The Solo Diner Edition
On rituals, hospitality, and decompression
Colin here. Keith McNally’s Instagram is full of charms and quirks, but what stands out to me is his longstanding loyalty to people who eat alone. Keith has mandated at all of his restaurants that patrons by themselves should be looked after, and never made to feel odd. The solo diner gets a glass of bubbles sent their way.
This stands in stark contrast: I recently called up Scott’s in London for a lunchtime table for one and the thinly veiled repulsion from the other end of the line was bracing. It was short of the Dorsia laugh from American Psycho, but was sufficiently chilly in that perfect British way. (Fear not, gentle reader, I was soon welcomed into the Connaught with open arms).
Turns out it’s no coincidence I’ve gotten warm welcomes as a solo diner in NYC. It’s a delightfully New York thing. Noted restauranteur (and author of the superb book Unreasonable Hospitality) Will Giadara told Eater in 2018:
“I think it’s a real compliment,” New York City restaurateur Will Guidara says of solo guests. “It’s saying ‘I’m here at the restaurant. It’s my number one priority.’” Because of that enthusiasm, “it is kind of a rule [at his NYC restaurant Eleven Madison Park] to go above and beyond to make those experiences special” for those dining alone, Guidara says.
Why is this interesting?
Treating a solo diner well is the essence of hospitality. It spurns the notion that a check could be bigger with a two-top, and focuses on the fact that solo dining can be a lovely, meditative experience (and also a sign of respect from the diner). Keith is not alone in his approach: Union Square Hospitality, run by friend of WITI Danny Meyer, also goes above-and-beyond for solo diners.
And it’s not a rare occasion: a report from Seven Rooms showed that the number of people dining alone at NYC restaurants was on the rise a few years ago. Rightfully so. It is one of life’s great pleasures: with a book, lost in the scroll, or alone with your thoughts. My dream (and very Mad Men) order: An ice cold, bone dry martini with West coast oysters and a perfectly cooked filet. You can focus on the food and the ambience, and everything comes into crisp focus (or gently blurs, depending on the martini consumption).
When speaking of the solo diner, Eater critic Ryan Sutton hits the nail on the head: “If they believe in the power of the product, the power of their cuisine, should a restaurant not be a complete, entertaining, and intellectually captivating experience by itself?” (CJN)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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