Long tables are a comfortable alternative for solo travelers dining alone
“How many in your party?” asks the hostess when I enter the room.
“It’s just me. I’m eating alone, a party of one,” I say sheepishly. I resist the impulse to offer an excuse for my solo-ness.
Whether I’m traveling for business or pleasure, I think of myself as a mature, independent woman of a certain age. But I’ll admit it. I’m a pathetic, shrinking violet when it comes to dining out alone. Even the two prosthetic devices mostly commonly used by people eating alone— the smartphone and the e-reader— don’t quite cut it for me.
I feel especially awkward at an upscale restaurant when tables are set for twos and fours, as the wait staff removes the extra place setting across from me, and the people at the tables on both sides predictably pause their lively conversation to stare at the person who is dining alone. My feelings may well be one of the remaining vestiges of the awkwardness of not having a friend to sit beside in the middle school cafeteria.
There are some other adaptive strategies for shy, self-conscious single diners that work for some but not for me. The most obvious, perhaps, is to hide in a booth or banquette with a high back that affords privacy. Not every restaurant has them and most restaurant staff aren’t too anxious to waste a space for many for a party of one.
Another technique is that of camouflage – grabbing a stool at a counter or sushi bar where a single diner can be “embedded” in the lineup (no one can really be sure which people are single or paired). But that option isn’t always available either.
In Europe, informal trattorias, bistros, and tapas bars make it easy for the solo traveler to eat comfortably while eating alone. But especially for women, when you belly up to a bar with alcohol you may give the unintended appearance that you’re waiting to be picked up.
Birth of the long table
In the 1990′s, French contemporary designer Philippe Starck popularized another option, long tables, one that has become increasingly popular for both singles and couples who are seeking the sense of spontaneous conviviality often absent in a post 9/11 world. The tables are usually made of appealing natural materials, like stone or recycled woods, and can accommodate 10-30 individuals or more, offering a sense of instant community among strangers.
The tables are ideal social lubricants not only for singles who want some company or who don’t want to feel singled out when they eat alone, but also for large groups and couples who want to eat and mingle with new people. If you’re a traveler at a hotel, restaurant, or even on a cruise ship, it can be a way to meet other travelers (and in some cases locals) with no obligation beyond the meal. Your options include the person on either side of you, the one across the table, or the small group around you.
The list of dining venues with long tables I’ve encountered keeps growing and you probably have your own favorites but here are some you might want to check out:
5 Dining venues with long tables
1- Hudson Common at the Hudson Hotel, New York City
Originally called the Hudson Cafeteria, this hotel restaurant in the Columbus Circle area has long rustic black wooden tables. They’re paired with a self-service buffet offering casual American comfort foods, framed by warm brick walls.
2- Tres in the SLS Hotel, Beverly Hills
In this elegant, chandeliered modern setting, the long tables are high marble ones located in a large alcove off the guest lobby. Three meals a day are prepared by Spanish celebrity chef Jose Andrés, enjoyed by both overnight guests and locals.
3- Urban Farmer in the Nines Hotel, Portland, Oregon
Located on the eighth floor of the hotel, this steakhouse emphasizes Northwest, sustainable ingredients and simple, straightforward preparations. This long table is twenty-feet long, sourced from an old-growth Douglas fir.
4- Irish Heather Gastropub, Vancouver, Canada
Located in the historic Gastown district of the city, this restaurant is owned and managed by restaurateurs of Irish origin. On Monday nights, guests can sit down and order a dinner plate and beer/beverage for $16. The 40-foot long table is made of reclaimed wood from orphanages and seats as many as 50 people. The by-reservation Long Table Series, advertised as a “Sunday dinner without the cleanup,” is a great way for singles to meet and make friends.
5- Colonnade on the Seabourn Sojourn
Cruises are always wonderful options for solo travelers. (See my article on Solo Cruising that appeared in the Boston Globe). Whether you’re cruising solo or cruising as a couple and want breakfast before your mate, it’s comfortable to sit at one of the marble-topped long tables in the Colonnade Restaurant, the ship’s casual restaurant.
If you have enjoyed dining at a long table during your travels, please mention its name (and city) below. Or am I the only wimp who hates to eat alone?