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Sweebitter Danler Cover.jpg
AuthorStephanie Danler
CountryUnited States
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
24 May 2016

Sweetbitter is a novel by American author Stephanie Danler, published by Alfred A. Knopf.[1][2][3] It is Danler's first published book. It was written by the author over a seven-year period, and, despite receiving glowing press before its release, received mixed reviews.

The book is based in part on Danler's experience as a waitress in New York City.

History and background[edit]

The novel was written while Danler was a waitress at Union Square Cafe and an MFA student at nearby university The New School. Later, while a waitress at Buvette, another restaurant in New York City, she met Peter Gethers, a publisher, and informed him that she had recently finished a book. After Gethers recommended the manuscript to a friend, Danler received a six-figure contract for two novels at Alfred A. Knopf.[4] Danler is one of a cohort of authors to receive large contracts in exchange for multi-book deals.[5] Others include Emma Cline and Imbolo Mbue.

Danler has stated that although she has much in common with Tess, the novel's protagonist, that Tess "quickly became a character, and is in many ways much better and much worse at life than I was at that age" and is not entirely based on her.[1][6] She has also stated that the novel's other two central characters, Jake and Simone, are entirely fictional. Danler has compared writing her first novel to her experiences in the restaurant world.[7]

Plot summary[edit]

Tess is 21 when she packs up her things in her car and moves from Ohio to New York City. Knowing nothing and no one she stumbles her way into a job at a semi-prestigious restaurant as a back waitress. The servers and staff are exceptionally tight-knit and take their jobs extremely seriously and Tess does as well. Tess is also drawn to Jake, one of the bartenders, and Simone, a senior server who takes Tess under her wing and begins to train her palate and teach her about wines so that she might one day be able to become a server.

Initially disliked by the staff they soon warm up to Tess and she joins them in their hedonistic lifestyle. Nevertheless she longs to be included in Simone and Jake's more exclusive circle and comes to learn that they are both from Connecticut, knew each other before the restaurant, and that Simone treats him like family. Tess aggressively pursues Jake but he refrains from sleeping with her which Tess comes to realize is because of Simone. When Simone walks in on Tess licking Jake after he cut himself Simone says she will speak to Jake and he finally begins sleeping with Tess.

Tess is initially happy to be involved with Jake and with Simone. Gradually her closeness to the two turns to bitterness after she discovers that they have matching tattoos neither one will talk about and that Simone raised Jake from the time he was eight. She also loses respect for Simone after realizing that at 37 she is chained to the restaurant. Hers is a specialty whose skills will transfer nowhere, and her beauty is quickly fading.

When the restaurant is closed by the health inspectors Tess goes upstairs to the general manager's office and accidentally discovers that Simone and Jake have planned a one month vacation to France for his birthday without telling her. She gets black out drunk and tries to confront Simone and Jake but they fail to respond to her. The next time she sees them she confronts Simone, mocking her for being irrelevant. She also tries to convince Jake that his relationship with Simone is unhealthy and asks him to quit for her but though he admits he is tempted he ultimately rejects her.

Feeling defeated Tess goes to speak to the general manager, Howard, to convince him to give her one of the prestigious server jobs even though she knows that Simone will try to block her promotion. Howard has sex with her in return for the promotion however it turns out to be a transfer to one of their sister restaurants which Tess refuses. She tells Simone that she instead will try to work at a wine shop and Simone encourages the move.


The exterior of Union Square Cafe

Several reviews noted the expectations that preceded the book's publication.[3][8] The novel was mostly well received, with some critics noting that the central characters (particularly Jake) were not fully fleshed out and the novel lacks overall substance.[9] However, others, such as Gabrielle Hamilton, writing for the New York Times praised the novel, saying the "faults of the book are few".

Vanity Fair referred to the novel as a "love letter" to Union Square Cafe.[10] It was No. 32 on USA Today's bestseller's list.[11]

TV series[edit]

In October 2017, Starz and Plan B Entertainment are developing a TV adaptation of the novel,[12] with Ella Purnell as Tess.[13] The series premiered on Starz on May 6, 2018 to mixed reviews.[14] In July 2018, in was announced that the series was renewed for a second season. [15]


  1. ^ a b Staff (29 May 2016). "'Sweetbitter' Is A Savory Saga Of Restaurant Life And Love". NPR. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  2. ^ Hamilton, Gabrielle (24 May 2016). "'Sweetbitter,' by Stephanie Danler". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b Fallon, Claire (27 May 2016). "The Bottom Line: 'Sweetbitter' By Stephanie Danler". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  4. ^ Alter, Alexandra (31 October 2014). "And Our Fiction Special Tonight Is ... Waitress Is One of Many New Writers With Big Book Deals". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  5. ^ Biedenharn, Isabella (2 May 2016). "Why publishers are betting big on debut novelists". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  6. ^ Lee, Jonathan (24 May 2016). "Is That All There Is?: An Interview with Stephanie Danler". The Paris Review. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  7. ^ Mechling, Lauren (11 May 2016). "Stephanie Danler on Why Book Publishing Is Like Waitressing". Vogue. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  8. ^ Dean, Michelle (8 June 2016). "Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler review – New York City's bright lights dazzle". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  9. ^ Katsev, Libbie (3 July 2016). "'Sweetbitter': A tasty tale of restaurant life, but less than filling". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  10. ^ Vitale, Julia (23 May 2016). "11 Questions for Sweetbitter Author Stephanie Danler, Union Square Cafe's Most Successful Alumnus". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  11. ^ https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2016/06/01/sweetbitter-stephanie-danler-union-square-cafe-book/85206404/
  12. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (7 October 2017). "'Sweetbitter' Half-Hour Drama Based On Book From Plan B Gets Starz Series Order". Deadline. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  13. ^ Petski, Denise (6 October 2017). "'Sweetbitter': Ella Purnell To Star In Starz Drama Series Based On Book". Deadline. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  14. ^ Pedersen, Erik (January 12, 2018). "Starz Sets Premiere Dates For Rookie Dramas 'Howards End', 'Vida' & Sweetbitter' – TCA". Deadline. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  15. ^ https://deadline.com/2018/07/sweetbitter-renewed-starz-second-season-1202426185/