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How to do solo dining

While going to a restaurant alone might be seen as a social taboo, with some establishments even charging lone diners extra, there are plenty of advantages to dinner for one.

Alex Dilling at Hotel Café Royal sparked controversy when it was reported that it would be charging solo diners double to make up for the revenue lost from seating a single person at a table that could be for two.

The two-Michelin-starred restaurant later clarified that its policy was more complex than had been suggested:

Despite the clarification, the severe social media backlash from the media and industry figures had already occurred, with some suggesting that they would boycott the restaurant as a result.

But, while it shocked many, it is not completely unheard of for hospitality businesses to charge guests who come alone more.

Food writer Chris Pople, who blogs at Cheese and Biscuits, shared with db that one stateside restaurant takes its anti-solo diner measures to the extreme. Alinea in Chicago holds three stars in Michelin, with the guide noting that the menu features “whimsical items that are at times experimental” – but that whimsy doesn’t necessarily extend to those who come alone.

“Solo diners there are allowed, but you have to pay for two full tasting menus, similar to the Alex Dilling situation,” Pople explained. “However, at Alinea things then get even more weird. Even sat alone at a table, two tasting menus are served in full, one to an empty chair. You have the option (they say) of eating both if you want, but if you quite reasonably think one tasting menu is enough for one person for one evening, the uneaten dishes are just taken away, and binned. Next courses arrive, one sits there getting cold while you eat yours, then again gets removed uneaten and binned.”

“So not only do you have to pay twice as much as everyone else in the room for your dinner, you get the added humiliation of looking like you’ve been stood up by your date, on top,” Pople added.

Of course, these establishments are exceptions – some restaurants have made a conscious effort to be even more hospitable to lone guests. Brutto recently announced on Instagram that it would be giving solo diners (as in those ordering food, not just those who’ve come in for the £5 Negronis) a free spritz:


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But perhaps the best incentive to treat yourself and only yourself to a nice lunch or dinner is because it can be a great experience in its own right.

Restaurant PR Hugh Richard Wright told db that there are plenty of advantages to going solo: “I don’t know if it gives you a truer experience [of the restaurant], but it can certainly enable one to form one’s own opinion. I know certainly there will have been times where I’ve thought a mediocre restaurant better than it was because I’ve been putting on a brave face for the person who chose it or whose birthday it is, say; equally I’m sure there are restaurants I would have enjoyed more had I not been with someone who found fault with everything (though it’s a good rule of thumb wherever possible to avoid eating with people who find fault with everything).”

There is also the bonus of not having to go through the perennial problem of group meals: “You can order whatever you want, and you don’t have to share – how many times have you been for tapas and thought ‘I really want a patatas bravas and a chorizo al vino to myself,’ but instead have ended up sharing one between eight?”

This writer would also like to note that it also makes choosing a bottle of wine substantially easier, as you don’t have to compromise on something that won’t clash with your and your fellow diner/s’ dishes. If you don’t want a whole bottle to yourself, then opting for a spot with a strong by-the-glass selection is always a good shout, whether you just want one glass, or to taste something paired with each course.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel easy to just walk into a restaurant and sit down for a meal on your own – there is a degree of social stigma, or at least imagined social stigma, that can deter people from giving it a go. Many people feel awkward about being seen alone in a restaurant, or they feel uncomfortable with the idea of spending a couple of hours in their own company.

A YouGov poll from 2019 found that more than two-thirds (68%) of UK adults do not dine in restaurants alone, whereas just over a quarter (27%) do occasionally, and a shockingly low 2% do frequently (3% of respondents inexplicably did not know whether they did or did not).

In response to this, Wright’s advice was simple: “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”

As for the criteria that make a restaurant well-suited to eating alone, Wright said: “This depends on where you like to sit in a restaurant. Anywhere with a counter is generally excellent for solo dining but if – like me – you personally prefer a table it can be trickier. I find East & South-East Asian, and especially ESEA-owned, restaurants are particularly welcoming to solo diners, because culturally it’s perfectly normal to eat by yourself in countries like Japan.”

“I also find that as a general rule, no-reservations restaurants make good solo dining spots,” he continued. “They don’t have the pressure of a seating plan which allocates a certain number of each size table, so can fit in a ‘table for one’ more easily. Although it really shouldn’t be hard anywhere.”

To fill those long minutes between courses that might normally be occupied by chatting to a companion, Wright suggested that books and podcasts can be good, though he discouraged watching videos on your phone: “Bright flickering screens are antisocial, alone or otherwise.”

Wright noted that several of his clients pride themselves on treating solo diners with the same respect and attentiveness as other restaurants might treat a larger party: “My client Bellamy’s in Mayfair has an oyster bar serving seafood cocktails and open sandwiches which is hugely popular with solo diners at lunchtime; manager Cheryl knows all her regulars’ orders by heart and some people eat there, alone, every day…Also in Mayfair, I am endlessly mesmerised by how many people will stop into Scott’s of an early evening and have a Dover sole and a glass of wine for their supper, and be in and out in 45 minutes, dropping £70 the way you or I might pick up a Prêt. One day I want to do that myself!”

It may seem excessive, but this writer would argue that there are few joys that quite compare to blowing a not insignificant amount of money on a meal entirely for yourself.

Wright also highlighted Kiln, SOLA, BaoziInn, Tonkotsu and Cecconi’s as good options. To read db‘s list of some good London spots for solo dining (including Brutto), click here.

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