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I second what porcupine said: I make it a point to make eye contact with the bartenders/servers, make conversation - but not to distraction, I hope! - with them, etc., even if I'm reading.

(I love my Kindles, don't get me wrong, but reading one at a bar seems to send up a flare to random people at the bar and staff to ask you about them. Which can be good if you want a conversation but annoying if you're really into your book!)

Ah yes, I meant to address this as baseline politeness, even if you are exhausted! Also, I tend to not bring my e-reader in if I really want to read, ironically enough, because that thing is such a great conversation starter...

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This is yet another tricky issue. I've always appreciated the gesture of being offered a magazine (but usually refuse, choosing to study the menu instead). However, some diners are actually annoyed by it, claiming that it makes them feel like they're being pitied. This is truly one example of "you can't please everyone."

This is truly one example of "people are too quick to take offense". sheesh.

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When I go out to dinner alone, I like to make a reservation so I'm not standing around waiting. I prefer to eat at a table instead of the bar so I'm not being squeezed, sloshed upon or jostled.

Bar or table depends on the restaurant, but I usually prefer the former. There are certain places that are just more enjoyable at the bar period, whether alone or with someone else. That said, I’m not averse to dining at a table. I usually reserve a table for one when I’m in the mood for trying a special occasion restaurant, and my “special occasion” is celebrating Wednesday. I hear you on not wanting to wait for a bar seat to open up, though.

As a solo diner at a upscale restauarant, if I am eating at a table I do feel I have to order complete dinners and tip well but not double. Compared to when dining with someone else when I would more often split an appetizers and a dessert. As a solo diner I don't think it requires as much effort as a 2-top (but maybe).

My last solo meal at a table was at one of Don’s bolded restaurants. I sat next to a couple, who nitpicked throughout their dinner, had a dish or two comped, and stated that our section’s server “wasn’t that good” when signing the bill (I couldn’t help hearing; banquettes are the real communal table these days).

Meanwhile, I had a rather enjoyable meal with fantastic service, and appropriately tipped the same staff who were being chided by my neighbors. The long-winded point: I don’t feel as guilty occupying a two-top when there are so many jerks eating out together.

I do avoid prime dinner hours during the weekend though (of course, that goes for my meals with others as well). And while my overall check average may be lower, I can easily outspend a pair of diners who just want burgers and a shared appetizer at place like Palena Café -- even without alcohol (ironically, bartenders seem to care less if you imbibe during dinner than servers…for reasons I can guess).

This is yet another tricky issue. I've always appreciated the gesture of being offered a magazine (but usually refuse, choosing to study the menu instead). However, some diners are actually annoyed by it, claiming that it makes them feel like they're being pitied. This is truly one example of "you can't please everyone."

Unless the server sits the magazine in the opposite chair, refers to it as your dining companion, or asks if you know how to read, I see no reason why the offer would offend a normal person.

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I generally prefer to sit at the bar while dining solo if only to get a good view of what's going on in the restaurant (not always the case of course). I never fail, I hope, to be polite and I never fail to bring reading material. 99.99% of the time I have a good experience. I also have a gift for makiing it erfectly clear that I'm not interested in small talk if that is indeed how I feel ;). But I'm nice about it, really.

I don't particularly like to eat solo at a table because on a few of the occasions, not all, that I have decided to pursue that route, I felt oddly isolated - even though isolation is my default mode. :wacko:

Of course Waitman and I occasionally dine out (and in) together with books. What can I say?

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Unless the server sits the magazine in the opposite chair, refers to it as your dining companion, or asks if you know how to read, I see no reason why the offer would offend a normal person.

If a waiter brought a magazine and asked me if I know how to read, it would make my day and the waiter would probably get an extravagant tip. But that reminds me of the bookshop sketch with Marty Feldman and John Cleese.

