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Solo Diners of the World Unite


Suzi Edwards
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So, I'm on business in Chicago at the moment. I'm eating out a lot. Usually by myself. Sometimes at the weekends, as London isn't exactly commutable. Here are my pointers to any restauranteurs who may wonder how to treat a solo diner.

1. If your restaurant has a great view and there is only one table in the whole place where you cannot see that view, you might not want to sit a solo diner there.

2. Equally, if there is a large mirror in your restaurant, don't sit the solo diner so they effectivily face themselves.

3. Solo diners do not necessarily need to be comped a glass of wine. Especially if it appears that you have chosen the cheapest glass on the list to go with the $40 entree. That's not generous, it's disingenuous and cheap.

4. A degustation menu for a minimum of two diners is a very, very bad thing.

5. I'm not eating by myself because I don't have any friends. So please don't look me up and down like that when I walk in on a friday night for a table for one.

6. Half portions are a good thing. If you're a destination restaurant and your word of mouth is good, it's likely that a serious diner will want to eat with you. If they're a really serious diner they'll be missing the opportunity to taste the food of the person opposite them. Let them build a menu of half portions.

7. It's also likely they're on some sort of expenses deal so they do have some cash to spend. If you treat them well they'll also come back, time and time again because your competitors treat them so bad. They may even bring a friend or two.

8. Maybe your noisiest table of six is not the best place to seat someone by themselves. Just a thought.

9. Nor is the table by the toilet/door/kitchen. But then, no-one deserves to sit there. It's just when the restaurant is half empty you have seating options...it's highly unlikely that a solo diner will scare couples off. I'm not a harpie, I'm on business.

Glad I got that off my chest. Am feeling *much* less grumpy now.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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You can say all of that again! I remember walking into the dining room of the Peachtree Plaza one night on a business trip. There were only 2 people in the whole restaurant - including me - and they gave me the table by the swinging kitchen door (they did move me when I asked to be moved - but there shouldn't have been a need for that).

I'll tell you the absolute worst eating alone story though. My husband and I used to be regulars at a now-defunct Miami restaurant owned by the people who own Le Bernardin in New York. We had a regular table (a small but well situated 2 top) - and a regular waiter. My husband got very sick and was hospitalized for a fair amount of time. One night I was so tired from work and going to the hospital - and felt so miserable and alone - I went to "our restaurant". Our regular table was empty - but when the maitre d' went to seat me there - the owner objected - and I was directed to a miserable little table sandwiched between the bar and a wall in the "waiting area" of the restaurant - not the dining room - right next to the kitchen door. I walked out of the restaurant in tears - and never returned. And I never went - nor will I ever go - to Le Bernardin or any other restaurant these people have any interest in. Robyn

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Please, please keep saying it. Maybe things will change eventually. It is not the least bit uncommon for female business travellers to eat out alone anymore, yet we are so often treated poorly. I used to travel quite a bit for business, and had a very comfortable expense account. I quite often went to a recommended restaurant when travelling on my own to decide if it were somewhere I would want to take clients or colleagues. I NEVER returned to any of the ones where I was treated as a second class customer because I was alone. It was suggested to me by more than one maitre d' that perhaps I would be "more comfortable" eating in/at the bar! Yeah, okay, who would be more comfortable? :blink:

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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I ate alone quite a bit in Boston when I first moved there and hadn't met anyone yet. I remember always getting nice tables. I do remember some b*tches at a nearby table making comments about how pathetic it was for single people to eat alone in restaurants, and then, after I'd ordered a half bottle of champagne for myself to celebrate my move, I heard one of them mutter to the other "I think that champagne thing is a little bit MUCH..." Boston...a city of warmth! Phhht! :rolleyes:

Edited by Pickles (log)
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In fairness - I think guys suffer too. My husband and I have an old friend in LA - single. When we visit and eat with him - he basically is known at every high class sushi bar in the city. My theory is that sushi bars were the only place he - as a single person - ever felt comfortable dining at. His loss was our gain - because my husband and I learned more about sushi from him and the chefs he knows than we ever could have possibly learned on our own. Still - it is a little hard to get him to go out to eat someplace other than a sushi bar..... Robyn

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I have always instructed host/hostesses to seat single diners at "good" tables. Except for the upper echelons of uber fine dining restaurants, every establishment has some bad tables.

