I want to love your restaurant. I’m not self-conscious about dining out on my own but a lot of people are. Historically, the hospitality industry hasn’t lived up to its name for solo diners, and women are apparently supposed to be especially embarrassed about eating out alone. I can’t speak for all solo diners, but here’s how to make me feel welcome.
If you’re seating me at a table for two, clear the second place setting immediately.
Provide a practical place to stash my purse. I’m often coming straight from a long day at work, so I’d like a place to put my laptop bag, too.
Like all your guests, I want a good table. I don’t want to sit in a draft or in the path of a swinging door. But as a solo diner, I have some additional preferences:
- Does your restaurant overlook the water, the park, or a lively streetscape? I love sitting with a view of the world.
- Do you have an open kitchen? I love sitting with a view of the action. It is one of the pleasures of dining, and especially of dining alone (when I don’t have to arm wrestle a guest to sit with the better view).
- Do you have a screen playing the game or a vintage movie? I’m not a snob. I love sitting with a view of the screen (but I might be unusual in this, so this is a good one to ask about).
- Do you have a secluded softly-lit section of the restaurant, an out-of-the-way corner suitable for public figures on private dates? I’d rather sit out of the way than beside the birthday party or the family reunion.
I can’t do justice to a bottle of wine on my own. Let me know what’s special on your cocktail list and show me where to find the wines by the glass.
Small-plates menus are especially challenging for someone eating alone. I depend on your knowledge of the serving sizes to help me order an interesting, varied meal. If the kitchen is willing to prepare partial portions of some or all dishes, volunteer that information. If there’s a treat on the menu that you also know will reheat splendidly, let me know when I order if/that you can pack any leftovers. To me, toting a small sealed container in a bag feels more sophisticated than carrying a massive foil swan out to the car.
You don’t need to up-sell me–trust me–but I do value your advice. If you’ve got a special the chef’s especially proud of or a prix fixe menu from which I can also order a la carte, please tell me so. I like to eat well but I don’t want to be any trouble. (I dread coming across like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.)
I have no companion with whom to make conversation. This changes two things:
- How I entertain myself during dinner.
- I am good company for myself. I have been befriended by some delightful people who work in restaurants, but that’s not necessary for me to feel welcome and have a good experience. I appreciate you checking in with me, but don’t everybody drop by to make conversation with the poor lonely lady at table four. She’s not poor and she’s not lonely.
- I’ll promise to only read between courses if you’ll promise not to give me attitude about having a book and my phone on the table.
- I usually keep a notebook on the table, too. I’m not a food critic but feel free to treat me as if I were.
- When I’m looking at my phone, I am not signalling that I am impatient. I’m thinking, and conversing with friends, just like all your other guests.
- Asking “What are you reading?” is not a good way to make conversation.
- How long it takes me to make decisions.
- When I dine alone, I have no conversations beginning “Oh, I don’t know. What are you having?” You’d be amazed how that speeds up the game.
- I’m not in a rush–and I don’t like to be rushed–but you can offer me a beverage as you seat me and tell me about the features when you give me the menu instead of when you return to take my order.
After dinner, offer to call a cab for me. You know your street address better than I do. Direct me to a safe comfortable place I can wait indoors until my ride arrives.