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My very confused 2 cents from a restaurant person that is participating with savored.....I'm not sure why they don't offer reservations as a single diner. In fact I had to confirm with my manager that it was true. From our perspective there is no reason why it shouldn't be offered. I would defer to Don's defense that they're a young company and looks like they still need to work some things out. (I could tell you a couple of other things they need to address but that would be off topic)

As for open table, I'm assuming that one could create a single diner slot if somebody really wanted to. The problem on our end is that in some ways you're now "holding" a table for a single diner, because most people I know have it set up that in order to override the seating capacity of a table you need a managers password.

Do we take reservations for single diners, absolutely, unfortunately the way the system is set up you would have to call the restaurant in order to do so. Arguably, if you have a moderate check average at your restaurant you may want single diners to call the restaurant in order to avoid paying the OT fee because of the assumed loss of revenue.

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In Europe, back in the day(pre-online reservations) you almost couldn't get a reservation at a michelin 3* restaurant in Paris as a single diner. (l'Arpege was my one exception but 1/2 the dishes served 2 or 4 ppl. so I was screwed anyway) When my dining companions had to cancel for dinner at Ducasse they tried very hard to convince me that I should come for lunch, I stuck with it and they did honor my dinner reservation though.

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As for open table, I'm assuming that one could create a single diner slot if somebody really wanted to. The problem on our end is that in some ways you're now "holding" a table for a single diner, because most people I know have it set up that in order to override the seating capacity of a table you need a managers password.

You most definitely can. I've made single-person reservations at Dino before using OpenTable. Of course, I like to eat dinner closer to 4 pm than 8, so maybe I'm just lucky since I'm an early-bird.

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I never dine alone at a table-service restaurant. It's probably my crippling fear of being judged. "Oh god, the poor handsome man is eating by himself! Do you think his date stood him up? There must be something really wrong with him, because he's so sexy. I bet he has scrotal hyperwarts or something."

Even at counter-service restaurants I'll generally order "to go" if I'm by myself.

Oh god I'm so afraid of being alone...

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I love dining alone. I feel like it gives me more opportunity to really "digest" the food mentally and to see what's going on in the restaurant. Plus, I don't have to worry about the feelings of my dining companion/keeping her entertained/etc.

Also, then from the restaurant's side, I feel like it's even more important to take care of single diners, because there's nowhere to hide if the food or service is subpar. I think there's something very beautiful about serving someone who is clearly at the restaurant for the primary purpose of eating/drinking instead of entertaining/socializing, as if the unstated message of "this is what we're doing" is sent more directly. It's a more intimate experience.

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You most definitely can. I've made single-person reservations at Dino before using OpenTable. Of course, I like to eat dinner closer to 4 pm than 8, so maybe I'm just lucky since I'm an early-bird.

All of my reservations on OpenTable have been single-person reservations and I have had absolutely no problem. Perhaps some restaurants do have some sort of exclusion rule during the busiest hours but I've never noticed.

Rob

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I do have one pet peeve as a solo diner at a table, if it's in the bar area (i.e. the "high tops" at Ragtime, for instance).

If you've got a group around/near you, often times people will seem to assume that because you're alone, they can put their drinks down on your table, or their empties, etc.

That's not the restaurants fault (well, at Ragtime I think they need to make it clearer that the high tops have servers, not bar service) but it puts me in awkward position. I feel like if I say something, I'm being a dick, but if I don't say something, they continue to annoy me. It's easier if the waitress says something, but that almost never happens...

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I do have one pet peeve as a solo diner at a table, if it's in the bar area

My pet peeve too. I'd say the only times I've had problems or bad service when dining solo were when sitting at a bar area table. But I find it to be a bad area for dining at many places, even if you aren't solo: whoever is supposed to be serving you ignores these tables (often it's the bartender, who is too busy to get over there), drunks and douchebags milling about, tables are too small if you're having a full meal, tables jammed too close (Proof comes to mind for those last two), etc...

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Probably about a day before BLB started this thread, I had thought about starting a thread similarly titled on "Help Needed." Why? Because I thought it would be neat/interesting/? to have someone post "hey, I am thinking about dining alone at X restaurant at Y time, does anyone want to join me?," and then someone can chime in/reply/PM that poster. Would that work here? (Honestly, I was too undermotivated to create an app and then I saw someone had created one anyway...)

