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Jun 15, 2008 06:53 AM

Solo Dining

Just got back from breakfast at a local hole-in-the-wall. Upon entering, all but 1 booth was taken & there were open seats at the counter. Since it's Sunday, I wanted to read the paper & not disturb my neighbor so I asked a waitress if I could take the open booth. She replied ok, but they may have to ask me to move if & when a larger party comes in. I agreed.

She then proceeded to ignore me for 15 minutes before coming over for my order. It's a small place & it was apparent that she was tending to everyone else except me. It then took another half hour before the owner came over & whispered that she needed me to move to the counter. As I did, it was obviously disturbing the people already at the counter to my left & right. The second I sat down at the counter my food arrived. It seems apparent they knew they wanted me to move, I guess just hoped I wouldn't have wanted the booth to begin with.

My question is, should they have just asked me not to take the booth to begin with?? I'm not sure if I should be agreeable (which I was) or feel a bit at a disadvantage b/c I had the 'misfortune' of being a solo diner?? Classic question I suppose.....and ultimately if I'm uncomfortable enough at this establishment, it's my call on whether or not to patronize them again.

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  1. Part your fault, part theirs.

    IMO, in that case, I will not get a whole booth for myself, I will got to the counter and "disturb" the neighbours, and be done with it.

    It's their fault to put you there in that booth and that situation.

    No win situation.

    1. Seems you're reading an awful lot into a situation which, as you've described it, could also be explained as a busy restaurant. The waitress may have thought you had someone else coming to join you. Or she may have thought she'd give you time to decide what you wanted to order but that amount of time got away from her. If the food was ready near the time they realized they were going to ask you to move, they'd have held it so that it didn't have to be moved, too.

      It does sound like an uncomfortable situation, and that really bites for what should have been a lazy breakfast. It may have been just what you write; but I haven't found that many restaurant folks go to those lengths to be manipulative.

      If it's a place where you've had otherwise good service and you like the food; I'd tend to go back.

      1. I'd say mostly your fault. Second-guessing them isn't going to help anything either. While there is no excuse for being ignored, they DID give you an opportunity to read the paper for a while, and that might have also been why they were slow to take your order. They probably felt they were doing you a favor and not rushing you. Reading the paper implies you are NOT in a hurry. Which way do you want it?
        You didn't mention whether you were getting or had coffee to drink while you read the paper, in this fifteen minute lull; which is next to nothing when you are reading....
        It is awfully hard to read a paper at a counter, which is perhaps why the patrons to the left and right were disturbed. Did you continue to read the paper in that confining situation? If so, I hope you had it wadded up and in front of you. Otherwise I think you deserve to feel uncomfortable. Eat, enjoy the meal and read later. I see it as they tried to accomodate you as best they could.

        1. taking the paper to a local place and expect to have a booth to yourself is a nice idea but have you ever done so at this particular place or was it a first time. if this is a normal MO then expecting a booth isa good expectation but if this is the first time, then you should have beeb prepared for the crowdedness and no way to read the paper on a sunday.

          being told you may need to move after being seated is bad form on the restos side. oce a patron is seated, they are seated. now on your side, agreeing to this was way too nice.

          a local hole inthe wall should be able to serve on a sunday morning in under 45 minutes. this time frame, plus your food arriving when you sat at the counter appears that they finally decided that the counter was theproper place for you.

          to your question. they should have not offered the booth in the first place with the temporary situation in hand. very unusual to get a booth as a solo on a sunday morning at almost any place.

          as far as going back again, if you liked the food, this is absolutely no reason not to go back.

          1. I think that bringing the newspaper was your downfall. I don't think being a solo diner was the problem. Even so the waitress should have not let you have the booth. If it was busy, and a Sunday morning, she should have directed you to the counter in the first place. If you liked the food, go back and next time just take a section of the paper. Someone bringing a Sunday paper means they are going to camp out for awhile.

            11 Replies
            1. re: danhole

              Thanks for your replies.

              So, what you all seem to be saying is that as a solo diner, I'm being discourteous by expecting the same level of service & attention as I would if I were there with a larger party? So, by that logic, solo diners should expect to be penalized & should feel grateful for being served at all? My goal wasn't to annoy the servers, it was to be served as I would if I showed up with a companion.

              It is a perfectly reasonable expectation that a single diner can expect to be able to read the newspaper, even on a busy Sunday morning. The paper however was really not the point. It was more the mixed signals & awkwardness. Simply b/c I had the 'misfortune' of dining alone on a Sunday morning & had the audacity of wanting to read the paper vs. staring at the wall or making small talk with strangers, I shouldn't be made to feel awkward & rushed. I arrived before any larger parties. For all the establishment knows, I'm going to order more than a larger party would. As for being considerate of the comfort of other diners, again, I arrived first & therefore should be paid the courtesy of being allowed to eat my breakfast in peace. We've all waited for a table that's big enough from time to time, unless we wanted to sit at the counter. Next time I visit the establishment, I may bring my friends.....

              1. re: kparke30

                "My question is, should they have just asked me not to take the booth to begin with?? I'm not sure if I should be agreeable (which I was) or feel a bit at a disadvantage b/c I had the 'misfortune' of being a solo diner?? Classic question I suppose.....and ultimately if I'm uncomfortable enough at this establishment, it's my call on whether or not to patronize them again."

                To answer your original question, they should have just asked you to please not take the booth. I think that it being a "hole in the wall", it was a Sunday morning, which is generally busier than most days, and it sounds like it was a small place, so as a solo diner I would have sat at the counter. Now if I had gone to a chain place (Denny's, IHOP, etc.) I would have gotten a booth and take my time. You are not being discourteous, and they handled it poorly. You were warned that they may ask you to move, and at that point I would have walked out, rather than being put in an uncomfortable situation.

