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Eating At The Bar

  • m

What's the fascination with this? It seems that most of the "solo dining" inquiries around here look for places where a "good, quick meal at the bar" is available. When I go out to eat, even alone, I like the time to myself, and don't mind asking for a different table when the host leads me to the one by the kitchen door.

I don't drink (in restaurants, anyway - costs too much) so maybe that's the part about the bar that I'm missing, but when I say "one" and the host or hostess asks if I want to sit at the bar, I always decline. What am I missing? When I was a kid, I used to like eating at the lunch counter, but that's about as close as I ever got to enjoying eating at the bar.

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  1. I think it's partially because when you are dining solo you often get more cordial interaction with a bartender and sometimes more attentive service. I prefer to eat at the bar, especially when eating alone.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jpschust

      Ditto. Additionally it's a more conducive setting to interacting with other patrons at the bar, if you're s inclined. I particularly enjoy it on travel. A great way to glean local color. Though it's not just for solo dining. My husband and I often prefer to dine at the bar.

      1. re: Meg

        On the rare occasions I am dining alone, which is usually when I am away on business, I prefer to dine at the bar. You get the interaction with the bartender as well as other folks who might be doing the same as you. Plus, th e bartenders never give me crap for wanting to hold on to the wine menu all evening as I pick the next glass I want to try.

        The last place I dined at the bar was at a place called CinCin in Vancouver. Good food, good wine, good service. I was happy.


    2. I'm with you -- I prefer sitting at a table even when I am alone. But I understand those that prefer siting at the bar and the interaction with other patrons and the bartender.

      1. When dining solo, I do not like to sit at 'the bar', near a service area, or near the kitchen, where I am usually offered a table. When asked if I would like to sit at 'the bar' I reply that if I did, I would go to a bar. I'm sure the host(ess) is only being considerate. But, I prefer to sit in a main dining area. My check would be the same as others.

        1. Dh and I often eat at the bar, if either of us is alone or it's just the two of us. We like chatting with the bartender, the service tends to be better, and Dh likes the tv and I like talking to other patrons. We had dinner at the bar at PF Changs (gasp!) last night.

          1. Well,if quickness is a factor, it may be more likely to found at the bar, where a drink and an app is just as acceptable as a full meal.

            On several occasions I have been very happy to have been a single diner and snag that last seat at the bar in a packed restaurant - if I'd had a date there would've been a long wait for two bar seats or a table. I'll book a table if I'm planning ahead or take a table if there is one, but if I'm just out trying my luck, especially on a weekend, I'll hope to squeeze in at the bar. I

            1. We almost always sit at the bar. The only exception is when dining with a group of four or larger, or if the outing is intended to be romantic. Service at the bar is always more attentive and faster. My water is always full (and I go through many glasses at a meal). And the bartender always makes great recommendations for food and drinks. A good bartender will know when to be social and when not, and often the other solo diners or couples make for good conversation.

              1. If given the choice my BF and I will almost always choose to sit at the bar - we like sitting shoulder to shoulder! It also makes sharing dishes (which we often do) much easier.

                When traveling and/or dining alone I also prefer the bar for the reasons already stated - TV, conversation with the bartender or other patrons, etc.

                1. The reason I sit at the bar to eat when dining alone is the service, when sitting at a table drinks tend to get empty, while at the bar it is the bartenders job to keep the liquor flowing. Also there is typically a few tv's in the bar area to watch a sporting event on, a great diversion when eating alone.

                  My wife and I used to eat at the bar before the baby arrived because many times there was no wait to get seated compared to waiting a while for a table. Since the baby came however we do not bring her into the bar area, because of the cigarette smoke, and I dont think babies, or children in general belong in the bar area.

