Q&A: Table for One, Please

Dining out alone can be an awkward, if not awful, experience. But it doesn't have to be, says Michael Kaminer, author of a series of restaurant guides for solo diners. Associate Editor Toddi Gutner recently spoke with Kaminer about his Table for One series (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, $12.95 each). So far, he has written guides for Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, and he's planning more. Kaminer rates restaurants based on food, service, and how welcoming they are to singles.

Q: What do you look for in a solo-dining-friendly restaurant?

A: The first thing is a warm welcome. You can almost always tell what kind of meal you're in for from the reception when you walk in. I also like to make sure the lighting is adequate. Solo diners, myself included, like to read while they eat. There should be a good selection of wines by the glass. Most folks eating alone can't polish off a whole bottle in one sitting. Finally, I like to see whether there are enough small tables. Some solo diners feel awkward taking up a big booth or a four-top. A paucity of small tables means you might also get stuck at a communal table, which has all the ambience of dining on an economy-class flight.

Q: What types of restaurants should a person eating alone avoid?

A: Stay away from the "restaurant of the moment." If a place is "hot," the last thing they'll care about is serving a solo diner. Also, many folks eating alone don't feel comfortable in romantic restaurants. I also like to avoid places that have a theme, floor show, or anything interactive because they're geared for groups, and you'll end up feeling left out or foolish.

Q: Any other tips for people dining by themselves?

A: First, assert yourself. If you're given a bad table or receive bad service, let the manager know. There's no reason to be self-conscious about complaining. Second, consider sitting at the bar or counter. They're great alternatives for those who don't feel like taking a table. Third, don't assume that solo-friendliness is proportional to price. I've been mistreated at plenty of expensive restaurants. Finally, don't let the restaurant rush you through your meal. Savor the time on your own.

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