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A note to waiters about single diners

  • s

I often dine alone and have noticed that the service I get is much, much worse than when I am half of a couple or part of a group.

My latest for instance (one of many): The other day I walked into an almost-empty restaurant and stood near the door. The waiter immediately saw me and turned on his heel, went back behind the bar, messed about, talked to the bus person, and after a few minutes yelled across the restaurant "You can sit at any two-top." It went downhill from there - his idea of asking for my order was to walk up and say "Well?" And then there was the 20 minute gap between me getting the bill and his taking the money...

I guess to him and the other waiters who treat single diners rudely, we are *just* one person.

But I make the restaurant-going decisions for my group. Everyone knows I am chowish and love to find excellent places, so my influence extends to my partner and all our friends. And I know for darn sure that none of us will be going back to that place for any of our gatherings or celebrations.

I know that smart restauranteurs already have this figured out. Treat everyone well, even the humblest solo diner who comes in with a book and sits in the corner.

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  1. I have to say that I almost never get worse service when I dine alone, and indeed, often get slightly better service (as if they want to take special care of me!).

    Don't know why. I suppose it could be related to the markets I dine in, or perhaps the types of restaurants I tend to choose. I will confess that, because hubby dislikes upscale restaurants, I tend to choose them when I am by myself (my thinking being: why shouldn't I get a treat even if he doesn't want one? and besides, it is cheaper than dragging him somewhere he doesn't want to go :-) ). In any case, some of these are the types of places where all seating is done by a host or hostess at all times, and where no server would see it as his role to yell across the room...

    However, I don't think that is the entire reason. for that matter, the service you describe is bad enough that I wonder if it was really related to the fact that you were alone? Perhaps you just went to the wrong place, period.

    1. I know people say that solo diners get lousy service, but I eat out alone a lot, and I can't remember a single incidence of getting lousy service because I was alone. Usually it's the opposite: the waiter will be extra friendly and make sure I'm having a good experience.

      What I do hate is when the person seating me says something along the lines of "just one?" "Table for one?" is a much better phrasing that doesn't make it sound as if there's something abnormal about eating alone.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I agree, I have my occasions of eating alone and I find that the service I get is no worse than service with a party of 100.

        I also agree that "Just one" does sound off and that eating alone should not be considered some pathological abnormality.

        1. re: Curtis

          I think any place that trains their staff correctly tells them NEVER to say "Just one?", it's very insulting. This is listed in the Waiting 101 manual.
          And they also should be training them to pay special attention to single diners, since they have no companions to distract them and will be noticing a lot more than usual.

          1. re: coll

            At this one high-end place, I had to say that the way they accomodated the single diner (myself) just blew me away and is something I'll remember for a long time. I made arrangements to be there later on in the night, and when I got there, they had magazines laid out at my table, which I thought was a very nice gesture.

            1. re: Curtis

              Why not share the name of the place?

              1. re: Curtis

                I'm impressed. I would also like to know the name and location of the place.

                1. re: waiter X

                  It's a restaurant in Toronto called Splendido. I wrote a review of the place recently in the Toronto, Canada Chowhound board, but I neglected to mention this one item.

                  1. re: Curtis

                    Thanks! I was hoping it was in San Francisco.

        2. I have to confess that I am a chicken about eating alone, and so usually choose upscale restaurants where I can eat at the bar. That way I can choose to read my book, or engage in conversation as I please. That said, being treated rudely is inexcusable.

          1. I guess it's the "Lonely Guy" syndrome. At least they didn't shine the spot light on you. But how do you know it's because you are dining single? Maybe they treat everyone the same.

            1. I eat solo regularly and have had only one bad experience. I was shopping on Fourth Street in Berkeley and stopped for lunch at Bette's Oceanview Diner. Because of a back injury, I cannot sit on backless stools and so opted to wait for a table. There are few small tables at Bette's but I was willing to wait. The duo ahead of me was seated at a small table and I knew I was next. I watched as a small table was cleaned. Imagine my surprise when a couple walked in and were immediately seated at that table! When I asked the hostess, she replied that since there were two of them, they had priority on the table for two! Needless to say, I've never been back. If a restaurant doesn't want to serve singles, tell us when we check in.

              1. Actually, I think you may have encountered "slow time syndrome". It sometimes happens in restaurants that are open all day, and is not okay.

                Were you, by any chance, dining around 2:30 to 5pm? Even the kitchen can be off kilter and distracted at this time. Often it's a result of staff getting ready to leave (stocking, sidework, etc.), or staff is standing around and not paying attention because it's slow.

                None of this excuses poor service, however. But it might not be a result of dining alone, as much as it's about over-familiarity or slack attitude of the staff. If you feel so inclined, you could call the manager and pass this info on. This info does get through to the staff.

                1. Two stories about dining single (one single with small child):

                  1. Prior to joining a group from my office attending a performance of the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, I, still attired in my business suit, stopped in for dinner at a small Italian restaurant in downtown Laguna Beach, CA, that was recommended by friends. It was early (sixish) and there were no other diners. The hostess became flustered when I indicated that I wanted to be seated at a table instead of going into the bar. Once seated, it took a very long time to get a menu and then for the waitstaff person to show up.

                  I ordered from the menu and also ordered a 1/2 carafe of house wine, figuring two glasses, since the service was already so tenous, that I wouldn't get out of there in time unless I compressed the order.

