How To Dine Solo Casually At Upscale Restaurants?
This is a problem I've been trying to solve for a long time now.
I usually go out to eat by myself and I like to eat with a casual, comfortable attitude. But I also like to go and try all different places the city has to offer. This includes a lot of places that really don't feel very casual.
But I like the food. I want to go to these places and just order something small and eat casually. The problem is I don't feel very comfortable doing that. It feels like I am expected to spend a lot or the server gets scornful. Maybe I can always try to sit at the bar?
Anybody else have this problem?
Agree w the other posters abt not feeling guilty using a 2-person table; quite often I see 2 people sitting at a 4-person spot so what's the diff?
Also, two friends (both women) swear by ordering a glass of bubbly as soon as they arrive solo. Doesn't have to be champagne - can just be cava, prosecco, cremant ... whatever. While this is only useful if you happen to love bubbly, they note that an already receptive attitude becomes uber welcoming. I guess it just screams "party" - even to the server. Even when they don't order a second they swear the 'tude remains as cheerful. Certainly not suggesting anyone should have to inveigle good service but, what the heck, any excuse IMO.
Hey, good for you.
It was great when I first started dining out alone in nice restaurants. It was intimidating at first, as a single female, but I've come to love it. Very liberating.
If you're just starting, you might want to go first to places where you know the staff is nice. But no matter where you go, order ONLY what you want to order. Within reason. I mean, you can't reasonably go to a busy restaurant and only order half a meal. But I never spend a cent on beverages, and although a waiter has never been scornful, if he were scornful, it would be coming out of his tip. And I don't sit at a bar because I find them physically uncomfortable.
My one suggestion is that you might want to bring a magazine. Newspapers are too cumbersome, and book are difficult because you need to hold them open. But magazines, especially ones that can be folded back, are perfect.
I never feel uncomfortable dining alone in Italy or France, in fact I think servers and managers go out of the way to make sure I'm comfortable and do not feel rushed. I wonder if this has something to do with the service being included in the bill? A few places in the US are very single women friendly (notably Balthazar in NY) (oh and in Europe and in NY I tend to dress a bit more carefully...) But I have also been led to the least desirable table and then ignored, actually several times when dining with another woman, perhaps because women are thought to leave small tips. It is difficult, but greediness and hunger usually win out!
I usually look for a seat at the bar and tell them that I'm planning to order only a couple of appetizers so they know what to expect. Haven't had problems. I like eating at 3-4 places in an evening, getting my favourite dish at each place -- it's a great way to optimize a tasting menu to get the best stuff from multiple restaurants rather than just one place.
I used to travel quite a lot, more often than not I was on my own and, at first, I felt much as you do. However, I had some wonderful experiences meeting the owners, maitres d'hotel, and chefs who sometimes stopped by to chat and, on a few occasions, joined me at the table. On a few return visits I've even been treated to impromptu "tasting menus". I found this happens more often in the formal, upscale dining rooms. In a few spots, where I've visited several times, they tend to place me at the same excellent table and are quite welcoming.
That's not to say it's all been wonderful. From time to time a resto will try to put a single diner off to the side or at a less desireable table but I can't say it happened very often. In the past few years, with the relentless pursuit of turnover, and the increased competition you may feel a bit rushed in some places, but for the most part, if you are visiting a nicer place that expects it's patrons to linger a bit more, you should be able to enjoy a nice relaxed meal.
Had a wonderful experience in a hotel in Pittsburgh. It had been a long, taxing day and I wanted quiet. So I called the hotel's gourmet restaurant saying I was alone and just wanted quiet, wine and a salad. Also told them I had on slacks and a sweater. The wonderful hostess said, "You come down here right now, I have a perfect place for you". I did and she did. That, along with a fine airport and a good cab driver has left a warm place in my heart for Pittsburgh.
Hi Dio. It's not always easy but I have finally reached the comfort zone. Believe me, this is a topic I know well. Here are some tips. (Not sure if this makes a difference to you, but I am a woman.)
Walk in with confidence. You are the customer, you are appreciative of good food and you are the one who is going to pay the bill (and the tip). Some of my local waiters and bartenders just love it when I come in. They always treat me like an Oscar winning diva and I attribute it to my initial encounter with them. I feel like a total celebrity when I walk through the front doors of some of these spots now. Good for the ego. And they especiallyy love it when I come with a date, which makes an impression on the date. Sometimes I feel like they are all going to break out into a bawdy chorus of "Hello Dolly."
