Waiter Confidential: To Die For

For years, a restaurateur named Luigi Lamentini performed in the Italian dining theater - lucky for us, right here in Phoenix, where he operated several restaurants. A Florentine by birth with a thick, nasal accent, he'd take flight on fluid rants in his native tongue; singing a sad song about his love-hate relationship with the business while hitting the high notes in English expletives for which he knew, apparently, no romance language equivalents.

"Ah, so nice you come in," his first act might open for guests he'd greet personably at the front door.

"Pazzo cocksucker!" he'd change his tune toward some of the same with his next line, from the safe distance of his kitchen. "Last week, this ass-a-hole no call to cancel his reservation. He no show. Cost me a fucking turn!"

As entertaining an everyday articulator as he was, Lamentini proved himself a proprietary virtuoso the night an elderly regular turned his dinner at Luigi's into a last supper scene, serenely giving up the ghost while still sitting at his table, just moments after polishing-off a pork chop. (I witnessed the whole thing, as I was working for Luigi at the time, around 2000, at a now-defunct Scottsdale location.)

Even with a customer-turned-cadaver threatening to steal the show, Lamentini held center stage.

Somehow, he persuaded attending friends and family of the newly-deceased not to draw undue attention to the still-propped-up-at-his-place-setting departed while they waited for paramedics to arrive. Moreover, he managed to assure virtually everyone else in the place that, while there was a guest among them in need of medical attention, their was no cause for alarm, going so far as to point out that the person in question was showing absolutely no signs of physical distress.

By the time the poor fellow's condition was properly diagnosed by trained professionals, Luigi's dinner crowd had been filed out quite calmly, and seemingly oblivious to the dead-honest truth about what had transpired while they had eaten, drank, and made merry.

Some of the details had escaped me, too, that night. But the next day, there was at least one thing I needed to know. I asked Luigi what in the world he said to that grieving group that resulted in their sitting there so silently, even as they were suddenly confronted by such personal loss in so public a place.

"The man was ninety-something years old," Lamentini asked me, too, to consider. "I showed them the bone on his empty plate and I say, 'Look, like always, he finish the whole thing. He died full and happy. What else can you do?'"

Anonymous has seen it all in 25 years of waiting tables and tending bar at some of the Valley's most beloved restaurants.

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