As Inspectors for The MICHELIN Guide, we love to eat together and share our experiences, but we also really enjoy eating alone.
One thing we've noticed in recent years, and this applies all over the world, is that more and more people now both enjoy and feel confident dining and travelling alone.
People living by themselves are keen to get out and enjoy their local area; those after a much-needed break look forward to heading off for a weekend of relaxation; and businesspeople move from city to city as they travel the world. An integral part of all these experiences is enjoying a good meal – and what better way of getting to know a city or a region than eating in its restaurants and sampling its delicacies?
Gone are the days when businesspeople would stay in their hotel room after a day of meetings and order a club sandwich from room service. Now they want to try a local restaurant and get a sense of where it is they have actually travelled to.
So, in light of this growing trend, we thought we’d pass on a few tips for the solo diner.
Getting a Reservation
This can sometimes be the biggest challenge. Indeed, some restaurant booking platforms don’t even let you reserve as a ‘one’ – but, never fear. Send an email and, if it's an option, give some flexibility on both the date and time of your booking. This will make you an appealing prospect to a restaurateur; they rightly love a keen customer, especially as the scourge of the industry right now is the indefensible no-show.
Alternatively, go old-school and pick up the phone. You’ll be surprised at just how often a restaurant can accommodate you, despite their automated booking system assuring you it's impossible. It’s always worth engaging with the person on the other end of the line; make sure they know how keen you are to try their restaurant and they might spend some extra time trying to fit you in. If it's just not possible at the time, a follow-up call to see if they've had any cancellations is always an option too; don’t overdo it though – you don’t want them to have to take out a restraining order.
Lastly, if you happen to live or work nearby, you can always try the more personal approach by dropping in on your way past. It's usually much easier to build up a rapport face-to-face, plus, if it's a small neighbourhood eatery, the team are more likely to remember you on your next visit – you'll be a regular in no time!
Making last-minute bookings is tricky for all diners, so when it comes to planning a solo trip be sure to book in plenty of time. Get ahead of the game by adding yourself to the waiting list or finding out when the next set of bookings opens up, then log-on just ahead of time; being able to make a quick decision when the new dates are released could actually be to your advantage, as there are no family members or friends to confer with – it's just you and the reservation calendar.
There are, of course, times when it’s a disadvantage eating alone – platters, dishes designed for two and sharing menus are never ideal. But there are actually some advantages too. These days many restaurants have counters, which regularly have an odd number of diners and an even number of seats or vice versa; so being a single diner willing and able to fill up that row can be a win for both customer and restaurant.
If it’s Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving or any sort of celebratory day, then this is the time to be a little more patient. With dedicated menus often specially geared towards couples and groups – and tables often split and rearranged accordingly – fitting you in can become a little more challenging for the restaurant team. Never forget that restaurants are businesses too, so maybe also think twice before ringing them in the middle of a Saturday night service.
Most importantly, make sure you do your research before booking – some restaurants are simply more enjoyable than others for your average single diner. For most, a party place full of big tables probably isn’t going to be a lot of fun, while other restaurants positively encourage getting to know your neighbours thanks to their communal table set-up or dinner party style.
At the Restaurant
An experienced service team in a restaurant will put a single diner facing into the room – no-one eating alone wants to be plonked in the middle of the room. If that happens, just simply tell them you’d be far more comfortable elsewhere.
Eating alone is like driving alone. The first time feels mildly frightening. It gets more comfortable the second time you do it and, after that, you may even find yourself starting to enjoy it. After a week, having your own space and sense of independence is truly exhilarating, and you begin to wonder why anyone would ever want a passenger sitting alongside them.
To the narcissists among us, dining alone could be considered date night. It’s all about feeling comfortable in one’s own skin and in one’s surroundings. If you're unsure, take something to read – you may well not even look at it, but it serves as a useful prop for first-timers.
All of life is in a restaurant. Sit back and take it in. Own the space and remain in the moment, keep your phone in your pocket and simply enjoy the experience.
You never know, the restaurant might even think you’re a Michelin Inspector.