But, for me, I quite enjoy eating at the bar as a solo diner. I felt awkward always at a table as a solo diner. Not sure why, but this thread certainly brings up some of those memories...which is why I thank Don and this board for teaching me that it's okay to dine alone....

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I think the men here are overlooking a very good reason why women dining alone at a bar can be a problem: the jerks trying to hit on you. "Is that a book?"--I was often asked in my younger, hotter, days--when it was quite clear what I was reading was a book. One of the advantages of being no spring chicken is that I don't have strangers trying to hit on me. I much prefer to eat at the bar nowadays, whether alone or with Dame Edna. Pichan at Corduroy will always take care of me, as will Krishna at Cashion's. I am trying to remember when I last had a bad experience eating at a bar and I can't think of any. I've met some lovely people eating at the bar cuz ain't nobody making a pass at me. It's quite liberating, actually.

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I love dining alone. I feel like it gives me more opportunity to really "digest" the food mentally and to see what's going on in the restaurant. Plus, I don't have to worry about the feelings of my dining companion/keeping her entertained/etc.

Also, then from the restaurant's side, I feel like it's even more important to take care of single diners, because there's nowhere to hide if the food or service is subpar. I think there's something very beautiful about serving someone who is clearly at the restaurant for the primary purpose of eating/drinking instead of entertaining/socializing, as if the unstated message of "this is what we're doing" is sent more directly. It's a more intimate experience.

A big +1 to Adam's post.

I also find it funny when I show a deep interest in the food and beverage - both ordering and consuming -- how often I am asked "Are you in the industry?" :lol:

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I also find it funny when I show a deep interest in the food and beverage - both ordering and consuming -- how often I am asked "Are you in the industry?" :lol:

Yep! It does happen a lot!

Truth is, if I hadn't dined alone all these years, I wouldn't have acquired the knowledge that I have. Spend 2-3 hours a day remaining hyper-focused on *anything* - 17th century bronze medallions, tactile corpuscles of Grandry, materials used in stuffing mattresses - and you're going to become an expert before too long.

(I mentioned mattresses because I often use that analogy: people spend 1/3 of their lives sleeping on mattresses, and 99.99% of the population knows virtually nothing about them. Just because you breathe doesn't mean you know anything about air. It's the same with food. It's the same with anything.)

And once again, may I recommend "The Royal Game" by Stefan Zweig? Still, the greatest short story I have ever read (or at least my personal favorite). Get a good translation of it if you read it. And guess which character I am. :) (People who know me will know; people who don't know me will guess the other character.)

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Probably about a day before BLB started this thread, I had thought about starting a thread similarly titled on "Help Needed." Why? Because I thought it would be neat/interesting/? to have someone post "hey, I am thinking about dining alone at X restaurant at Y time, does anyone want to join me?," and then someone can chime in/reply/PM that poster. Would that work here? (Honestly, I was too undermotivated to create an app and then I saw someone had created one anyway...)

I think that was one of the original intentions of the "On a Whim" thread, which doesn't see a whole lot of action anymore. Maybe it's time to give it a kick in the pants and get people 'whimming' again :)

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On OpenTable, every individual restaurant has the ability to reconfigure the seating for every table. At the Light Horse (and Eventide and Ardeo + Bardeo, unless they've changed what I set up originally), I did the following:

The default setting for a two-top is set by OpenTable as a "minimum 2, maximum 2" in the system. I reset all of them to be a "minimum 1, maximum 2" so they can be booked by solo diners. I similarly did the same thing for four-tops that were set as "minimum 4, maximum 4". They were all changed to "minimum 2" and some were set to "maximum 5" because I know I have some tables where a chair can be easily added to accommodate a party of five.

I don't think a lot of restaurants have probably investigated their systems enough to reset the default accommodation levels. It's super-easy to do.

As far as solo diners occupying a table for two, I say whoever doesn't value the shit out of them is an idiot. Solo diners typically spend freely, require less attention (usually contently reading, e-mailing or playing Words With Friends or Angry Birds), tip generously and turn the table back over to the house in 45-60 minutes tops. Perfect.

