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Robin Garr

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Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Robin Garr » Wed Mar 22, 2023 6:35 am

Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

A fillet of Idaho Snake River farm-raised Riverence trout made a delicious entree at the elegant farm-to-table restaurant Barn 8 in Goshen, Ky.
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Years ago, after I left the newly corporate Courier-Journal, I went to work for a national non-profit based in New York City. It was a fascinating job that took me all around the country, visiting and reporting on creative grassroots organizations in all 50 states.

It was fun, stressful at times, and at the end of just about every day filled with meeting, chatting with, and interviewing grassroots heroes, I was ready for some quiet time alone … and a good dinner with only my thoughts or a good book for company.

Back in those days – we’re talking the ‘90s here – a lot of my friends thought I was brave, or maybe a bit addled, to do this thing, especially since I always asked for a table for one and declined any suggestion that I eat at the bar. After a day of constant interaction with people, though, I went into full introvert mode and really didn’t want to chat with the bartender or the guy on the next stool.

Recently, sparked by a random recollection, I wondered if many food loving types are still perturbed by the idea of dining out alone, so I put out a call for opinions on social media.

A generational change?

What did I learn? To some extent, it appears that there’s been a generational change. Only a handful of friends remain averse to the very idea. Most feel – as I do – that one has a complete right to dine alone, entitled to treatment just as welcoming as anyone else.

This seems particularly true of younger friends, who find the very idea of feeling shy about dining alone a bit laughable. Or pitiful, maybe. All of a sudden, Gen Z babies born at the dawn of the new millennium are old enough to go out to dine, pull up to the bar, and order dinner and a cocktail, a beer, or a glass of wine. Legally. Without a moment of self-doubt. See them and learn.

Mostly. though, I was getting answers to s question I didn’t ask. People spoke of the joy of sitting down at a restaurant bar and enjoying a sociable evening with the bartender and new friends. That’s the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.

So I asked the question again, this time specifically asking how people felt about dining alone at a table in an upscale restaurant, perhaps with a sommelier and maitre-d’. Now a bit of aversion started to show up. Quite a few friends repeated their preference for bar seating. Yeah, but that’s not what I asked, folks! A few said that, like me, they’d gladly enjoy solitude and a good book at a table. Others, though, finally acknowledged that this would feel uncomfortable and they’d prefer not to do it.

That might have been me, before I learned better. Let’s talk about solo dining today, and how we can make it easy.

Feeling wary ...

First, let’s review a few reasons why people might feel wary about eating solo in a high-end establishment.

Some might feel awkward about being surrounded by couples and groups who are drinking, sharing bites, and chatting happily. Are they having a better time than you are? I’m not so sure of that.

Others might worry that they’ll be judged or looked down upon for dining alone, as if it’s a sign of being undesirable or unpopular. To those folks I offer one of the best pieces of life advice I ever got: People are almost never thinking about you as much as you fear they are.

Would-be solo diners might fear of being seated in an undesirable location. An out-out-of-the-way corner, maybe. Or next to a noisy server station or kitchen door. Or, gasp, adjacent to the restrooms. Pro tip: Ask to be moved!

Finally, you may worry that servers and staff will look down on you, ignore you, make your table last priority in getting service and food. If you start by feeling guilty about dining solo, I get why you might feel that way. But I urge you to push through it.

Here’s my advice: Keep in mind that the restaurant industry is also known as the hospitality business. Every restaurant I can think of, and this certainly includes the high-end niche, seeks to provide quality service and hospitality to every customer, whether it’s a party of 20 or your party of one.

Dining alone is becoming increasingly common, and restaurateurs understand that it’s good hospitality and good business to ensure that every guest feels comfortable and even pampered. Yes, even if they are dining alone.

My advice

So here’s my advice: Dine with confidence. There’s nothing wrong with your party of two being you and your book. There’s nothing wrong with dining alone, and it doesn’t make you a weirdo or loser. Hold your head high, smile, and enjoy your meal.

Need a little more reassurance? Here’s a random half-dozen of Louisville’s fancier restaurants where – without even having to ask the management – I am confident that you will be welcomed and well served during your solo visit, at a table for one or at the bar. Take your choice, or add your own favorite.

Anoosh Bistro (4864 Brownsboro Center, 690-6585, http://anooshbistro.com)

Barn 8 Restaurant (10500 W. US Highway 42, Goshen, Ky., 398-9289, http://hermitagefarm.com/food-bourbon/barn8-restaurant)

Fat Lamb (2011 Grinstead Drive, 409-7499, http://fatlamblouisville.com)

Seviche (1538 Bardstown Road, 473-8560, http://sevicherestaurant.com)

211 Clover Lane (The Colony Center, 211 Clover Lane, 896-9570, http://211clover.com)

Volare Italian Ristorante (2300 Frankfort Ave., 894-4446, http://volare-restaurant.com)

Still uneasy after all that? A couple of final tips:

Reassure yourself by calling ahead. Reserve a table for one and seek their assurance that you’ll be welcome.
Forget the fancy and enjoy an affordable meal at favorite taqueria, pizzeria, soul food or down home eatery or, well, pick a place that you love.

