Asking for a table for one in a restaurant can provide a variety of responses. From the “only one?” question (which has me wondering if they can see my imaginary friend) to the downright refusal as they only have tables for two plus.There are restaurants in Ireland that will not take a booking for one. I understand if you are a small restaurant it might not appear economical to give a table to one diner, but that one diner may order the most expensive dishes (and wine) with a bill that makes the couple who share a starter and dessert the less economical table.
Also, if I have a good experience as a solo diner, there is a good chance I will recommend the restaurant to others and return to eat with friends. In fact, I only include cafes and restaurants on my food tours where I’ve had a good solo dining experience. As my mother would say, “They are cutting off their nose to spite their face.”
Recently, in a two-star Michelin restaurant in London, a solo diner was charged for two dinners at a cost of nearly £400. I hope they went home with a very full doggy bag – and one that was certainly not for the dog.
Many view solo dining as a negative or, with a “God love her, she has no friends” attitude.
I’m lucky to have many good friends that I enjoy eating out with, but I also enjoy heading out myself without having to plan and try and suit a variety of schedules.
This flexibility is probably the reason I started solo dining about 10 years ago. I got tired of ringing around to see who wanted to go out and decided that if I wanted to eat out, solo was a great option.
Now, I have to admit, walking in the door those first few times was pretty nerve-racking.
Announcing to the world – or at the very least, the greeter in the restaurant – that you are on your own can be daunting. Initially, my first experiences included being seated by the toilet door, or in a corner so dark the waiting staff forgot I was there.
Once, I was given a seat upstairs where I was the only diner. I spent the evening either waving down from the railings to try and get someone’s attention, or having to go downstairs to ask for something. If I was shown to that table today, I would refuse.
If you are starting out on your solo dining journey, I would suggest you start by picking a nice place. Maybe it’s a place you’ve dined before with friends, so some of the staff may know you, or maybe reviews list it as solo-friendly.
Bring along a book, which I find better than sticking my head in the phone. Having a book can also be a great conversation starter with other diners or staff. There are many solo diners who want to go just for the food and really don’t want anyone talking to them, but I love a chat. Sometimes, a conversation can start because of the menu.
I remember having dinner while on holiday in Iceland and the couple beside me asking if the puffin listed on the menu was a joke or did they actually eat the cute birds with big beaks.
We ended up having a great night and I got great tips on places to visit during my holiday. Oh, by the way, they do indeed eat puffins in Iceland.
Whether it is to try new foods or learn about the food culture while on holidays, sampling the newest restaurant in town or simply because you can’t be bothered to cook, heading off by yourself to dine can be an enjoyable experience.
At the very least, you can do a Maeve Binchy and people-watch and, sure, aren’t you great company yourself.