                  1. I am often found at the bar when eating alone. I am a woman in my 50s and sometimes like to go out for a nice meal at the end of a long day. The bar brings me closer to others, people of all kinds, who I can chat with if I choose, and I have met some amazingly nice people this way. I always bring a newspaper so I can read and the paper also serves as a way to politely shut off conversation if you so desire. (Sometimes when you are a woman eating at the bar, it can be a bit annoying in terms of the lonely male seated three seats over!) When I travel, I like sitting at the bar especially. I learn more about the community, other good places to eat and more. If you like being by yourself when you eat, you are right to chose a table. But if you like talking with people and makinng connections, however slim, eating at the bar can be fun. I am self-employed and often spend several days in a row all alone, so I like going out and sitting at a bar when I feel the need for seeing other people, even if I do not talk to them. Of course, I usually size it up and if the bar is filled with lots of loud, happy young folks, the age of my kids, I go for a table. The nice thing is, we have a choice about where to eat.......the bar is not always just a spot for a quick drink but can be a lovely and peaceful environment for experiencing a delicious meal.

                    1. Sometimes it is about reservations.

                      Single diners for one reason or another often don't make them.
                      Not speaking for all restaurants but in mine this is often why gets are directed to "the bad table near the kitchen" or the bar... not to punish them for being single but because people who trouble to reserve get rewarded with the best seats.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: lebelage

                        If it is a busy Thursday night I understand but why is this always the case when I am dining alone on a Monday at 9:30 in a resturant that is almost empty?

                      2. I used to be a full-time bartender and I never blinked an eye when someone would come in solo, sit at my counter and order a salad and an iced tea. You don't need to order booze to sit at the bar.

                        1. Yes, if the bartender is good, you get great service when you sit at the bar. Since you don't drink in restaurants though, you might not want to sit at the bar. When I'm at the bar I always feel like I have to at least get a beer or glass of wine, otherwise, I feel like I'm taking up some drinker's space!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: nplo

                            True! I got super service the last time I ate at a bar. The bartender asked if I liked my glass of wine and when I said yes, he gave me another glass free as it was the end of the bottle. (He also pulled out some very nice oysters for me to sample. Very nice.)

                            1. re: nplo

                              Note: Bartenders are often promoted from within due to being the top class of server in their establishment. Most of them have worked their way up from server assistants or bussers, know the restaraunt inside and out, and are best prepared to give you the best experience that the restaraunt can offer... in the bar setting, of course.

                            2. As one of the posters who has made such inquiries in the recent past, I feel compelled to comment. For me, it's all about the social interaction. As a single woman, I feel confident enough to eat by myself, but prefer being around others.It's a lot more convivial sitting at the bar. From what I've been reading, San Francisco, which is where I'm headed, community tables seem to be popular, so I'll be trying that as well. Each to their own...

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: anna banana

                                As a bartender, I have no qualms with a person eating at the bar and not ordering a drink. Sure, a non-alcoholic drink would "boost sales", but does the 2-3 dollars really matter? Nope. In fact, the single diner-at the bar-will usually have a tab larger than the single drinker. BF and I prefer eating at the bar in casual places, will make a reservation if it a more upscale place. We enjoy the personal attention gained at the bar and will spend just as much if we were at a table. Plus there are added incentives to bar dining as mvi said above. I will pour extra wine (to finish a bottle) for customers or order family style appetizers for everyone to share (on the house is a wonderful thing!!).

                                1. re: cocktailqueen77

                                  Eating full meals at the bar may suit the diner but what happens to the actual purpose of the bar as a place to have a drink (and a snack if desired) and a holding tank for those waiting for their table? If everyone is eating a full meal, it is then a "lunch counter," packed with plates and napkins and condiments.

                                  1. re: Up With Olives

                                    Actually, the bar might be used as a holding tank, but that is not it's main purpose. Any restaurant that has a bar area sees it as another seating area. There's a back room, the front room, the patio, the bar. Where would you like to dine?

                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                      It really depends on the spot. I wouldn't want to work at a bar that didn't serve full menu because there's a lot of folks I wouldn't know now if we didn't. Just because we serve food it's not a "lunch counter" because I'm pouring drinks for the folks behind you while they're waiting for a table.

                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                        Nobody tries to hurry you at a bar so that they can turn over the table. Servers hate single diners often. They see the empty seat(s) as lost earning opportunity.