A couple, on a busy night, seated at one of these "bad" tables can at least minimize its effect through conversation. A single diner does not have that luxury.

Unfortunately, restaurants do look at single diners as a nuisance. The check average for a deuce is generally higher thatn that of a four-top, and a single diner, usually, has the lowest check average of all (due to bottled wine sales).

But you never know who is coming into your restaurant, why they are there, and why they are there alone. Most restauranteurs feel it is in their best interest to give the "bad" tables to singles, but I feel it is counter productive.

However, when you're dining alone, you are far more acutely aware of your surroundings than when you are dining with another. Restaurants can be very crowded, loud, hectic places. A table that is perfectlty acceptable to most deuces and four-tops can be perceived as less than desirable to a single patron.

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My husband and I have an old friend in LA - single. When we visit and eat with him - he basically is known at every high class sushi bar in the city. My theory is that sushi bars were the only place he - as a single person - ever felt comfortable dining at.

Robyn's story about her friend reminds me of a time when I had to make a sudden and very unpleasant business trip to London, travelling with two non-foodie companions. Walking to a meeting, I realized that my hotel was a few blocks from the London Nobu. I'd never been to the NYC flagship, and spent the day wondering whether I should take the plunge.

Later that night, when all the meetings were over, I walked alone over to Nobu, sat at the sushi bar, and treated myself to a long, amazing ten-course meal that was extraordinary in every way (including the tab, which I gladly paid). The wait staff and especially the chefs seemed to be aware that I was very eager to discuss the food, and went out of their way to chat and make me feel at home, even while the restaurant busily practically undulated around me, tables filled to bursting all night with the super-chic and the super-rich.

The next night, I had a pretty nice meal at Tamarind, but could barely keep my water glass full, so isolated by the staff was I.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I agree with everything tarka said except this:

6. Half portions are a good thing. If you're a destination restaurant and your word of mouth is good, it's likely that a serious diner will want to eat with you. If they're a really serious diner they'll be missing the opportunity to taste the food of the person opposite them. Let them build a menu of half portions.

In a perfect world, this would be great. In the real world, with a table already occupied by a single diner (who should absolutely be treated with utmost respect and should in no way be "sanctioned" for dining alone), a "half-portion" menu could become a nightmare of food cost vs. return. One restaurant i worked at had sides alacarte for one or two ("single" or "shared"), and that's cool, but...expensive main entree items? Nah.

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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I used to travel alone on business a lot, and it took me years to get up the courage to actually go to good restaurants on my own, rather than eating horrible room-service food. I made my debut at the Park Avenue Cafe, in Chicago, and they treated me so beautifully that they set the standard by which all others get judged. I remember specifically that when I made the reservation, they asked whether I would like a table with good light for reading (yes please), and offered to do single versions of some of the menu items that were listed as being only for two. Class act.

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I've probably mentioned this somewhere before, but it bears repeating in this thread: Restaurants that serve me delicious food and treat me well as a single diner get selected by me for visits with friends and for banquets, and get repeatedly recommended by me to others, setting off a chain of word of mouth that helps these establishments. I can understand why a busy restaurant might seat me at the bar and, in fairly extreme cases, even refuse to give me a table. And I don't object to being seated at a not-very-desirable table if the restaurant is jammed. Note two things, though: (1) I'm a man and, thus, less likely to be unpleasantly hit upon at the bar; (2) I'm talking about very busy restaurants. If they have plenty of tables and won't give me one, as far as I'm concerned, they can go to Hell, and I'll do my best to help them get there faster by letting everyone know what happened.

I haven't been to super-high-end restaurants by myself, however.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Wow. I've travelled much, dining out alone quite often. I'd have to say that 98% of the time, all was fantastic. When I travelled for business to Seattle, Phoenix, Ft. Laud/Miami area, Orlando, Atlanta, Detroit or Minneapolis all was great.

Being an only child, I never find dining out alone daunting. I'm hungry, know what I want, order precisely and tip well. In fact, I've made friends with the servers I encountered on those travels and even met up with them when they had time off at another great restaurant (this happened most often in Seattle).

