutter, abandoning hope and stuffing them in pell-mell. I push the cabinet closed, get to my feet, and sprint toward the kitchen. As I round the corner I look back and see a crushed bishop’s mitre lying on its side in the middle of the hallway, where Steve is sure to find it. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.

I shove open the swinging doors and burst into the kitchen, arriving out of breath and—oh shit. Late.


From the Hardcover edition.
Heather MacDowell|Author Q&A

About Heather MacDowell

Heather MacDowell - Turning Tables

Photo © Jess Hasselbusch

Heather and Rose MacDowell are identical twins who have waited tables in some of the best (and worst) restaurants in Manhattan, Nantucket, and San Francisco. Today they live on opposite coasts and write by email and phone. They dine out frequently and are big tippers.

Author Q&A

On writing Turning Tables
Heather and Rose MacDowell

“What was it like, writing a book together?”

This is the second question people always ask — after “Are you identical?” — when we tell them that we recently finished a novel based on our experiences waiting tables. That we wrote it while living on opposite coasts sparks the next question: “Wow, did you ever argue?”

“Occasionally,” we answer (not in unison), preferring to keep the focus on the end result rather than its emotionally charged evolution. Do people really need to know about the two-week spans during which we hotly debated plausible appetizers and negotiated every comma? Will they enjoy the story more if we tell them that when one of us admitted that she actually liked sweetbreads, the other expressed an insensitive level of disgust?

Apparently, yes.

As identical twins, we’re used to being drilled about our similarities and differences, whether or not we ever dated the same man (once, in sixth grade), and if we’re able to sense when the other sister feels pain. But answering questions such as “How did you split up the work?” isn’t so easy. Should we tell a partial truth and say that we traded off the manuscript every thousand words? Or should we be really honest and answer, “My sister always took her sweet time, but she was so good at dialogue that I had to get over it?” Is “I love her, but by chapter seventeen I wanted to wring her neck” more information than people are bargaining for?

Clearly, when they look at us expectantly and ask, “Did you have fun?” they want to hear more than just a simultaneous “Yeah, it was a real ball,” though it often was. What they really want to know is, how do a couple of grown women who look, sound, and even gesture alike take one idea — and two very different personalities — and come up with something worth reading?

By holding hands and jumping in.

We hatched the plot for the book during a week-long visit filled with morning walks, good wine, and long, relaxed dinners. Though we both loved to write, neither of us had managed to publish– why not combine our efforts and see if, together, we could break out of obscurity? Deciding on our subject matter was simple. Between us, we had almost fifteen years of experience waiting tables (something we didn’t admit to just anyone), providing us with endless material for a fast-paced novel featuring a protagonist who was just as naïve about fine dining as we’d once been. This was our chance to take the memories of hellish kitchens and ugly uniforms and turn them into entertainment. We would exact literary revenge against the celebrity chefs who had humiliated us and the guests who had left twelve percent tips, and find success in the process.

It would be easy.

Back home in our respective states, we began the process of developing one voice and one vision. Since we could already finish each other’s spoken sentences, why not written ones? We sent the first pages of the book back and forth by email, discussing them via cell phone and revising until we were both satisfied, a process that often involved watching paragraphs of work deleted and pronounced “rambling,” “vague,” or just plain “wrong”. This wasn’t simply writing, it was writing by committee, and while each of us was acquainted with our inner critic, we now had to contend with an outer critic as well.

As the words flowed and the chapters stacked up, we started to notice glaring differences in our service experiences. There were no nice chefs, one sister would say, prompting the other to argue that a sous chef once took the waiters out on his boat and cooked them all lobsters. Soon, psychology entered the debate — after a bloody, underpaid apprenticeship in a high-end kitchen, was niceness even possible? Weren’t most successful chefs like great dictators, brilliant, charming, and a little evil? The surprising outcome of days of heated discussion was a character who was both likeable and frightening, an amalgamation of the chefs we’d known, and our first shared creation.

While we worked to shape our fictional restaurant, we found that no two four-hundred-dollar-a-night waiting jobs were the same:

“I always stashed a glass of wine in the planter. The assistant manager would refill it for me.”

“What? I ate a stale piece of baguette on my way through the kitchen and almost got fired.”

“I never made espresso. Only backwaiters and busboys did.”

“You’re kidding. I almost drowned in decaf cappuccinos that summer on Nantucket.”

But the real battle lines were drawn over food. We’d learned to love haute cuisine while working in restaurants, and now that our waitressing days were over, we frequently compared notes from dinners eaten in Europe, Napa Valley, and the Caribbean. When it came to deciding on dishes for the book, however, our tastes had never been so different:

“Hon-shimeji mushrooms with grilled barramundi? Who ever heard of such a thing?”

“Osso bucco isn’t classic, it’s common.”

“No halfway decent cook would serve an environmental disaster like Chilean sea bass.”

We waded into the topic of molecular gastronomy with equal parts fascination and fear. Could we bend our abilities far enough to make liquid carpaccio and flavored air sound credible and appetizing? As with much of the book, the topic involved research and a willingness to answer the phone at midnight and seven in the morning. With two of us on the job, there was little time off, but taking turns with scenes meant that we could get instant feedback on new directions and ideas. One sister never knew what the other would come up with (“I think we should fire Enrique!”), making the process humorous and nerve-wracking.

