Dining Alone

This morning I read Naturgesetz’  latest blog post about St. John the Baptist Day   http://naturgesetz-takecourage.blogspot.com/ (Sorry, I can’t figure out how to include an actual link. Maybe someday I will look in the instructions!)  In it he described several celebratory meals he had on the eve and the day. They totally put my salivary glands in a frenzy!

It got me thinking about another of my many quirks.  For many years (almost 30) I have not dined alone at what I would consider a nice restaurant.  I have only done so with friends or relatives.  If I am alone I will eat only at relatively inexpensive chain restaurants such as Dennys, IHOP, Golden Corral, etc. – but the cost has nothing to do with it.  Instead it comes from a particular experience I had years ago in New York.

From 1969 to 1982 I lived in Maryland – working in Baltimore and Washington.  My job took me to New York a couple times a year on business.  I also would go there for pleasure three or four weekends a year.  On those pleasure trips I would take off work about noon on Friday and either drive or take the Metroliner to New York, returning home on Sunday evening.   Although New York is surely a terrible place to live (congested, noisy and expensive) it is a wonderful place to visit.  On each of my trips I made sure to take in one Broadway show, eat at a fine restaurant , catch the Rockettes at Radio City and do at least one other touristy thing.

It was on a visit during the end of that period that I had the experience at a restaurant that caused my dining alone quirk.  I went to a restaurant considered one of New York’s finest (the name escapes me) that did not take reservations. When I arrived, around 6 PM, there was already quite a line awaiting seating.  I signed in with the receptionist and joined the line, which was growing.  They were seating people rather quickly, though, and it appeared that my wait would probably not be longer than a half hour.

At a point where I was getting close to the front there was an announcement: “xxxx party of two.”, and a couple  behind me in line stepped forward and were escorted into the restaurant proper.  “That’s odd.”, thought I.  Shortly, there was another announcement for two, and another couple from behind stepped forward, and I’m thinking: “What up wit’ dat?”  By this point I am almost at the head of the line – and another party of two behind me in line was granted entry.

Steam was coming from my ears as I stepped up to the receptionist’s station. “Pardon me,” says I, “Isn’t a table for two the same as a table for one?”

“Yes.” was the response.

“Well, you just seated three couples who arrived after me.”, says I.

He looked down his nose at me as if I were something one found stuck to the bottom of one’s shoe and haughtily stated: “We give preference to couples.”

“Fine.” says I, “You can scratch my name from the list.”, and I departed, quite annoyed.

I got to thinking about it and realized that the restaurant’s policy was profit driven.  After all, the revenues from full tables will exceed those from tables with empty seats.  In a time period where there are lines awaiting entry there is no need to have a table that is not full, nor is it desirable.  I’m certain that I would have been welcomed at 10 PM when there were empty tables.

In 1970s dollars my check would probably have been about $50, because I normally wouldn’t have an alcoholic beverage.  I would have left a $10 tip, since I generally tip 20%.   Two people at the same  table would likely produce more than $120 revenue, and even with only a normal 15% tip, at least $18 for the waiter. It’s easy to see why this particular restaurant would give couples preference.

Ever since then I have avoided dining alone at nice restaurants.  They don’t particularly want or need my business at peak times, when I would want to go.  I know that the vast majority of restaurants would nevertheless seat me, and that one that I went to was definitely an exception. Still, I have never since  been able to shake the feeling that most, if not all, busy restaurants, and waiters,  would prefer that I not dine there alone.

I know – – that’s nuts!  So be it.  In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man -“I yam what I yam!”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Dining Alone

  1. naturgesetz

    First reaction:
    Interesting point. I’ve never been in the situation that prompted your reflection on dining alone. But I have realized for a long time that a single diner is likely to generate less revenue than several. Of course, he also generates more than an empty table.

    But on the theory that I could be blocking a larger party from being seated, I try to run the tab up (without gluttony) and to leave a larger than standard tip. And this has become so ingrained that I tend to do it even when business is slow. I guess I still want to help the business succeed, and in general eating in a restaurant is not something I do every day, so it feels special.

    But my approach also applies to non-fancy establishments, since the staff there are as deserving of their tips as those in the fancier places — and perhaps need them more.

    Actually, I very rarely eat at really fancy places anyway. I’ve been to Locke Ober once or twice in my life. When I first went to the Scollay Square, it was somewhat upscale, but it has dropped prices and modified the menu to attract customers during the recession. I guess I’m most likely to go to a really fancy restaurant when I’m traveling.

    Second reaction:
    It’s too bad that that restaurant regards their patrons as nothing more than walking ATM’s. It would be preferable if they saw themselves as serving people rather than milking them.

  2. Pingback: Personal Care 101

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