I think the worst was when I drove I-90 West to find my way to the Blue Canoe. I was in Butte, Montana dining at the hotel's restaurant. I was exhausted, had discovered the radial something or another arm/front end alignment that I had repaired before this monster road trip moving to Alaska was all in good order only to have some serious maneuverabilty issues suddenly occur when I arrived at my hotel. I decided not to venture around the city and see what kind of eats this hotel had. When I requested a wine list I was promptly and rudely informed there was only "house" wines. I said that would be fine, but if they had a house Zin. I was then told they only had a house Chablis, Rose, Cabernet and Chardonnay and not a White Zin. I informed the server I wasn't interested in White Zin, but Zinfandel. The resulting meal ended up with most of it being incorrect. The next day, I drove farther west through Sturgis realising I really ought to have driven that extra few hundred miles.... But I was heading west onto the next Firestone, after a few lengthy cellphone conversations with the mechanic at the Cleveland Firestone, to Missoula, a lovely college town I really enjoyed for the few hours I was there. They were very charming and polite, made the correct repairs under warranty, free of charge and asked about how I liked Butte. I told them about my restaurant experience and they snickered telling me that most find the women in Butte snotty and unhelpful to out of towners. :blink:

On that same trip, two days later, I dined at the Salish Lodge in beautiful Snoqualmie Falls, Washington, solo. They were positively wonderful.

Dining alone? I never have any qualms about it. Perhaps being in the biz I filter out all of the petty crap that can be dished out? The last two dining alone memories were those of treating myself -- once at the sole "fine" dining establishment in Sitka on a Saturday evening after I worked a particularlly hellish week. My roomie had a date, so I decided by myself was just the ticket. It was fishing season so many of my friends were working on their boats located in some hard to pronounce bays or straights hoping to catch much salmon. Ended up one of them was stuck on shore because of some doctor appointments and she later joined me for drinks after my dinner was finished. We ended up having a fantastic evening of general mischief and debauchery launched against the non-commercial fishermen of Alaska....

Dining out alone is a different experience. Enjoy it and don't get caught up in any sort of stigma. :smile: Think of it as an adventure.

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don't really have anything new to add so thanks for highlighting this issue.

When away on hols or business and faced with dining alone, I always find lunch much less intimidating than dinner. and having a book or newspaper is always a bit of security blanket for me.

Maybe i should take more heed of what's being said here and be more bold - after all I am offering them my stomach and wallet - and that's a pretty good deal for them! :wink:

Yin

X

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Ten years ago, when I was a waitress in what was considered the "high end" restaurant in a town of 35,000 in Wisconsin, the owner made sure to tell us that we should seat single diners in good seats and never make them to feel like second-class guests. He demonstrated what we shouldn't do, things like seating them in a corner facing a wall, or seating them in the booth that faces a mirror. Whenever we had a single diner, he would rush over to the person after he/she was seated and offer a fresh copy of the newspaper. He'd often stand there and chat with the person for a long time.

I eat out by myself all the time. I do take a book--never go to a place so expensive that I'd feel weird doing so--and I always tip a little extra because I know my table wasn't much of a money-maker for the waitress.

Edited by RSincere (log)
Rachel Sincere
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I eat out by myself all the time. I do take a book...and I always tip a little extra because I know my table wasn't much of a money-maker for the waitress.

I think it's important for single diners to tip generously when the service is satisfactory, knowing you've monopolized a table for two and probably haven't drunk as much as you would have in company. Consideration works two ways.

On the other hand, service that discriminates against a solo diner warrants a letter, preferably on business stationary if you're travelling on business. Restaurant owners should know the consequences of their policies and the future business they will miss.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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I've eaten out by myself all over the place, high end and low, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and almost never have I felt that I was treated less pleasantly as a single diner than I would have been had I been in the company of others.

Paris stands out, though, as the most welcoming city, I imagine because there's no perceived onus at all to dining solo. If anything, I seemed to get better taken care of when I was alone there. But even in England, where I was sometimes ushered to out-of-the-way tables, I generally felt it was out of solicitousness for my assumed discomfort at being alone. When I asked for a different table, front and center, I was always instantly and smilingly seated there.

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.

--George Bernard Shaw

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One funny side note: when I'm dining alone, I tend to get far better service if I take notes about the meal. I do this so I can remember what I've eaten, not to pretend like I'm some sort of critic. However, the improvement in service is startling.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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(1) I'm a man and, thus, less likely to be unpleasantly hit upon at the bar

When my husband is away on business, I like (especially during baseball season) eating solo at the bar if the bar has a television. Even if there is no TV, sometimes the bar is most convenient (hubby and I dine at the bar a lot at various restaurants). Restaurants where the bartenders have made a point of making me feel comfortable as a woman alone and have helped chase away unwanted advances are places at which we have become regulars. It is a great thing to feel comfortable and un-hit-upon as a woman at a bar while enjoying a nice meal.

