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At restaurants alone with bags/packages/belongings: bathroom trip?

This is an ongoing dilemma that has resurfaced in my mind after a solo trip of several days to a faraway city...

What do you do when you are out alone, need to eat, show up at a restaurant with bags in tow (if you are a tourist, say), and at some point during your meal have to use the bathroom? (I am male, and do not have a purse.) Do you leave your things at the table? Do you ask a neighboring table to "keep an eye on my stuff"? And what do you do if you have obvious valuables? (cameras, just-purchased clothing, etc.) Haul it all into the bathroom with you? I'm talking about restaurants that do not have coat- and bag-checks, of course.

And what do you do when you are out to eat alone, and have nothing with you, and need to get up from the table? I would think that a tabletop of half-eaten food would be a busboy magnet. Several times, I've had wait staff tell me (upon my return from the bathroom) that they thought I ran out on the check. They were nice about it, though.

Just wondering about your experiences with all this. I'm never quite sure what to do, as the things I have in tow are rarely very numerous or of any value. Although I worry about theft, I tend to leave them at the table. Is this glaringly inadvisable?

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  1. When I eat alone, I usually have a book with me. If I have to get up, I'll leave the book open on the table, but take my bags with me. That way, hopefully the waiter will realize I'm not making a run for it.

    I'd never leave my bags unattended, though. It only takes a moment for someone to grab your wallet out of a bag.

    1. My friend and his son were at a fast food type Mexican restaurant, put their food down on the table and the son had to use the bathroom. They go to the bathroom come back and their food and table is cleaned. Being a real Mexican restaurant and they don't speak Mexican they didn't know what to do, so they just left.

      If I'm by myself I'll let someone who works there that I'm using the rest room and I'll be right back. No, I wouldn't leave anything of value at the table if I'm not there.

      7 Replies
      1. re: monku

        ". . .and they don't speak Mexican they didn't know what to do, so they just left."

        Spanish. They don't speak Spanish. Mexican is a nationality and culture, not a language.

        1. re: ginael

          the poster sounded a little off, but there are distinct regional variations and dialects within the Spanish language and I prefer that interpretation. (good Lord try speaking Tejano in the Pyrenees...that was fun 20 years ago - I've gained better sense since)

          1. re: hill food

            My apology, I wasn't thinking straight. We speak and write in English not American.

            My friend doesn't like to make waves and I told him he should have said something. After all it was a place on Olvera Street, so I'm sure they get plenty of gringos in and out of there.

            1. re: monku

              I knew exactly what you meant - in that vein, attempt Castilian in certain parts of Catalan some time. a friend once eventually resorted to high school Latin (successfully) in Barcelona!

              Olvera Street in LA? you'd think Spanglish would work. (sorry for going OT)

              1. re: hill food

                Yes, Olvera Street in Los Angeles.
                Like I said, my friend is afraid to make waves and if it happened at McDonalds he wouldn't have said anything either.

              2. re: monku

                "We speak and write in English not American." I'm not sure the British would agree with you. ;-)

              3. re: hill food

                Agreed there are regional dialects, however it would be more precise to state "Mexican Spanish", along the same lines as "British English" , "American Sign Language"....you get the idea. I am being too picky for sure. Unfortunately, the majority of the people who use "Mexican" in reference to the language are not referencing the dialect.

          2. Maybe I'm too trusting, but if I felt I couldn't leave my bag (whether shopping or my ubiquitous backpack) for the time it takes me to go the the bathroom, I wouldn't be comfortable in that restaurant at all! I will admit, though, that my wallet always comes with me.

            The other instance never happens with me; I always have a book, magazine, newspaper, or something. I leave my (cheap drugstore) glasses on top to make it clear that I'm coming back.

            2 Replies
            1. re: brandywiner

              Maybe you are too trusting and maybe I live up to my screen name, but I would not leave anything I would not want to lose unattended. I have used your book idea, but I wouldn't leave my Kindle!

              1. re: Sinicle

                I suppose it's all a question of comfort level. I eat out more often than not, and have done so since grad school, and I've never lost anything under these circumstances. (I've walked off without something a couple of times, but that's another story!) Could just be unusual good luck on my part, who knows?

                I hear you about the Kindle; I'm the same way with my Garmin GPS. (Although I think nothing of leaving it in the car.)

