Dining out alone can sometimes feel like an exercise in second-class citizenship.
—Illustration by Michael Byers
Any other night I probably could have ignored the comment. “Let me take that shared plate away…since it’s just you.” But on that particular evening, I sat solo at the chef’s counter as I waited for my partner of eight years to finish packing up his things, leaving a jigsaw puzzle of awkward, empty spaces on the walls of our apartment.
That night, the offhand comment chewed at me more than my hunger. I choked on a response and said nothing. When the same server delivered an amuse-bouche—spoonfuls of some kind of pretty curry soup—from the chef to the couple to my left, I perked up. I got even more excited when the pair to my right cooed over the delicate flowers perched atop their gratis bites. At least I could put a dent in one of those gnawing aches. I watched. I waited.
I got nothing. No dainty soup spoon ever appeared. No “courtesy of the chef” song and dance. Just an unceremonious plunking down of my warm salad and a side of “do you want anything else with that?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d been treated differently as a single diner. But on this night, the neglect seared. Yes, I was overly sensitive, but the instance underscored an undercurrent in Denver’s dining scene: Being a table-for-one diner can sometimes feel like being a second-class citizen. I’ve been shoved into uncomfortable corner seats, ignored at the hostess stand, and even overlooked while trying to order food from the bar in favor of groups who’d arrived after me. And I’m not talking about the local burger joint—these were fine-dining restaurants supposedly attuned to fine service. Part of me understands. I’m a one-meal check, so I likely represent a smaller tip for the server. I tend to eat faster when alone, so pacing can be more challenging for the kitchen. I’m easy to overlook, and the fact that I’m eating alone means I’ve got the opportunity to notice service missteps that I might not observe if I were distracted by someone else. “A lapse between courses of six or nine minutes in a group is nothing,” says Frank Bonanno, who owns 10 Denver restaurants. “But when you’re single and you’ve finished your salad, all you’re doing is tapping your foot.”
So I get why solo diners can be tricky. Still, my check matters. In fact, singles are now so common at many hotels that Basta chef-owner Kelly Whitaker’s newest project will be partially designed around those dining alone.
There’s another potential economic upside to treating single diners well: Singles may be dating, which translates into a lot of meals out. And in the turbulent world of romance, constants are critical, like having a spot where one knows the service and the food can be relied upon in the way a new potential partner cannot. Some weeks I’ll drop $100, maybe $200 (or he will) dining out—and in the off weeks I’ll still pony up $50 on solo suppers because I haven’t bothered to go grocery shopping. In short: I’m consistent business. So don’t shove me in the corner. Don’t “just one” me. Give me the amuse-bouche. And, please, leave the damn shared plate.