Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Table for One: A brief guide to lone dining

There's an art to dining on your own. A rule set, if you will, that must be adhered to. These rules, in conjunction with some ancillary guidelines and recommendations I’ll be suggesting, are there to make you seem less threatening to other diners (and the staff) when you roll in asking for your table for one. It's an art that protects both you and any other diners in the restaurant from feeling unduly anxious. You must be prepared. Otherwise you're the nutcase in the corner putting everybody off his or her green salad.

Remember, as a lone diner you are a figure of ridicule and shame. It's best not to be too visible. That's why you often get the worst seat in the house. Often, it's the staff table and they have to clear the ashtrays, gin and playing cards out of the way before you can sit down. To aid in this it's best not to wear anything too conspicuous. Don't make the rookie error of wearing camouflage and a hood as this often leads to arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Restaurant staff will react in one of two ways when you ask for your Table of Solitude. They'll either become instantly chirpy and chatty, breezing you to your table like "we get lonely men in here all the time" or they'll ask you to wait for a bit whilst they clear away the aforementioned gin and watch you for signs that you're going to pull a gun, start drooling or hand out religious tracts. In some restaurants, the head waiter may take care of your personally, with friendly banter and a "something for the weekend" charm. This is done to make sure you pay and don't steal the crockery.

Reading material is a must. An absolute must. If fellow diners see you by yourself reading, it relaxes them. I think a magazine or a newspaper better than a book. A broadsheet or a magazine like New Scientist or Monocle gives the lone diner an air of casual insouciance, a "just catching up with what's going on over a bit of food before I jump in cab to the airport and catch a flight to JFK" sort of vibe. Penthouse, Mayfair or Razzle will not have the same effect and may put more elderly diners around you in peril. A book is a tricky one. It can seem as if you are man of the world or it can give the game away and suggest you might hang out in bell towers. Any sort of self help book is out, as is any sort of military escapade, you know, KillZone Beta Five Bravo: The true story of the SAS from a man who's best mate knew someone who delivered towels to the barracks.

Fiddling with a Smartphone can be good. Interspersed with reading from a magazine is even better. Screaming blue bloody murder because you missed Red Pikachu is bad.

Just sitting humming of pom-poming to yourself is terrifying, especially if you insist on catching people's eyes and nodding creepily. Doubly bad if you smile at other lone diners. They will fear for their lives.

Restaurants with counters are good since it's acceptable to watch the food getting made and pubs are even better since a man enjoying a pint with a bite to eat is a joy to behold.  Like a spring lamb or a rainbow.

This post was written at a table for one in Hiba on Borough High Street, a rather good Lebanese. Please excuse the bits of labneh, falafel and grilled chicken with aioli and harisa strewn across the keyboard. Using a laptop at a restaurant whilst eating dinner, is of course, inexcusable.


kate said...

wow, look at that, I'm already drooling, great color, looks delicious

Fat Les said...

Ha Ha, excellent post. I once went to a loveless pub in the wrong part of Hackney and ordered myself a glass of red (I’m no good with beer). Now I only did this because I needed to use the loo. What with my rucksack, Doc Martins, holey jeans and fleece top, I looked like some kind of misplaced perv reading a discarded Sun. Alas no, I was soon approached by two drunk Eastern European insisting that I sell them some illicit DVDs. That wasn’t the first time. You know now what I look like when I walk into any establishment on my own, a DVD pedlar from Mainland China!

Monkey Gland said...

Kate: I think you got the wrong post, but thanks!

Fat Les: We've all been there. Hobo chic is all the rage.

Olle said...

I often think that (if there is a conflict) couples and parties should do with the less good table in relation to the single guest as they will be fully immersed with each other during the meal, while the pleasure of the single guest relies on a good view over the room, decorations and other people. Place the romantic couple at the staff's table, what do they care!
Concerning the comfort of the single guest and its relation to other people in the restaurant I have found a concept that solves the whole problem. Just think this thought: "My name is Bond. I am on an international assignment of highest importance and discretion. In order to fulfill my assignment, upon which our common future lies, it is vital that I get this non-shaken martini, the small seafood platter, the sirloin and a bottle of Bordeaux. You say it's luxury, for me it's a day at work. For the same purpose I shall require a good table, with a good view and my back free. Please take no notice if I check the latest business news on my smartphone or re-read a section of my arm's manual."

Krista said...

You know I eat by myself all the time. Definitely agree magazines are the best choice, followed by an iPhone. Most restaurants have no issue with this, but at Facil in Berlin, they sat me smack dab in the middle of the dining room, facing all the other diners. This was weird. I prefer the edges.