Table For One? Dining Solo

U nless I happen to bring food back to my hotel room, traveling on an airplane or going to a take-out establishment as examples of situations, I do not particularly enjoy eating alone whenever I travel — especially in a restaurant. That is a handicap of sorts for me. I have to be compelled with a good reason to go out to eat as a solo diner — such as trying out a restaurant which I understood to be the oldest one in the world or going to a top-rated steak house — and when I am done, I am ready to leave.

This particular discussion on FlyerTalk pertaining to dining solo has been of interest to me. It is not uncommon for solo diners to bring a book, work to do, or an electronic device to keep them occupied while dining alone. I have tried that and — for me — have found that the conditions are not ideal to concentrate on getting work done or trying to read something. I guess I get distracted by what is going on around me.

However — in response to FlyerTalk members sharing their experiences in that aforementioned discussion — FlyerTalk member berrythekid posted this comment:

You guys are doing it all wrong. Sit at the bar! Even when I dine with 1-3 other people, I try to get seats at the bar (a corner if its 3-4 of us is perfect for inclusive conversation). The bar is the most underrated seat in the house. Why? Well, first off you seat yourself. You dont need to wait for permission to sit or be chauffeured to your seat. At the bar, the service is incredible! Why? Because the bartender has nowhere to hide! They usually have less than 100 sqft of room to move around! Need a drink? BOOM! The guy/girl is right there with every fluid in the restaurant located right behind them. Decide to go with the mussels instead of the scallops as your app? They have a computer right there and can usually mod your order before it hits the line. Main course taking too long? The bartender will send a barback or go themselves to inquire right away. Bartenders are there to please and because usually alcohol is involved, the scene at the bar is usually quite jovial. You can strike up conversation with other bar patrons, get ideas on what to eat when their food hits, make friends and get recommendations for other things to see/do/drink/eat from the bartender, and if you’re nice sometimes you’ll be given some sort of freebie like an order of arancini or maybe a swig of a new whiskey you haven’t tried yet. Doesnt matter if it’s a hole in the wall or a michelin starred restaurant, the bar is where it’s at.

That all may be true; but I have found the seating at the bar section of a restaurant to not be as comfortable as at a table. Besides, I usually have no interest in having a conversation with the bartender — just like I prefer not to have a conversation with a taxi driver. In those situations, I like to be left alone.

Another distraction in some restaurants — especially at sports bars — is the television mounted in a corner near a ceiling. If I really wanted to watch television, I could do that in my hotel room — as well as change the channel and adjust the volume to my liking at any time.

Eenmaal is a restaurant in Amsterdam where you can dine alone on a meal of four courses — including drinks — for €35.00. That price might be a little rich for some people, however — especially those diners who want a quick bite but also want a place to go where they can temporarily escape from people, their hotel rooms or workplaces for 30 to 45 minutes. I have not dined in that restaurant; so I obviously cannot give a review…

…but that restaurant is designed for diners who want to truly dine alone, with actual tables for only one diner per table — as are the restaurants listed here. Would you like to dine with a table of complete strangers? If so, there are restaurants which offer “community tables” — such as at Japanese Hibachi restaurants where people are seated around a cooking area where a chef puts on a show while preparing the meals of everyone at that table. However, the entertainment of the preparation of the meal is the focal point at those type of restaurants, which can help mitigate the aversion of people who are introverted to dine with fellow diners whom they do not know.

Some restaurants offer true community tables where it is difficult to avoid contact with fellow diners — and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I once dined out in the Australian outback — not the steakhouse chain in the United States — where there were tables dressed with white linens and seating for eight with Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa as an incredible background setting. As the sun set and the stars eventually brightly dotted the black sky, I could not help but talk to my impromptu dining partners as we feasted on pumpkin soup, kangaroo, emu sausage and crocodile. There was a couple from Belgium who were celebrating a milestone anniversary. It was an amazing experience — but obviously one which cannot be shared in a typical restaurant.

If you are in Tokyo, you could dine with a stuffed animal. I personally think this is a goofy idea; but that is solely my opinion.

When in Paris, I enjoy dining alone at an outdoor café and just watching the people go by; but there are also supposedly restaurants which are recommended for solo diners.

There is even a weblog for solo diners — and not just for people who travel:

SoloDining.com serves up “solo dining savvy” for you — whether you despise or delight in a solitary meal in a restaurant or at home; whether you’re fond of fast food or fine dining (or something in between!) AND whether you’re married or divorced, single or solo, bachelor or bachelorette, widow or widower; business/pleasure traveler or stay-at-home-lover.

So, pull up a chair and join in. The company’s fine. SOONER OR LATER, EVERYONE FACES THE CHALLENGE OF EATING ALONE.

Chinese take-out places, delicatessens and fast-food establishments were some of the concepts available for solo diners who wanted a quick bite where they can sit at a counter or take food back to a desired location; but there are solo diners who want a dining experience in a restaurant without feeling intimidated or uncomfortable…

…so I defer to you: Should there be more restaurants specifically designed to cater to solo diners? How do you feel about dining alone? Which restaurants would you recommend for solo diners? Please give the reasons for your recommendations.

Thank you in advance.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “Table For One? Dining Solo”

  1. Joey says:

    I know how you feel. Normally if I am eating alone, that’s when I try to venture out and find a local fast food joint to taste what they offer. If none exists or if I’m just starving and the only thing I see is McDonald’s, then I’ll relent and order there. 😉

    However, when I was younger, I found that it was quite easy to find new friends at hostels (yes I stayed in hostels back in the day.) Normally the hostel owners know where the best deals are for local fare so I feel like I’m definitely getting a cultural experience.

    Once, however, in Buenos Aires, I wanted to eat some really good steak and opted to eat solo at this restaurant suggested by my guidebook. Lo and behold, two ladies sitting on the table next to me invited me to join theirs! Wow! I had such an amazing conversation with them that we opted to keep in touch on FB and now we’re good friends! I now pay it forward and if I’m with friends hanging out and see a lone tourist sitting alone, I’d invite them over to join my table (casually of course, no pressure at all) and if they choose to join us, great! If not, it’s totally ok.

    Anyway to answer your question, I think fast food joints are perfect for solo diners. Even here in NYC, if I just want alone time to eat and don’t feel like cooking, I always eat at Shake Shack.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      If I lived in New York City again, Joey, I would be going to Katz’s Deli or some other Kosher or Kosher-style delicatessen…

      …and as I was reading about the two ladies in Buenos Aires, I anticipated that one of them eventually became your wife. What a story that would have been! However, it is great that you are good friends with both of them…

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