When I worked on my first book, I knew another writer on the east coast who was working on a similar guide for her region. She complained about the way she was treated when dining alone. I smugly thought, well, there you go—here in Minnesota, people are nicer. I was always treated well when eating alone.
That was then, this is now, and Minnesota Nice has shown its passive-aggressive underbelly. This summer, much to my dismay, I found myself treated not as well as one would expect when one is a smiling, please-and-thank-you-and-the-food-is-wonderful kind of diner. Especially the kind of solo diner who ate at off times to avoid taking up table space that could be used by larger, more lucrative parties at busier times. Or chose to sit at the bar and order off the menu for the same reason.
I know all solo diners aren’t as sympathetic to the restaurant’s plight of having one person taking up a table of four, while dozens are waiting; one night in Grand Marais, I poked my head in a restaurant that had a long line and saw a woman taking up a such a table, reading a book, fork dangling from her hand unused as she was apparently quite swept up in the story. I badly wanted to go up to her, take the book out of her hand, and whack her across the head with it.
So: restaurants? When you have a polite solo diner? Here are some cautionary tales from my roads.
1. When I enter your fine establishment, don’t look behind me and say “Only [or Just] one tonight?” How about “Dinner for one?”
2. If the host smiled at the party in line before me, it’d be nice if they smiled at me too, instead of looking disappointed.
3. Call me crazy, but if my server is going to explain the day’s specials to tables with two or more people, it’d be nice if s/he would explain them to me, not just assume I listened in when they were described elsewhere.
4. Shocking, I know—but just because I’m a woman alone doesn’t mean I might not like a beer or glass of wine. I’m middle-aged and frumpy, I’m not looking to pick anyone up and party ‘til I drop, but after 14 hours on the road with 40+ stops, I might like a libation of the adult variety.
5. When I’ve closed the menu and set it on the table, I’m probably ready to order. It’d be really quick and easy to take my order before the table of four giggling women who sat down after me, but I know you’re expecting a big tip from them. Which leads to my next point…
6. I try to be a generous tipper and an understanding diner, but when you repeatedly spend time fawning over the four women descending rapidly into drunken stupidity (and I’ve had both male and female servers do this), then rush by my table without taking my order/asking how my food is/refilling my water, I start to get cranky. Especially because…
7. The table of four drunk women, who apparently got started before they arrived at your establishment, have ordered a round of drinks and an appetizer to share. I, who haven’t eaten for eight hours and did a considerable amount of uphill hiking, ordered a drink, a salad and entrée and will probably want dessert and coffee. Meaning that if the drunk gigglers don’t order more, guess what? My tab will be higher than theirs.
8. Well, that is, if you remember to offer me dessert, instead of clearing my dinner plate and bringing my check. Before toddling off to hand out dessert menus to the drunken four who will drool over it before declaring they can’t eat another bite.
The first time I ran into a variation of this on my travels this summer, I thought it was an anomaly. But no—it happened again and again and again. I generally try to stay positive on this blog, so I’m not going to name names. Besides, quite often it wasn’t overt rudeness, just an overwhelming sense of “she’s alone, so she’s not worth the extra effort.” That’s so shortsighted—what’s to say I won’t be back tomorrow with a crew of people, or won’t recommend them to others based on how I was treated?
Instead of a hall of shame, how about a hall of fame: restaurants where I was treated as if I’d brought in a table of 10 big spenders:
Lange’s Cafe in Pipestone.
New Scenic Café north of Duluth.
Gunflint Tavern and Wild Onion Café in Grand Marais.
Sha Sha Resort on Rainy Lake.
Pedal Pusher’s Café in Lanesboro.