            2. Well, there are restaurants and there are restaurants. If I'm eating at someplace like a McDonald's, yes, I take everything except my coat with me. If I'm at a place with waiters, I don't. The camera just goes in my bag, which is how I brought it in, and the bag goes to the loo with me. (I'm female.) And you can always catch a server's eye and say (or just mouth) "I'll be right back." And you have to use some judgement. That little box from Tiffany's? I'm not even going to let that blue box be seen in the restaurant, much less leave it at the table. On the other hand, a big shopping bag or two, I've probably tucked under the tablecloth so it's not visible, unless they've put me at a 4-top, when I might use the other chairs. So that plays into it, too. I've just never found this a big problem, and I was a mostly-solo diner for 20 years of my adulthood.

              1. if it's sit-down, and assuming there's no language barrier I'd ask the waiter where the restroom is and will your things be safe. It points out you're not gone and subtly asks for a bit of attention. but I'd keep wallet, passport etc. on me no matter what.

                otherwise hold it and use the handicap stall (quickly, so as not to inconvenience) at the airport/station

                1. Always take your things with you and never count on strangers to "watch" your things. True story: My daughter was a college student at the library. She was studying and the guy next to her said, "hey could you watch my stuff. I need to go to the bathroom?" When he came back my daughter said, "Hey I need to go too, could you watch my stuff?" When she got back everything was gone so was the "nice" guy.
                  And although I think the book trick is kind of pathetic when one dines alone, it is a good tool for marking your place and I use it often, even if I do feel like a sad cliche.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Fuser

                    Um, it's not a "book trick" that is "kind of pathetic" and a "sad cliche". It's called "reading". Some of us actually enjoy it!

                    1. re: brandywiner

                      i dine alone often and truly enjoy savoring dinner over a good book. i enjoy the quiet, personally, and my life provides few other uninterrupted moments. it feels like quite an indulgence.

                      if you feel like a sad cliche out by yourself, that's nobody else's problem.

                  2. I usually eat at the bar if I'm alone, and I ask the bartender to keep an eye on my stuff. I'd still take my purse, though, and I wouldn't leave anything at a table except my coat.

                    1. I work at a nice restaurant fairly close to LAX. We don't have a coat check, but we will hold luggage in the office until our guests are done eating. Having luggage and bags in the aisle is a safety violation, anyway.
                      I've seen people leave keys, Blackberry's, glasses, and briefcases on their tables while they wandered off, and I've yet to hear of an incident of thievery. Honestly, though, unless we're not busy, I wouldn't want to be asked to watch a guests things. With a million things to do, other guests to tend to, and food to run, I really can't be responsible for someone's stuff. It's just not reasonable in a busy restaurant to stand guard over a bag. So, take it with you, or if the place is reputable, ask them if they'd keep it in the office. Most offices have cameras, since that's where the cash handling is done.

                      1. Too be honest, I have never traveled in such a manor that my "stuff" isn't secured in some way or another. (in my car, in my hotel room, watched over by a reliable friend/family, etc.)

                        I mean I PLAN far in advance to cover such a situation or use my head to avoid such a scary situation.

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: small h

                            Although like the OP said, there isn't much value in personal belongings, the scary part would be in trying to replace things if lost or stolen when away from home.

                            1. re: RShea78

                              Oh, I read your post to mean that you felt dining alone with luggage was somehow scary. And I thought, well, maybe where there's crossfire or something...

                        1. My solution: go before you order. At a busy cafe (think Starbucks), no one usually notices if you walk in and head straight to the restroom. If anyone questions you, just start dancing and promise to buy a drink after - always works for me and I can enjoy my grande frappuccino that much more. At a proper restaurant, when being seated, I ask if it's OK if I just pop to the loo before I get too settled. I have never had a problem with that approach. A few times, I even found that it helped break the ice and I had a more pleasant time joking around with the server.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: WTBD

                            ""My solution: go before you order.""

                            I would definitely ask before doing so, because of the horror stories I have read over the years. Seems like there is some establishments that the restrooms are off limits till the customer pays for something.

                            1. re: RShea78

                              There have been a few occasions where I've said, "I REEEEALLY have to pee but I promise to buy something when I get out! I promise!" The restaurant never actually makes me buy something, but I usually do. Once, in Barcelona, I had to pee but I thought I could wait until I got home. I got in a taxi near the bottom of Las Ramblas, but then a street-cleaning truck turned out of an alley in front of us. It took us about forty-five minutes to go three blocks. I have NEVER been that close to peeing my pants. I had to evacuate the taxi (no charge, thanks driver!) and run from business to business, though by that time most were closed. I ended up in some crappy English pub that was closed, but the staff let me come in and pee. Thank you employees. Looking back, I should have just peed on the street like every other person in Barcelona; I hadn't been there long enough to realize that was actually an option at that time!

