In a world where people living alone is on the increase, where couples divorce and single parent households soar, one of the best things about supperclubs is the mixed tables. Not all supperclubs do this, some imitate high street restaurants and you book a table...as in 'table for four' or 'table for two'.
But when you think of where you can meet other people, a conventional restaurant with separate tables is not a place that springs to mind. Even if you are in a relationship, let's face it, we've all seen those couples in restaurants looking bored shitless with each other, eating almost in silence.
I relish the freedom that a mixed table gives: the opportunity to meet other people. It's more like the pre-revolutionary (French that is) table d'hote.
So what do single people do if they want to eat out? At a conventional restaurant you have few options; in fact you are more likely to choose a cheap or chain restaurant to feel less awkward. Or you can take a large book and pretend to be engrossed in it while you scoff. This also gives off the message that you don't want to be bothered, useful for single women.
If you do have the courage to go to a good restaurant on your own, all too frequently lone diners are sat at the worst table, seated next to the toilets or serving area. Wait staff often look down their noses snootily at lone diners
"Are you waiting for someone?"You feel embarrassed enough without unspoken billy-no-mates or 'left on the shelf' subtext.
Then there's the service which will be either very slow, because they've forgotten about you, or ridiculously fast, for they are trying to get rid of you, turn your table, and a table of two is more profitable. However it's also true that time does pass at a slower speed when you are alone.
In a high class restaurant, treating a solitary diner badly is a mistake, after all you could be a Michelin or AA inspector.
If you walk into a restaurant on your own, order one gin and tonic (can your restaurant make a halfway decent simple cocktail?), a glass of orange juice (is it freshly squeezed or from a carton?), something from every course of the menu and drink no wine, chances are, you are an inspector. Try it, you might get better service! (Believe me, I've had it on good authority that if you do these things, the kitchen will be all abuzz...plus many restaurants have laminated photographs on their kitchen walls of all the top restaurant critics so that waiters can recognise them).
I do think it's even harder to dine alone if you are a woman and this article says that women who travel alone on business tend to eat in their room.
The site solodining.com gives two alternatives to eating alone:
- Eating at the bar. The disadvantage with this is, as a short woman, I loathe sitting on bar stools where your legs dangle child-like in the air. I like to plant my feet firmly on the ground when I eat.
- Communal tables: some conventional restaurants, notably Wagamama and Ottolenghi offer this
Chef Nuno Mendez told me that one of the elements from his supperclub that he will definitely incorporate into his forthcoming restaurant 'Viajante' is a large communal table.
Holidays are also a minefield if you are single or worse, a single parent. I've always wanted to start up some kind of single parent holiday club but the one's that exist tend to consist of rainy caravans in Britain. Single parent's not only have to pay for their children ('double' parents often get free child places) but also have to pay adult price for their kid.
Once I booked a bed and breakfast via a guidebook. When I reserved by phone I explained that I was coming with my three year old and was that ok? No problem, I was told. On arrival we were put in the tiniest bedroom, you could barely open the door, with a single bed. My child was not allowed in any of the shared rooms such as the sitting room. I left and had a panicky few hours trying to find another place to stay on a holiday weekend in Devon.
I hope that people coming alone to my restaurant will feel welcome...warn me and I will do my best to make sure you have a great time... with the other people on your table.