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FOOD & WINE

Long tables for the solo traveler

October 5, 2013
The elegant long table at Tres

Long tables are a comfortable alternative for solo travelers dining alone

Long table at Irish Heather Gastropub (Credit: Irish Heather)

Long table at Irish Heather Gastropub (Credit: Irish Heather)

“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

Hudson Common (Credit: Hudson Hotel)

Hudson Common (Credit: Hudson Hotel)

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

The elegant long table at Tres

The elegant long table at Tres (Credit: SLS Hotel)

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

Urban Farmer Bar at The Nines (Credit: Starwood)

Urban Farmer Bar at The Nines (Credit: Starwood)

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

Long table at the Irish Heather Gastropub

Long table at the Irish Heather Gastropub

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

One of the long tables in the Colonnade Restaurant aboard the Seabourn Sojourn

One of the long tables in the Colonnade Restaurant aboard the Seabourn Sojourn (Credit: Seabourn)

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.

[My post on long tables is part of a linkup on Managing Solo Travel Fears sponsored by Inside Journeys and on Travel Photo Mondays sponsored by Noel Morata.]


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? 

  • Reply
    Marcia
    October 5, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Great article, Irene. This is the perfect solution to dining alone. I’ll have to look out for long tables on my next solo trip.
    Thanks for linking up!

  • Reply
    Pam Houghton
    October 5, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I think this is an interesting idea. I’ve noticed at several of our local Starbucks that long tables have replaced smaller tables, perhaps to increase a sense of community.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Wagner
    October 5, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    In NYC, we have the restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidient all over with mostly long tables. I never really understood the reason for them, but you just opened by eyes. Thank you for giving me perspective on shared tables.

  • Reply
    Shannon Bradley-Colleary
    October 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Alright. After reading this I’m booking a trip to Germany, but in the meantime I’m tempted to make saurcrout (how do you spell that) and bangers (which sounds a bit provocative)

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    October 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Wonderful article! (You’re not the only wimp who ates to eat alone.) Long tables are not only a helpful idea for solo travelers who want a little company when dining. They’re also great for rubbing shoulders with other diners when traveling. We’ve struck up some lively conversations with fellow travelers at long tables (where we may get seated if all the tables for 2 are booked).

  • Reply
    Muza-chan
    October 7, 2013 at 1:15 am

    I agree with you…

  • Reply
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders}
    October 7, 2013 at 2:36 am

    I like the idea of a long table, and that one at Tres looks ultra fancy. I’ve dined at one in Austin, Texas, but the name of the restaurant escapes me now. I remember placing my order at the counter and then sitting down (solo) at a table for two at the crowded restaurant, feeling somewhat guilty for wasting a spot. A couple walked up and pointed out the long table, suggesting that it may be better for me to sit there. Silly me had thought that the table was for large parties, but when I looked closer, I realized that it was for single diners. I moved over, not minding at all, so that the couple could have my small table, and I could chat with others while I ate. Coming to you from the Travel Photo Discovery linkup, by the way.

  • Reply
    noel morata
    October 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    this is an excellent venue for solos or even social people that want to connect with other dinners and enjoy a big table experience, great post Irene.

  • Reply
    Cathy Sweeney
    October 8, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    I love this idea of long table dining when solo. I’m usually quite comfortable dining alone, but would gladly try one of these places you’ve found. They look like very cool places, too.

  • Reply
    Mike
    October 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    This was a fantastic post, Irene, as it took into my 40’s before I finally started getting the courage to eat out alone. And I’m a loaner in the first place so that was ironic that it was such a hangup for me as you would have thought just the opposite. I love to people watch (not rudely) and have found this one great way to write a good story. And plus I like doing my food posts so if I have to alone it is! But, I MUCH prefer a friend with me so that we can order more food to take pictures of 🙂

  • Reply
    Nina
    November 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    This is a great idea to help people break out of their shell. I have no problem going places alone – if I didn’t go by myself I wouldn’t go anywhere! So whenever I enter a restaurant, I hold my head up high like I own the place. That said, I am so used to going solo that it’s difficult for me to be comfortable in groups – so I picture myself sitting down at one of these long tables with other people, and it feels just fine! Break out of that shell!

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