                                2. I have travelled alone extensively for business and pleasure and have eaten both at tables and at the bar. I used to choose the bar only when I was in a hurry and wanted to get in and out quickly, but now I often choose it because I have decided the service is better and I have more control over the pacing of my meal. I am not looking for socializing, and a good bartender, I find, is much more tuned in to what you're there for than the average waitperson.

                                  1. Thank you, Mike, for bringing this up. I have to say that it only happens to me at the Elephant Bar, but it bothers me. Like someone else said, if I wanted to eat at the bar (noisy, different lighting, lots of people talking), I would have gone directly to the bar.

                                    Twice I've walked in and said, "one." Both times the hostess directed me to the bar. The first time I said no (there were available tables, but yes, they were for 4... except it's 2:00 p.m. already). The second time, she notices the book and says, "the lighting is better there." I finally agreed. Their bar area actually is surrounded by booths on the outside (the bar is in the inner circle). The waiter takes forever to get me the menu and then finally returning to take the order, probably because he also has "normal" tables in the actual dining area. Then someone else brings me my food, and I don't even see my waiter again until I ask for the bill. Meanwhile, while I'm eating, I'm distracted by their large overhead TV's, other people's conversations, and general bar noises (clanging of glasses, laughter, cheering of sporting events), and I'm not concentrating on my book!

                                    Never again!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: boltnut55

                                      I believe the OP was posting about sitting AT the bar, not in the bar area. Those dining experiences can differ quite a bit.

                                    2. Count me in as another single person who likes eating at the bar. Yes, I'm sure I spend more that way, but I've also gotten an awful lot of free food and drinks as well over the years.

                                      The point is, I don't think that you should feel insulted when someone asks if you want to sit at the bar. As many do, the hostess only wants to make sure she's seating you where you prefer to be seated. No need to get huffy about it.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                        "No need to get huffy about it". I agree. In fact, I often spend time watching and listening very carefully how customers respond when a host, hostess or manager says, "Welcome/Good afternoon/Hello, do you have a reservation?" I'm amazed at how many people won't respond to the greeting, but instead will blurt out the # in their party. I believe that these are the same people who are always complaining about bad service or aren't happy until a manager takes something off their check. It's all in the approach. There a lot of truth to the old adage that you get back what you give out. Happy 4th of July everyone from your friends in Boston.

                                        1. re: BostonBarGuy

                                          When I first started eating out, the question about reservations always came across negatively. Usually, my answer was no, so the feeling I got (and maybe that's because the hostess would have a "look" on her face) was that "oh, you didn't think about making a reservation with US. Maybe we don't have a table for you!" I got over it eventually.

                                      2. I agree with most of the points brought up here: eating at the bar tends to be more social and you tend to have more attentive service which allows you to pace the meal. I've also found that in smaller local places there might be a waiting list for a table, but you can find a spot at the bar with no waiting.

                                        1. I travel a lot alone, and when I'm at a table alone, the intervals between courses can be awkward unless I have a good book or I'm reflecting on a splendid day. I'm also conscious that I'm tying up a 2-top (or 4) that could be more productive to the owner and wait staff. (Even though I tip higher when I am a single). Bar banter can be wonderfully entertaining; it's hit or miss.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            I guess that this is a very personal thing!:} I am a semi-frequent solo diner for lunch in Manhattan. I never eat the bar because there simply is not a lot of space and I always bring a book or paper (I do this on purpose because I find it relaxing). The only exception is if I'm on vacation by myself and want to meet other people.
                                            Again, perhaps it's just me, but I never feel guilty in the least about "tying up a 2 top". Why should I? I do not feel I should be made to feel guilty about eating lunch by myself if I choose to- I'm sure all restaurants encounter solo diners, especially at lunch. With one recent exception, I'm usually given a decent table (if not I ask to move) and decent service. I can understand if someone is shy perhaps they may feel socially awkward between courses when not eating- I definitely do not. I dine out a lot with friends and my boyfriend- when I dine alone for lunch it's relaxing "me" time!:}

                                          2. As other posters have said, the bar is a more convivial place if one is eating solo, there's (usually) a tv, and bartenders can be quite friendly. I've also found, especially when travelling on alone business, that I can get great recommendations for my next meal(s) from the "locals" at the bar and from the bartender. I also think the service from a good bartender can be more attentive than a solo diner gets from waitstaff at a regular table. Also, sometimes the H and I will eat at the bar if we've neglected to make reservations but decide at the last minute to go somewhere where one is needed (recently Mesa Grill, e.g.). At least here in nyc we don't have the smoking issue that another posted mentioned.