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Paris stands out, though, as the most welcoming city, I imagine because there's no perceived onus at all to dining solo. If anything, I seemed to get better taken care of when I was alone there.

i think it's because they think you might be from michelin.

trio in chicago was the first time i ever ate alone and i was sooooooooooooooooooo scared. petrified in fact. i took three books with me. and my laptop. the laptop was a shield really, it was supposed to signify that i was a business person.

i've since found out that one of the waiters told everyone that their job was to make sure i didn't read any of my book. i had the best dining experience of my life.

btw, i know my demand for half portions would be a nightmare for the food costs. but i fgiure i ask for that people might come up with something else that works for them...like maybe a tasting plate of desserts. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Ditto to all of the above. I have been traveling alone on business for over 25 years and have had some amazing experiences. I also like to travel alone on holiday from time to time.

Many years ago, I was actually refused service at a New Orleans restaurant. I forget the name of it and they are long ago gone. (surprise, surprise)

In Hawaii one time, I was eating in the bar and this guy next to me got to chatting about the live perfromer who sounded like Johnny Mathis. It turns out that he was a tsunami expert from Japan. Fascinating.

In Cancun, I decided on dinner at the top restaurant at the hotel. (There wasn't a lot of choice there at the time.) I was seated at a table near the piano where this very distinguished gentleman was playing. At his break he stopped by my table for a chat. I invited him to sit down. Turns out, he was a retired engineer and he and his wife decided to move to Cancun for the hell of it. He liked playing the piano so that was why he was there. He ended up calling his wife and we dined together the next night. She was an anthropologist and had some fascinating information regarding pre-Columbian contact with the peoples of the Pacific.

I always have a book with me and I try to carry one that "everybody" is reading so that it might provoke some conversation. Remember that book some time ago Management Styles of Atilla the Hun or something like that? Worked just about every time. The Harry Potter books work pretty well in this day and age.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Hmmm, when I am with a group of people I am generally feeling very social, and enjoy it when the staff engages in conversation with us. When I am dining solo, however, I am generally not in a very social mood, and actually prefer to be seated somewhere out of the way where I don't have to look at much of anything, and to have the waitstaff perform their duties with my table just as they would any other table, and not feel as if they need to entertain me because of my solo diner status.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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I nearly put that in NulloMondo. So my list is completed by

10. Waiters. Read my body language. If I am totally engrossed in "Lighthousekeeping" by Jeanette Winterson and keep scribbling in the margins, it's likely I don't want to chat about why I am in Chicago. Equally, if every time you come over I ask you a question...maybe I want to chat. What I really mean is, you know when a deuce comes in that if they're holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes it's likely you won't get much out of them in terms of conversation. So you adjust your service according. If they ask you what your favourite thing on the menu is though....

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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Thanks for bringing this up, Tarka.

I frequently dine alone at lunch and I'm occasionally treated poorly (on the first trip at least--if you tip well anyway and treat everyone with the utmost respect, they will remember you and give you stellar service on return trips).

I know that restaurants need to turn tables and are concerned with revenues, but would they rather have a solo diner who arrives at opening when the restaurant is not busy, orders an expensive appetizer, an entree on the upper end, and possibly dessert, tipping at least 50% due to the fact they are occupying the table solo OR two diners who arrive without a reservation when the restaurant is filling up, order the cheapest sandwiches on the menu, and talk and talk and talk and talk, leaving a 10% tip on what was already a small tab???

Are there lots of solo diners who are worthless tippers and therefore all of us are stereotyped? I would think a solo diner would be preferred since they do not get lost in conversations with tablemates, don't have to wait for other people to peruse the menu and make up their minds, don't have to split the check and make sure everyone is chipping in enough on the tip, and don't occupy the table as long as larger groups.

“When I was dating and the wine list was presented to my male companion, I tried to ignore this unfortunate faux pas. But this practice still goes on…Closing note to all servers and sommeliers: please include women in wine selection. Okay?”--Alpana Singh, M.S.-"Alpana Pours"

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