During revisions, we went over the book word by word on the phone, and were surprised to find that we’d mostly forgotten who was responsible for which line. One of us would hotly defend a bit of dialogue, only to stop and say, “Wait a minute — didn’t you write that?”

By the end of our final round of edits, we’d realized that writing together meant allowing the other room to write as an individual, and to tread lightly when it came time to critique. It also meant campaigning for what we believed was right for the book until a compromise slowly emerged from the fog. Would we love every sentence in the book? No. But we loved the finished product, and by the time we pushed the send button for the final time, we were closer sisters and better writers. And we agreed on one thing:

If given the chance, we’d write it all again.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

Turning Tables is tons of fun! Heather and Rose MacDowell’s twin voices blend seamlessly to create a delectable fusion of humor, heart, hope and keen observation—peppered liberally with some great waitress horror stories.” –Claire Cook, author of Life's a Beach and Must Love Dogs

"Turning Tables is like a top chef's tasting menu, offering one delight after another with plenty of delicious surprises along the way."—Claire LaZebnik, author of Knitting Under the Influence and Same as it Never Was

"Heather and Rose MacDowell's debut novel, Turning Tables, is a hilarious read which rings true. It's the perfect book for anyone who's ever been forced to take orders..." —Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey, authors of The Perfect Manhattan and Cocktail Therapy

“A spirited debut…. The setting sparkles.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This page-turner ... is tons of fun, especially for those who've done time in the service industry.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Turning Tables is full of factual insights for curious foodies.”—Sacramento Bee

“A hilarious read that rings true. It’s the perfect book for anyone who’s ever been forced to take orders.” —Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey, authors of Lipstick Therapy

“Entertaining . . . ought to be required reading for restaurant reviewers and lousy tippers.” —Boston Globe
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The delicious story of a down-and-out marketing executive who finds herself waiting tables at one of Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants, Turning Tables dishes up a smart, sexy take on food, fulfillment, and finding the right man. When Erin Edwards is downsized from the corporate world, her father uses his connections to get her a job at Roulette, a top restaurant where only the city’s very best cooks, sommeliers, and wait staff have a chance of getting hired. Entrusted with her new $600 Armani uniform, Erin does her best to bluff her way through a dizzying array of protocols. Between dodging the owner’s outrageous wife and finessing the art of selling haute cuisine, she hardly has time to look for love, until two very different men come looking for her. Blending saucy wit with the madcap workplace hijinks of The Devil Wears Prada, this is a rollicking ride from two real-life veterans of the restaurant world.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Heather and Rose MacDowell’s Turning Tables. We hope they will enrich your experience of this wickedly fun debut novel.

Discussion Guides

1. How has Turning Tables changed your perception of fine dining and celebrity chefs? Describe the most extravagant meal you’ve ever eaten. How did it compare to a night at Roulette?

2. What keeps Erin from quitting sooner? Is it just the money that motivates her to endure the job longer than so many other new hires have in the past? How long would you have lasted as an employee at Roulette?

3. How do the power structures at Roulette compare to those at most workplaces? How is status achieved in the restaurant’s kitchen, versus in the “front of the house?”

4. What is Rocket’s role in Erin’s life? What traits and life experiences do she and her dog share? In what ways do Fritz and Rocket play matchmaker, expressing what Erin and Daniel aren’t able to tell each other?

5. What was Erin hoping to get out of her semi-relationship with Phil? What were the plusses and minuses of sleeping with him? How did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel, especially after he proved to be a cranky restaurant customer?

6. Discuss the power of publicity captured in the scenes featuring Evelyn Harker. What does it take for anything–a restaurant, a clothing line, a vacation spot–to become trendy? When does the tipping point occur? How do critics such as Harker rise to the top of their game and develop the ability to decide the fate of a product, or a person?

7. Did Erin’s upbringing prepare her for Roulette? How did she feel about her family before and after their visit to Roulette? Did her father do the right thing by helping her snag such a lucrative waitressing job?

8. What did Cato teach you about the art of persuasion? How could his approach to waiting tables apply to other aspects of life that call for assertiveness and an in-depth understanding of the “audience?”

9. Discuss the food and wine described throughout the novel. Which selections sounded sublime? Which ingredients seemed outrageous? Does the hyper-competitive world of haute cuisine enhance or overwhelm America’s palate?

10. Were you surprised by the amount of money Erin and the other servers made in a night? Would their strategies for taking control of the ordering process seduce you into running up a bigger tab?

11. How would you characterize Daniel? What makes him a special guy? Why did he tolerate Sonia? What was at the heart of Erin’s anger after Daniel took her to the ill-fated party?

12. How do Erin’s college friend Rachel and restaurant friend Cato complement each other? What is the dynamic in each of those friendships? In what way are they different?

13. What motivates Erin to make such a bold move in the closing scenes? By the end of the novel, how has she changed? Would you have taken the job with Design Refined, stayed with Roulette, or opened your own business?

14. Between them, the authors have almost fifteen years of experience waiting tables. How do you think their background made writing the novel easier than it would have been for those less seasoned? How would it make it harder?

15. Describe the worst boss and the worst job you ever had. Is it true that a boss must be as demanding as Carl in order to earn respect? Is there any job you would not take, no matter how precarious your financial situation became?


  • Turning Tables by Heather MacDowell and Rose MacDowell
  • March 24, 2009
  • Fiction - Contemporary Women; Fiction
  • Bantam Discovery
  • $13.00
  • 9780385338554

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