When was the last time you went to a restaurant all by yourself? Let’s be honest: solo dining is not a move many people can comfortably pull off. That’s because it’s awkward, and we in the restaurant business don’t do much to make it any less fraught. Unless you are a blogger, a food-writer, or just uncommonly gregarious, dining alone can be downright painful. But whether by choice or circumstance, there are times when it would be so nice to be able to go out to eat alone without feeling awkward, or worse: ostracized. Here is a set of pointers to help you make your single guests feel right at home.
1. Don’t bat an eye: When a solo diner approaches the podium and asks for a table, remind your hosts not to automatically assume that she is waiting on someone to join her. Of course, it is perfectly fine (and advisable) to reconfirm that she will be enjoying dinner alone, but be sure to find and use language that allows you to do so with grace and warmth.
2. Assume nothing: Just as you should never assume that a single guest is waiting for a dining partner, you should also never assume that your solo diners want to eat at the bar. It’s absolutely true that many singletons head straight for the bar when dining alone. This bunch usually doesn’t mind chatting with the bartender and your other bar guests. However, some of your solo diners might prefer to get tucked into a corner table where they can quietly enjoy their pinot with a good book. Assume nothing.
3. Seat consciously: If the dining room isn’t too busy, do your best to give your solitary guests a choice of where to sit. There are many reasons to dine alone, so it’s often difficult to determine where a guest will feel most comfortable. A shy diner may prefer a corner table, or a table adjacent to a window or a wall, whereas someone with fewer inhibitions might feel comfortable in the middle of the dining room. Of course, you can’t always be so accommodating, but do try your best to give solo diners a choice.
4. Do your job: Instruct your servers to treat single guests just as they would any other table. This includes the obvious, like refilling water glasses, taking orders, running and clearing plates in a timely fashion. If you treat your solo diners differently, they will notice and will feel uncomfortable. Remember that your goal is to give each and every guest a positive, memorable experience. The same rules apply to tables of one. Do your dang job.
5. Don’t overstep: As curious as you may be, never ever ask personal questions. This is true for large parties as well, but sometimes with a solo diner, those small pockets of silence can become uncomfortable, and personal comments and questions tend to accidentally slip out. Don’t let this happen. Keep the conversation light, brief, and professional.
6. Check Your Attitude: Some servers tend to get a little miffed when presented with a one-top, because they automatically assume that single guests leave tiny tips. Remind your servers to abandon assumptions and to always greet single guests with positive attitudes. Sure, a single guest’s ticket total is likely to be lower than your other, larger tables, but the only reason your tip might take a blow is if your attitude takes one first.
The best bartenders, by nature, know how to read people and how to gauge their desired levels of sociability. Encourage your servers to strive for this level of social awareness. With a few changes to our attitudes and mindsets, dining alone doesn’t have to be awkward or strange from any point of view. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts. What steps do you take to make your solo guests feel comfortable? Please feel free to leave a comment below!