Walk in a little early. I don't know about you, but when I come into a very crowded,noisy place,full of couples and groups, I feel wildly shy and awkward, like a 13 year old geek, but if I am there before the sophisticated masses, I feel like I am way ahead of the curve and people are envious of my position at the bar or my well placed table.
The first time you walk in, think of yourself as a possible regular and a friend. I have found that some of my local spots treat me with great respect because they know me, and the staff are more comfortable chatting with me than they might be with couples or a group. Therefore, I know I am in good hands.
I ALWAYS bring that day's newspaper to read. It helps in many ways. It keeps you busy and entertained, it creates a huge shield to hold up when you are seated at the bar and need a buffer zone, and the crossword puzzles are really fun. In addition, it can be a way to connect with people if you want to.
Scout out the situation when you get there. Sometimes I go right to the bar, sometimes I get a table. It all depends on what I feel like and how the restaurant is dealing with the masses when I walk in.
If a place does not treat you well as a single diner, why go back? Maybe they do take out...? If not, forget them.
In discussing this topic with others, I know that there is a big difference if you are a woman dining alone. It is not always easy. So get there a wee bit early, get to know the staff and bring some reading material. Enjoy yourself! I have met some great people dining alone (along with some folks I'd rather forget). It's an adventure.
Couple of ideas regarding bar eating. I like to do it because in many cases the bartender is not getting tipped out. I have found also that I receive better service at the bar in most cases. I have also had some interesting conversations with other solo diners. I have at times if the folks around me are nice and we are having a good time I will order bottles of wine and share instead of b-t-g, makes friends real fast.
Takes a little practice to get a thicker skin. Jfood does not want to be relegated to the bar at times and wants a table and service. Other times the bar is exactly what jfood wants.
When looking for a table, be firm and confident from the beginning. You can make a reso on line (opentable takes "1") or call. If not walk up give your name and say "one please."
Jfood has eaten 100's of meals by himself over the years on business and if you are friendly to the server at the beginning, then it usually makes for a nicer meal all around. If they cop an attitude well they receive compensation for that and a quick chat with the MOD on the way out.
When you sit forget about the server. If they have an attitude, ignore it and focus on having a decent dinner. Bring a book, a magazine or just people watch. Remember that sitting alone means little conversation at your table and tables around you will seem more intrusive. You would not believe what jfood has heard while tryin to ignore them (One time table to left deciding to get divorced and table to the right was a newlywed telling her mom about problems you know where, OMG). Ifthe server is ignoring you, then calmly fold your napkin, approach the hostess and ask for the manager. Ask him to please speak to the server as you are feeling neglected. Works every time.
And whatever you do, DO NOT feel responsible for not spending like a 2-top with four courses and wine. Have what you want, not what you think the server wants you to order. And tip accordingly. Ifthe server was attentive increase your standard and if he ignored you then decrease your standard.
Yes - I agree with jfood. If the place chooses to seat you at a table, you should not feel bad about not being a two-some. After all, that table was empty until you got there, right? That said, I do tend to tip particularly well when I'm treated well dining alone (esp. as a woman - I gather jfood is a dog, not a ....).
I'm with jfood that you need to develop a thicker skin. The bar option is not too common in European restaurants so getting a table for one is not often a problem - plus if I'm on my own I want to people watch from a table. Occasionally I may take a newspaper but feel slightly uncomfortable doing so and wouldnt in higher end places.
I am my normal pleasant self to the staff, make a point of seeking their advice, often follow it and order well (I am greedy after all). I also tip better than average when on my own.
Wonderful advice, jfood! You're my hero. Always so insightful and entertaining!
And Dio, you ask some fantastic questions on this board. Good for you.
I will add that while traveling solo, I became more confident about eating alone and was able to carry that over to experiences closer to home. When I feel sociable, I'm chatty and friendly. I may sit at the bar, while other times, I request and sometimes have to insist on being given a nice table (one of my favorite jobs while I was in college was a restaurant hostess, so I know the importance of a good table and being assertive about asking for one). I've also learned to enjoy the experience of dining alone. Hope you enjoy it too!