                                            1. jfood enjoys eating at the bar versus as a solo at a table most times on the road. Why?

                                              - jfood does not have to listen to the drivvle being espoused by the people at neighboring tables. OMG you would not believe what jfood hads heard.
                                              - jfood can relax and watch the ball game on TV or he can read his book without any care in the world
                                              - the service is usually better at the bar than a table for a solo
                                              - there is a greater sense on comraderie at the bar if jfood wants to strike up a conversation (rarely)
                                              - jfood can use his cell phone without the cell-fone hall monitors at the table next to him garing even if his conversation has ess decibels than everyone else.

                                              And jfood does not drink so that is not a plus or a minus to him.

                                              1. I do enjoy eating at the bar when dining solo. Especially at my favorite brewpub. I've gotten to know the bartenders and they know me. When I order my cheeseburger - they automatically know it's med-rare with sauteed onions and no garlic on the fries. I get to watch the action behind the bar and possibly pick up some cocktail mixing tips. I occasionally will get the extra beer that gets pulled by accident. I even dine at the bar when I come with friends. This also applies to my favorite tapas bar. It could be that I am a touch nosey

                                                1. I wonder if this is an American thing....I can't stand eating at the bar. For me, food is about companionship, sharing and enjoyment. If i'm dining with friends I find eating at the bar very cumbersome, and if i'm dining alone then i prefer the solitude to enjoy my meal and people watch. I totally 'get' why people sit at the bar to eat; chatting to the bartender and the locals can inspire whole epilogues of conversation and lead to new adventures, but I find it hard to concentrate on the enjoyment of my food. I also HATE HATE HATE to eat in front of the tv - perhaps a hold-over my childhood, we were never allowed to eat in front of the tv/telly, dinners were a family gathering where we shared the day's news and made conversation.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: aussiewonder

                                                    I think it's particularly a New York thing, and I'm not necessarily as comfortable doing it outside NYC (I've been in even large cities where if you're a female and you're eating at the bar, the presumption is that you're there to get picked up). Here there's lots of single people who are used to doing things by themselves, and lots of people who more often than not eat out. I also think New Yorkers are very social by nature (attached housing and public transportation) -- but at the end of the day, we do it for the same reasons as you: to share the day's news and make conversation.

                                                    1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                                      I am a big fan of eating at the bar but last night was my third experience in a row where my meal was interrupted by an unusually aggressive male diner. (All three different places - different men.) I just want to agree with bebevonbernstein that there are still people who think that if you are dining at the bar, you are there to get picked up. Even my usual methods of steering away unwanted attention don't seem to distract these fellows.(NY Times raised up above the face like a shield, ignoring stale opening lines, etc.) I think it is due to the proximity of the bar stools and the somewhat more intimate experience of dining side by side (or even 2 or 3 barstools away) with a nice bartender engaging in conversation with his customers. So, while I remain a fan of eating at the bar, I am also adding a caveat- the intimacy and close proximity of this experience do seem to encourage barside banter from other single diners. If you seriously do not want this kind of experience, take a table and read your paper in peace. (Note that I am in my early 50s and the gents somewhat older so it may also be a generational thing.)

                                                      1. re: mvi

                                                        That actually happened to me in Old Town Alexandria (a suburb of DC), where I used to live. Would hit a restaurant on the way home for dinner at the bar, and one night I actually had to call my boss to come get me because I was scared to leave the place alone -- I'm very social, but they would just NOT leave me alone.

                                                        Never worry about this in NYC, however, as there are so many bar-eaters. Times actually did a story on it last year . ..