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Best books on restaurants: Author Patricia Nicol recommends volumes with places of hospitality

Best books on restaurants: Author Patricia Nicol recommends volumes with places of hospitality

  • Patricia Nicol shared a selection of fascinating restaurant books
  • Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter follows a waitress under New York law
  • A struggling writer works in shifts in Lily King’s Writers & Lovers

God I missed restaurants. Not to the extent that I am in a hurry to eat out with Perspex partitions, masked maître ds and socially distant institutions. But maybe a café terrace? An ice cream with the kids in high summer weather?

After months of housekeeping in ways that most of my generation never had to make – from meal planning, picking out a weekly shop, cooking and storing crabs – the luxury of a meal prepared by someone else feels like a promise of normality.

For my mom, an experienced cook, the highlight of our family vacation in the 80’s to southern Spain was eating out most evenings. My first taste of many cuisines came through the restaurants of that resort: the melting of aubergine and mozzarella, the delicious schnitzel of a German bistro, calamari and shrimp à la plancha.

Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter (pictured) follows a waitress under New York law

A struggling writer works in shifts in Lily King's Writers & Lovers (photo)

A struggling writer works in shifts in Lily King's Writers & Lovers (photo)

Patricia Nicol shared a selection of fascinating restaurant books, including Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter (left photo) and Lily King’s Writers & Lovers (right photo)

Later I worked in restaurants. My first job, when I was 16, was as a ‘candy girl’ in an old-fashioned restaurant, making sundaes, buttering bread and handing out the sauce pots.

Each restaurant has its own hierarchy: an owner or manager, the chefs, waiters ranked by experience, and then the lower kitchen staff. No one who has ever seen a truly gifted waiter at work would ever consider the service to be unskilled labor. Casey, the struggling heroine of Lily King’s Writers & Lovers, knows this.

Her vocation is the novel she writes, but her work is working in double shifts at Harvard’s Iris restaurant alongside the formidably imperturbable Mary Hand.

Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter captures what an amazing, high-octane world can be. Her heroine, Tess, matures as a New Yorker, a waitress with the town’s rights holder and party too hard with her colleagues.

Lillian Li’s number one Chinese restaurant is a family affair. But will it continue like this when “Little Boss” Jimmy Han sells his late father’s pride and joy to the predatory uncle Pang? And where are the restaurant staff?

The catering industry has been hit hard by lockdown. If and when you decide to take the plunge to eat out, be sure to tip.

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