FWIW, if any DR members ever want to see OpenTable from "our" side of the business, shoot me a PM. I'd be only more than happy to have you swing down to the Light Horse and I can show you the inner workings of the OT system from our side.

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Well, once we sort all this out, maybe we can address the issue of how much tip on an expensive bottle of wine. It *really* annoys me that there isn't an accepted standard, or at least some sort of guideline other than "20%, of course, and don't forget to grease the palm of the sommelier, too." :) Another issue that I'm interested in from a multitude of sides.

Cheers,

Hexagon Don

Can we add to this the appropriate amount to tip if you bring your own bottle and pay corkage? I can't recall ever having done it actually, but am thinking about it for an upcoming meal.

So could those of you that have dined solo and done a tasting menu chime in on your experience and whether you'd advise it or not? I'm going to Oregon at the end of the month and have a reservation for Joel Palmer, but I keep waffling. One concern is simply that I'm only in wine country one day so I will have to be very careful not to overtaste during the day so I can still fully enjoy dinner that night, but the bigger thing is that I am nervous about doing a whole tasting menu solo. Of course I don't have to do the tasting menu, but if I'm going there, I'd really like to. I am typically comfortable dining alone - happy to pull up a chair at the bar and read if the bartender isn't chatty, but a full tasting menu that could take hours and where I likely wouldn't want to read except perhaps briefly in between courses, I don't know. I also worry that the chef will be annoyed at having to create all of those dishes for only one diner. Someone please reassure me (or tell me my concerns are warranted)? :)

Second question - one of my dinners out in Portland is currently planned for Le Pigeon. They have communal tables, which is another solo dining experience I've never had before. Could be that I'll end up seated next to some awesome folks who want to include a random stranger in their evening, but more likely I am stuck eating alone, but closely surrounded by people? Bad idea?

I am trying to find people to join me for meals in Portland through Couch Surfing, but don't think that's an option for JP.

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I did a pre-fixe menu at CityZen solo on my birthday. I think it was 4 or 5 courses. I brought my book and I read quite a bit and also enjoyed the open kitchen. I didn't feel my service was diminished in anyway by being alone.

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Can we add to this the appropriate amount to tip if you bring your own bottle and pay corkage? I can't recall ever having done it actually, but am thinking about it for an upcoming meal.

So could those of you that have dined solo and done a tasting menu chime in on your experience and whether you'd advise it or not? I'm going to Oregon at the end of the month and have a reservation for Joel Palmer, but I keep waffling. One concern is simply that I'm only in wine country one day so I will have to be very careful not to overtaste during the day so I can still fully enjoy dinner that night, but the bigger thing is that I am nervous about doing a whole tasting menu solo. Of course I don't have to do the tasting menu, but if I'm going there, I'd really like to. I am typically comfortable dining alone - happy to pull up a chair at the bar and read if the bartender isn't chatty, but a full tasting menu that could take hours and where I likely wouldn't want to read except perhaps briefly in between courses, I don't know. I also worry that the chef will be annoyed at having to create all of those dishes for only one diner. Someone please reassure me (or tell me my concerns are warranted)? :)

Second question - one of my dinners out in Portland is currently planned for Le Pigeon. They have communal tables, which is another solo dining experience I've never had before. Could be that I'll end up seated next to some awesome folks who want to include a random stranger in their evening, but more likely I am stuck eating alone, but closely surrounded by people? Bad idea?

I am trying to find people to join me for meals in Portland through Couch Surfing, but don't think that's an option for JP.

When I make reservations in advance at top restaurants, I include a note such as, "Hi, I've been reading about your restaurant for a long time, and am excited to finally be able to dine here. I'll be coming into town alone, and will be having dinner solo - would it be okay if I got a tasting menu? I've heard a lot about Chef X, and would love to try the full range of her cooking."

