Waiter to the Rich and Shameless: Confessions of a Five-Star Beverley Hills Server, by Paul Hartford

Paul Hartford was a musician feeling like he’d missed the trends and decided to make a change. He applies for a job to become a bartender in one of the most upscale restaurants in Beverly Hills and, to his great surprise, gets hired for the job. After five years he’s moved into the restaurant as a waiter. His total of ten years of service is the heart of this memoir in what he calls, for legal purposes, The Cricket Room, a thinly disguised Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

What follows is a mixed story dealing with celebrities, staff, and a corporate takeover. The restaurant, a place that sells a steak for $150 and bottles of wine can go for $7000 or more, draws from all over Hollywood. At the bar a vintage scotch or brandy can go for hundreds of dollars a glass. Hartford names names, with customer like Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, and Steve Tyler. Who tips well, who doesn’t, whose credit cards are declined and who’s cranky (Bruce Willis and Robert DeNiro). He also talks about unusual regulars, embarrassing Arab princesses, and strange parties.

Hartford also talks about partying away from work with his waiter role model, a Danish waiter who turns $1000 tips into cocaine-steeped orgies in LA and Las Vegas and drags Hartford along for company and to offer an alibi for his live-in girlfriend. He also tells about tensions between kitchen and wait staff in an atmosphere where customers expect top service and can go ballistic over an overdone steak.

It’s interesting that Hartford grows to be really dedicated in his work. He has a great affection for the people he serves and is determined to be the best at his job. It isn’t until a large corporation buys out the hotel that the job stops being fun. A tight-fisted group of executives cut down on waiting staff making it nearly impossible to do a good job, and are heartless enough to fire a long-time bartender just one week before his retirement.

It’s an interesting, gossipy, sexy book about trashy behavior by the rich and children of the rich along with charming memories of many he served. It’s also a photograph of one of Hollywood’s great restaurants and hotels before it became “modernized” by corporate goons who had no idea what they had purchased.