After college, Tess lives her dream of relocating to NYC. She lands a job as a backwaiter at an exclusive, well established restaurant. Simone, the queen bee server takes Tess under her wing, tutoring her in the ways of wine and fine dining. The relationships among the staff that develop over the year of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter are complex and codependent; they form a cohesive, wildly dysfunctional family of protectors and frenemies. Closing time finds them enjoying their drink allotments, cocaine, and other various “treats.” Bed at dawn is de rigueur. Tess finds herself falling for the enigmatic bartender, Jake, as the reader mentally warns her not to walk into that dark room. There are many tender moments in Tess’ coming of age year. I will miss this crowd and their daily joys, mishaps, and heartbreaks. Danler vividly captures the culture of this particular restaurant as only a restaurant insider can.
The inside view reminds me of Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan’s beautiful testament to the staff who work the last day before a chain restaurant closes its doors for good.
For a more humorous view of life on the serving side of the table, read Darron Cardosa’s, The Bitchy Waiter: Tales, Tips & Trials from a Life in Food Service.”