Spring in New York is glorious.
It’s a restaurateur’s dream city. Walk to most corners and you will find food at every turn like breadcrumbs (pardon the pun) leading you to your destination.
The relevant part for me in looking at a great restaurant is how does it settle one main aim – to please people and leave a unique, positive, sensory experience.
Pure theatre matters, as it does in a great film or live show. The set matters. The cast matters. Looking after a solo diner is to master a restaurant, nothing could be more transparent, polarising and honest. You need to read the client’s energy, understand where to sit them and what they need. And if you are a seasoned professional you will do all this without actually asking at all.
But it’s easier said than done.
A great experience when dining solo is testament to a great place that reads its clients well. No I’m not lonely and don’t need a friend, dear waiter. I don’t need a book or the paper. Yes I will drink well and eat well. No I don’t want to sit at the bar. This my dinner table experience. Yes an actual dinner with myself – pure joy.
Even though I am very lucky and know lots of people all over the world, I often feel the need to embark in one of my pleasures in life, dining solo.
I was in New York working for Fashion Week, catching up with friends, and sampling the best of this incredible city.
I really just wanted to be on my own one night, so I rang a restaurant to make a booking for just myself. Me. Solo.
I was told that they don’t take bookings for one. I won’t name and shame (cough, cough, Del Frisco’s Steakhouse!) Single diners are just taken on a “first in, first served” basis.
Well, I thought that was kinda wrong! And I even felt a little discriminated against.
I tried my luck at being “first in” – and there was the restaurant, 70% empty. How many times do they turn away bookings for single diners and miss out on their business?
The wait staff were entertaining themselves on their phones, which is not only boring for them, leading to unenthusiastic service, but a bad look for the venue.
So this got me thinking, while I was sitting there, dining solo by choice. If the response to dining alone is like that for me I can only imagine how awkward it must be for a woman.
Do people assume you are lonely? Desperate? Wanting to be picked up?
Not every solo diner wants the waiter to come and chat, or provide a newspaper, to make you feel more ‘comfortable’ (or is it to make them more comfortable?)
Don’t confuse a solo diner with being alone. For me – that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’ve written previously about “turning off” (yes, I mean your phone) and and tuning in. Being present. It’s just another way of learning (and loving) more about yourself.
Take a look around at the venue. Appreciate the design, decoration, vibe. Notice the service, dress/uniforms, music, and the smell.
Taste the food. I mean really taste the food. It’s easier to do on your own. You get thinking time.
Or don’t actually do any of this. Just sit and enjoy your own company. It can be contagious once you master it and you learn to love being alone.
So next time you want to try that new restaurant up the road, take a shower, dress up, and take yourself out on a date.
I’d love to hear how you went, especially if they don’t know how to look after a solo diner.
* Robert Marchetti is a chef and restaurant consultant to QT and Double Six hotel groups.
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