Philadelphia's famous "Love" sign.
With Valentine’s Day happening earlier this week, I started thinking about all the times I’ve had the nerve to ask for a table of one. Most of my travelling is done with other people, but once in a while I enjoy taking a trip by myself. I don’t have a significant other, so if I go it alone it’s usually because no one else is available or because a particular place catches my fancy.
One of the things I try to do on these solo trips is enjoy a nice sit-down meal once during the trip. But the reactions I get whenever I stroll into a restaurant and ask for a table of one tends to range from confusion to consternation. The mere idea that someone like myself would want to eat alone seems to boggle the minds of many a maitre’d.
At a French restaurant near my beloved hometown, I had made a reservation and was waiting for my name to be called. I could see the maitre’d just inside, calling out “Johnson, table of four”. “Cooper, table of two”. “Smith, table of eight”. And then he got to me. “Williamson, table of-” And then he hesitated. He squinted at the list. He couldn’t believe what he was about to read. “Williamson, table of- one?” Fortunately, the maitre’d seated me rather then direct me to the nearest takeout place. The waitress seemed a bit puzzled too, but the service was flawless.
Another time I stopped into a busy New York City Italian restaurant for dinner. The maitre’d was unfazed at my request this time and seated me quickly. The waitress came over, brought some bread and took my drink order. So far, so good. The table next to me also got seated quickly and was being served by the same waitress. I flipped through the menu and then started reading the book I brought along while waiting. The waitress soon took the order of the table next to me. I figured she would come to me next after relaying their order to the kitchen. So I read another chapter. She didn’t return.
By the end of the third chapter, the table next to me got their food. At this point, I realized something had gone wrong. I caught the eye of the waitress and she came over.
“Would you like to order something while you’re waiting?”
“Waiting? I’m not waiting for anyone.”
At this point, a look of horror came over her face. The poor thing thought someone else was coming to join me.
I thought the maitre’d had told her I was a party of one. In all fairness, the table was set for two (but all the seats at all the tables had place settings) and I didn’t tell her I was the only one. She took my order and the food came quickly. She even sent along an after-dinner drink as an apoligy for the slow service. I didn’t mind. It was just another adventure in the solo dining world.
And the book I happened to be reading? The Art of Non-Conformity. Neither one of us conformed to each others expectations that night.
Not all my solo dining excursions end up awkwardly. One of my best experiences happened in Philadephia. The hostel I was staying at was right around the corner from all these fantastic sidewalk cafes.Being a complete sucker for a sidewalk cafe and needing a break from Philly cheesesteaks, I stopped by one for dinner. The staff were wonderfully accommodating and not at all fazed by my diminutive party size. I got a table to myself right on the sidewalk where I could people-watch or read my book. When a random solicitor walked up and started talking to me, the waiter swooped in and chased him off. Even with sitting outside, it was good to know that the waiter was keeping an eye on me then (and needless to say, he got a good tip that
Overall, I see dining solo as not something to be afraid of, but just part of the adventure. If I wasn’t willing to go alone, I would have missed out on some wonderful dining establishments. It also makes appreciate all the more the people I do have dinner with and the joys of a good conversation over fine food.