                              1. re: Jetgirly

                                Back when McDonald's (MD's) was hit over the hot coffee incident, there was a rash of arrests at other MD's of people using the restroom without paying first.

                                Before long we (my State) went through a phase of coin-op restrooms till there was so much of a public outcry they got eventually got banned.

                                1. re: RShea78

                                  Obviously the 'go before you order' strategy only works in certain situations and can be open to abuse - if that's how you intend to use it.

                                  I only do it when I actually want to eat/drink somewhere. Having a tiny bladder, I have become quite good at finding public restrooms. Helpful tip: in London, most museums are free and they all have toilets... (Marcel DuChamp jokes aside!) Department stores are another good option.

                                  But back to the OP's question, if I'm hungry/thirsty and don't have a friend to hold the table, I usually go before I order. I think a lot depends on where you choose (McD's - not so great, Starbucks - usually OK, proper resto - never had a problem). In principle, I agree with asking before you go, but be prepared to be told no. If I'm that desperate, I know I won't be able to face rejection :)

                                  1. re: WTBD

                                    ""Department stores are another good option.""

                                    About 10 years ago you would be SOL in my area. Our town (and maybe even the State) now requires restrooms in any public establishment. Oh! Heaven forbid, should your doctor put you on a water pill like Lasix, in combination with a tiny bladder. :-O

                          2. I never go out without some type of sweather/coat/scarf/something. This even in summer...especially in summer...because the restaurants where I live tend to crank up the air conditioning. So if I have to go to the restroom, I leave the coat...and often a book. I would never leave a valuable (purse, wallet, camera...). Heck, I take my purse when I go to the bathroom in a crowded airplane where any attempted theft might presumably be seen......

                            1. in nyc, we check our coats when we arrive. figure a buck an item. seems fair to me. the barkeep always keeps my seat when i get up.

                              1. my approach is to just leave everything at the table. i've lived in several big cities (boston, lost angeles, d.c., oakland, austin, london) and actually have never had anything stolen, only lost things returned to me.

                                1. I don't leave anything valuable at the table - I'd take my laptop, purse, shopping bags, etc. with me. If you carried it in, you can carry it to the bathroom, right? I'd feel fine leaving a book or something else that most people won't want to steal or that's easily replaced if it is stolen. If you're in a bar and don't want your drink taken, you can put a napkin over your glass, otherwise I'd catch the waiter's eye and either tell him/her I'll be right back or ask where the ladies room is.

                                  I think the solution brought up by other posters of going before you are seated is a good one. I've never been denied the use of a bathroom because I haven't bought anything yet - I usually just either walk right to the bathroom (if visible) or ask where the ladies room is (rather than asking permission to use the ladies room) - most resto staff is conditioned to answer that question and not to quiz you about whether you have purchased/ordered anything. Usually if you project the aura that you are supposed to be there doing what you're doing, people don't challenge you if you aren't doing anything outrageous.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: akq

                                    "Usually if you project the aura that you are supposed to be there doing what you're doing, people don't challenge you"

                                    that actually works on so many levels and in so many circumstances - an inflated sense of entitlement.

                                    it's annoying as hell to those who can't muster it, but...results speak. use sparingly.

                                    1. re: akq

                                      I agree with you, if I'm out without a car doing shopping and spending time outdoors then I save the bills in my purse, gather all the things from the shopping bags and put them nicely in one easily carried bag, grab my purse and go to the washroom, I will NEVER leave anything out, except if I need to reserve my table then the book idea makes sense but I can't afford to leave belongings laying around to get stolen. I've seen people steal those cheap canvas shopping bags from other people's carts in supermarkets, you just never know what people will do!!

                                    2. Let me third the commonsensical recommendation to go before you are seated. You may actually do this after you ask the host(ess) for a table and before you are seated. It's never not worked for me. Then you may go again while you leave.

                                      Another tip: if you can, have some very plain bags to put things in. Retailers love you to advertise their brands. You don't want to advertise what you might have in a bag. So use bag camouflage (An old rule of the NYC subway system, btw).

                                      1. This is why the Lord invented backpacks. You can use them as carryons, put your valuable stuff in there and take them with you to the rest room. You can also ask your waiter to put the bags in a safe place.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: RGC1982

                                          "This is why the Lord invented backpacks."

                                          Really? What a strange proclamation. Forthe first time on Chowhound, I am nonplussed.