                  My meal; salad, entree and wine glass and carafe showed up all at the same time. The salad and entree was set down haphazardly on the table, and, while I was trying to organize the plates, the wine glass was set down and wine poured from the carafe into the glass.

                  During the pour, something plopped from the carafe into the glass. I looked at the server, the server looked back at me with no expression. Thereupon, I used a spoon to fish out a very large and swimming cockroach from my glass.

                  I sent the wine away, picked at my meal and asked for the check.

                  When it came, it showed a full charge for the wine.

                  2. When my daughter was little, I frequently took her out for quiet mother/daughter dinners in nice restaurants so we could have some one-on-one time and so she could learn how to behave. One evening, sixish, well before full dinner press, I took her to a restaurant that was famous at that time for its beef and seafood and wild game nights that attracted a lot of celebrities. My family had been going there for years, but I didn't know anyone on staff, I just thought that it would be comfortable for us.

                  When I arrived, the bar was full and busy, but the dining room was mostly empty. I asked for a table and the hostess almost, but not quite, rolled her eyes.

                  The middle-aged waitress grudgingly gave me a menu, slowly delivered our food and drink, and, when I pointed out that the rim of the wine glass and filled half carafe (yes, again!) was dusty, she picked up both with a flourish, tucked the glass under her armpit, wiped the rim of the carafe off with her apron and then proceeded to do the same with my wineglass, setting both of them back down on the table, stating, "Well, they're clean now!"

                  1. Waiters like the one you just described give wait staff a bad name. I've encountered some of them even when I'm not alone. They're just at the end of a shift and want to leave. He probably would have acted the same way if you had shown up with another person. Either way the guy acted like a jerk.

                    1. A friend of mine waited tables for awhile between engineering jobs a couple of years ago. He told me that waiters hated single diners for economic reasons: they made less money in tips on a single diner than a table of diners. Typically waiters are assigned a group of tables for which they are responsible, and allocating one of these tables to a single diner cuts their income. Additionally, it isn't like a single diner is 1/4 the work associated with a table of four. Providing waters, menus, taking orders, topping up coffees, asking if anything is lacking is pretty much the same level of effort for a group of four as it is for a single diner.

                      I have never waited, but I understand these motivations. Maybe most waiters buck up and put on a good face, but I bet they all feel the same way. Ask youself how you feel, if you are a lawyer for example, when the partner has you do a job for a client that you know is going to result in an effective billing rate of half your usual rate (for example, a fixed price piece of work, but a larger than ordinary task to complete). Translate this example to any other equivalent economic activity and ask yourself how you feel about it? How would a sales person feel about spending time selling to the one customer out of 10 where his commission is 1/4 the usual percentage or the sales amount can be counted to be 1/4 the usual sales amount?

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: Alsatian

                        However they feel about it economically, they shouldn't take it out on the diner. Sometimes one has to eat alone and ought not be visibly penalized for that.

                        1. re: Chorus Girl

                          I wasn't apologizing for the waiters, their troubles are no concern of mine, but rather describing. We live in a materialistic era. Many behaviors may be understood by asking how the economic interests of the actors are effected in any given circumstance. As to what waiters ought or ought not to do, I will leave that to others to prescribe.

                          1. re: Alsatian

                            If someone wants to chalk it up to economics, the way I see it, they can be happy about the economics of single diners or they can piss and moan and roll their eyes and end up with EMPTY tables all day.

                            If you treat me like crap when I'm alone, I sure as hell won't pick that place when I'm dining the next time with my friends and family.

                            1. re: MSPD
                              quiz wrangler

                              So true, as Snackish pointed out. Once I spent a few days alone in Paris and was highly appreciative of the good treatment I received there as a solo diner. Maybe the economics of the situation were at play there, too.

                              1. re: MSPD

                                My point exactly. I use my lunches when I am out and about by myself (my schedule is unpredictable and makes it hard to know when or where I will be for lunch to arrange to meet someone) to do reconnaissance for dinner outings with family and friends.

                                I am always polite and tip well - and if a waiter is really decent, I will easily tip as much as a party of two would leave.

                                1. re: snackish

                                  That's also been my practice for years.

                          2. re: Alsatian

                            Generally speaking, most restaurants seat waiters according to "head count." This means that if waiter #1 gets a party of 6 and waiter #2 gets a party of 2, then when the next party of 4 walks in, it goes to waiter #2. This keeps the "head count" relatively even. When I waited tables, I really liked waiting on singles. They are generally there to relax and are pretty easy going. Also, I have found that singles usually tip 20% plus.

                            1. re: Alsatian

                              You're making an awful lot of assumptions, there. A person who waited tables "between jobs" (what was it? 2 months? 3?) is not exactly a reliable resource for what waiters think. What Orla posted regarding hosts seating by total covers, or guests, is true. I have also found that solo diners are more polite, less demanding, and usually don't even stay as long, as well as being generous tippers. When I say less demanding, I mean in that trying-to-impress-a-date-or-friends way. Bring 'em on! I'll take the solo diners.

                            2. Is it possible that the service is just bad in general in that place and it had nothing to do with a single diner vs. 2 or more diners.

                              1. I dine alone all the time (some 120 days a year) since I travel a lot on work.

                                I've had all kinds of experience, goood and bad, and on the average my feeling is that single diners fare as well or badly as anyone else.

                                Link: http://lotsafood.blogspot.com