Bon appetit!

Read this article on LouisvilleHotBytes:
https://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/dini ... just-do-it

You'll also find this commentary in LEO Weekly online later this week:
http://www.leoweekly.com/category/food-drink/
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Carla G

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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Carla G » Wed Mar 22, 2023 9:15 am

I was so happy to read your most recent posting Robin. It's a quiet subject that usually doesn't get much attention, yet, when mishandled, can genuinely ruin an evening (or afternoon) out. And I agree with almost all of your posting. I will point out however that there is a big difference between a man dining out alone and a woman dining out alone especially if you are a younger woman. (Even us old ladies are still met with challenges.) And even if the restaurant industry itself is catching on to this cultural change, our society really hasn't. Sorry, we are not there yet. Stigmas still abound and often the public will read unspoken messages into why a woman is out, alone, dining on her own. And as to your list of restaurants where one can dine out proudly alone...I can would stipulate NOT if you are a woman dining out alone.

Still, I appreciate your approach if only because it admonishes others to get a grip and get used to it.
"She did not so much cook as assassinate food." - Storm Jameson
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Robin Garr

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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Robin Garr » Thu Mar 23, 2023 3:44 pm

Thanks, Carla, and yeah, good point. As a Guy, I'm guilty of not thinking of that, although on the other hand I started several social media discussions about this and no women friends mentioned it either! :?
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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Carla G » Fri Mar 24, 2023 9:50 am

(shrugs) I dunno. Perhaps because when women do complain about such things men view it as whining.
"She did not so much cook as assassinate food." - Storm Jameson
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Mike L

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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Mike L » Fri Mar 24, 2023 10:11 pm

The biggest issue I have with eating out alone is the same issue I have eating out as 2 people - lack of service. I see this time and again.

We are always super polite to waiters, but at the end of the day it's simple math. Waiting on a table with 4+ people is a lot more lucrative than a table of 2 or 1, in general. So again and again, my wife and I get ignored for checking in or refills.

We've eaten out one night a week for the past nine weeks, and 4 of those, my wife and I have struggled to get refills. And it's happened the last 3 weeks in a row. It gets tiresome having to go to the bar, if the restaurant even has one, to get a $4 glass refilled.

I know restaurants and wait staff have faced incredible adversity through the pandemic but at the end of the day, we can't choke down our food without drinks. If any restaurant owners are reading this, you need to come up with new ways to get drinks to customers. Put a soda fountain in the dining room. Give people pitchers. For whatever reason, many waiters just do not want to refill drinks anymore. And eventually my wife and I are going to give up unless something changes.
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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Robin Garr » Sun Mar 26, 2023 6:30 am

I hear that, Mike. You're right on both counts: Restaurant labor issues are still a big problem. AND it's hard to be patient when we're paying for a restaurant experience and things aren't going right. I wish I had an answer, other than trying to be patient. And that's not easy!
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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Mike L » Mon Mar 27, 2023 9:48 pm

I think they need to understand that no one has to go to a restaurant. If they don't put any effort into providing minimum service while expecting big tips, we as customers are going to do something else.

No one is going to repeatedly deal with an experience of having to wait 20 minutes for a waiter to come around, watching their food get cold, not being able to choke down their meal without a drink to wash it down.

The model is broken. Add some way for us to get drinks easily ourselves since the service people can't or won't do it. Walmart and Target added self-checkout lanes. If all you can provide is meals and not drinks, fine, let us bring our own drinks.

Something needs to change.
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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Willie Myers » Mon Mar 27, 2023 11:30 pm

Mike L wrote:No one is going to repeatedly deal with an experience of having to wait 20 minutes for a waiter to come around, watching their food get cold, not being able to choke down their meal without a drink to wash it down.


Couldn't agree more with this. There's little worse than watching your meal go off because you can't get your server back to the table to deal with some issue. More and more often, I've taken to flagging down *any* other server and asking (politely) if they would ask our server to come by. It often gets quick results....
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Re: Dining solo: No fear, no shame, just do it

by Robin Garr » Tue Mar 28, 2023 10:22 am

Willie Myers wrote:[... More and more often, I've taken to flagging down *any* other server and asking (politely) if they would ask our server to come by. It often gets quick results....


Good advice, WIllie!

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