With a note like this, assuming you go on a night that isn't busy, I'll give you 90% odds of getting one of the best seats in the house - often a corner seat overlooking the entire restaurant. The restaurant seated you here because you sounded like a very serious, thoughtful diner, so in this situation do not read anything other than the menu during your meal. No books! (Or, at the minimum, don't *plan* on reading your book - wait and see how it feels. And why not immerse yourself totally, completely, in the moment, and focus on nothing but the restaurant and the meal. I find situations like this to be extremely rewarding, and often walk out feeling like a new person.)

If you do wish to read, I'd definitely sit at the bar, and not bother with the advance notice. You should be able to enjoy the tasting menu there, too, and the restaurant will not need to go on high alert so it's a more casual experience all the way around.

---

Edit: I was rereading my post, and it prompted a thought:

I decided awhile back to embark upon a "silent, affirmative action program" in terms of using masculine vs. feminine pronouns in my writing (refer to my first paragraph above). I hate the clumsy "his or her" construction, or any of its variants such as "laypeople," "(s)he," etc. Gender-neutral writing in a gender-marked language is just plain bad writing. So my solution has been:

1) If I know my audience is female, I tend to use the feminine unless it sounds forced.

2) If I know my audience is male, I tend to use the masculine.

3) If I don't know, or if it's a mix, I try to alternate - sometimes I pick things up with my left hand; sometimes with my right hand.

4) Most importantly, I try not to make a big deal about it; I just do it - it has become very easy and natural with time.

I've never thought to ask anyone before, but, well, why not. Is this approach reasonable?

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Second question - one of my dinners out in Portland is currently planned for Le Pigeon. They have communal tables, which is another solo dining experience I've never had before. Could be that I'll end up seated next to some awesome folks who want to include a random stranger in their evening, but more likely I am stuck eating alone, but closely surrounded by people? Bad idea?

I ate by myself at Le Pigeon and it was one of my best dining experiences ever. I scored a seat at the bar (which overlooks the kitchen), and wound up striking up a conversation with the chef that resulted in me getting his technique for making the best sweetbreads I've ever eaten. I also wound up chatting a little bit with the couple seated next to me.

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Don, that was exactly my thinking, that with a meal like the tasting menu at JP I wouldn't want to be distracted by reading at all. Aside from the concerns I already mentioned (gee, I have so many :P) I guess I worried about the servers feeling like they needed to fawn or something. I still find being attentive without overbearing is a tough balance for restaurants even when I'm with a group so I guess I worry about how that will play out with me as a solo diner. Still welcome more feedback, but I think I will stop worrying and follow your advice to send a note. That's really no different than my experiences when I wine taste alone, which I am completely comfortable with (although there I have an industry business card to help establish myself as someone serious about the wine and the experience).

I ate by myself at Le Pigeon and it was one of my best dining experiences ever. I scored a seat at the bar (which overlooks the kitchen), and wound up striking up a conversation with the chef that resulted in me getting his technique for making the best sweetbreads I've ever eaten. I also wound up chatting a little bit with the couple seated next to me.

Cool, thanks. Like I said above, I'm happy to eat at the bar, but was concerned about not getting a seat somewhere so wanted to make a rez to secure it. I wonder if I should give them a quick call and ask if they could just accommodate me at the bar? The alternative is just to see how things look when I get there - see where there are solo seats and what the company nearby looks like versus the bar. It will be a Friday night so I expect they will be busy. Nevermind, I looked more carefully at their website and see how the seating works now. I will contact them to see if they would consider reserving a seat for 1 at the counter. Otherwise, I may just have to show up early!

And yes, I know I overthink things. I can't help it!

ETA: Don, I think it's totally reasonable. Really I think as long as you're consistent throughout that piece of writing it shouldn't matter, and I appreciate your use of the feminine some of the time. :)

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Having a history of colleagues whose tastes run more to Olive Garden than Per Se, I've done fine dining and tasting menus solo more times than I can remember. I've found without exception that restaurant staff tend to have a high regard for anyone who likes good food enough to venture out for a tasting menu by themselves. In fact one of my favorite meals of all time was a solo dinner at the kitchen pass at Hearth in NYC. Got a couple of extra freebies from "mistakes" made in the kitchen and extra pours of off list wines from Chef. You'll be well taken care of.

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