Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler has been turned into a television series, and it deals with some of the hard-partying aspects of the food and beverage industry. The books I'm about to recommend do more than just acknowledge a great deal of the darker side of restaurants, and things don't always turn out okay for their characters. Still, they are compelling rides, populated with characters you can care about.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce is the self-narrated story of a woman who works her way up to waitressing in a high-end steakhouse. Married and a mother too young, Marie engages in drugs and lots and lots of casual sex, partly to fit in and partly as a manifestation of her self-loathing. While the rest of her life is barely-contained chaos, Marie takes pride in her professionalism and talent for serving. Spare and bleak, this is a look at the underbelly of the restaurant business.
Annie Weatherwax's debut novel, All We Had, takes place against the backdrop of the housing boom and bust of the century's first decade. Mother and daughter Rita and Ruthie have fled Rita's latest boyfriend with his stuff and break down in a small Pennsylvania town, where Rita gets a job waiting tables. It's a bright spot for the two, meeting caring and quirky characters that take an interest in them. Unfortunately, Rita buys a house she can't afford, and is tempted back into exploitative relationships. A heartwrenching novel of hope with sharp dialog.
Stop Here is about a diner that holds together the lives of both patrons and staff. Written by Beverly Gogorsky, it deals a great amount with the human cost of war on both combatants and civilians, paid by almost every character in the novel. Other themes include how outward appearances can be deceiving and the fragility of the working class. This is an unflinching yet sympathetic look at real people dealing with change.
Ellie and Chloe tend bar at the Viceroy in the Ozarks in Erika Carter's Lucky You. Friends with Rachel from college, they try to turn their vices for alcohol and bad men into something better offered by Rachel's boyfriend and The Project, a vaguely New-Agey lifestyle off the grid. The boyfriend in question turns out to be just another faux revolutionary and of course the whole thing goes off the rails. Carter paints a vivid portrait of the angst and drama of one's 20's without being cruel or nasty about her characters.
Have more stories about the dark side of the food and beverage industry? Tell us in the comments.