                1. re: danhole

                  I'm curious about why, if it were a chain place, you'd have felt fine to take a booth and take your time where as with a presumably non-chain "hole in the wall" it doesn't sound like you would.

                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Because at a hole in the wall there are probably 10-15 tables tops, but at a chain there are 30 or more. Just looking at the size of the place, in other words. We ate at a hole in the wall place Memorial Day weekend in a tourist town, and we sat at a small 2 person booth. People were lined up waiting for a spot, mostly families of 4 or more. We watched as one family squeezed together to sit at a counter made for probably 3 people, but there were 5 of them. They made it work. But they didn't bring a newspaper. ;-)

                    1. re: danhole

                      Got it, nothing so much to do with whether its a chain as with the number of tables/wait times for tables. That makes sense to me.

                2. re: kparke30

                  I could be wrong... but what I hear seems to suggest that you have a response you would like to hear and it's not forthcoming. You are still pressing your point of being transgressed because you were a "solo diner". On a Sunday morning, in a small, busy place, why would you think that you have the rights of two to four people, who should have the use of the booth. You agreed to move if asked, before you took the booth.

                  You have not answered a single, follow-up question that has been asked, which might clarify things and allow Chowhounders to give you a better opinion.
                  I still see it as them trying to do you a favor and accomodate you, and your paper, as best they could, for as long as they could.

                  As my friend, a psychologist, has said, "If you don't want to hear the answer, then don't ask the question".

                  1. re: Scargod

                    I have to agree with Scargod. Why ask for opinions if you don't want to hear any responses other than ones that support your position?

                    That being said, I empathize with those who are dining alone, and I will say that I am somewhat uncomfortable when I am in those circumstances. When dining alone, I bring a book to occupy myself, and while a newspaper is also reading material that can serve to occupy your time, the size of that newspaper makes it impractical for the "counter situations" that single diners frequently find themselves in. At a table, that newspaper would not be a problem and if a restaurant is not busy, a table is a realistic option for the single diner. In a crowded restaurant, it is not realistic to think that one person can occupy the same space as 3 or 4 people, and it is to be expected that a single diner in a crowded restaurant will be asked to sit at the counter.

                    So, my response (which you probably don't want to hear) is that you should have brought a book or a magazine, rather than a newspaper. When you were told that you might have to move, that should have been your signal to leave at that point if you did not want to move.

                    A small business is all about making a reasonable profit--otherwise that business will not be around for very long--and having a single diner occupy a space that is needed by a larger party is just not practical for a business. In an ideal world, you should be able to sit where you want, without having to move. However, this is rarely an ideal world. And, in the total scheme of things, this is about as trivial a matter as you will ever have to deal with.

                    So, my advice is:
                    Get on with important matters, dine out when you choose, and bring a book or a magazine--not a newspaper--when dining alone.

                  2. re: kparke30

                    Quite a change it tone K. OP is like a soft walk and this one is like a slap in the face. Jfood is sorry you did not get the rousing "how dare they" cry, but as you know CH'ers are sorta opinionated.

                    - A solo diner should receive the same level of service. But if there is something wrong with the perceived service then it is the solo diner, the deuce, as well as all diners, to mention something to the server. It is unclear whether this occurred. It appears that the customer was gleefully enjoying 45 minutes of enjoying the paper and the bad feelings started when the customer was asked to move. And that move was predicted, discussed and agreed to up front.
                    - nothing stops a solo diner from reading a newspaper in a resto or on the train. the person needs to be aware of surroundings and if the subway is too crowded or the resto is too crowded, the customer needs to refrain from "disturbing" others. there is no right involved with taking two spots on a train or restaurant for a newspaper.
                    - whether a customer arrives before a larger party or not, a solo is not "entitled" to any open table, a deuce is not entitled to the large round 10-top, and neither does a mom, dad and two kids have an unalienable right to sit where they please.
                    - The server was completely forthright in telling the customer that the booth may be temporary, jfood shutters at that thought process. But with full disclosure and accpetance, everyone knew the rules of the road

                    Although this did not turn out to be a 2-hour relaxing breakfast with the Sunday paper spread out in a booth, the restaurant was completely up front with the customer, customer agreed to the conditions, then when the conditions were met, bad feelings ensued. Can' t really blame the resto for trying, though.

                    1. re: kparke30

                      No, you as a solo diner should expect exactly the same level of service and attention as if you were there with a larger party. Including being seated at a size-appropriate table (four people - four-top; two people - two-top; solo diner - counter). If I decide I just don't like other diners around me on a Sunday morning, do I have the right to monopolize the entire restaurant, asking that all customers except myself be excluded? No. Each diner is entitled to occupy one seat. If you don't like it, go elsewhere.

                      The fact that you were told that you might need to move gave you three options: take the booth for a while, knowing that you might have to move; sit at the counter; or go someplace else for breakfast. You chose the first, knowing that you might be moved. Now you're upset that the management asked you to move? I don't get it.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        I was with you up until the "solo diner - counter" part. I don't think that the counter and a table are equivalent and I don't think that solo diners should be relegated to the counter or the bar except by choice (just like multi-diner parties). If there is a 3 person group, they'd get a 4 person table if the resto doesn't have 3 person tables, which "wastes" a a solo diner on a two-top, also "wasting a seat" is fine by me. I don't think solo diners should be limited to counter seats.

                        1. re: akq

                          as he has posted numerous times, jfood does not agee with the concept of a solo only gets to sit at the bar or counter. But jfood thinks alan was mentioning the counter comment because it appeared these were the only two choices avalable in that restaurant.