Town Square

Post a New Topic

Is there something wrong with dining alone?

Original post made by George, College Terrace, on Aug 16, 2006

On several occasions this month I have walked into a local restaurant by myself and been made to feel unwanted. In each case the restaurant has been 90% empty, yet in each case the host has steered me to the smallest, crummiest table in the room. In at least one case the host gave me a look like he was inclined to report me to the police. What gives? Is this sort of treatment considered standard for solo diners? I have NOT experienced this treatment in nearby Menlo Park or in San Francisco; only in Palo Alto.

Comments (23)

Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 16, 2006 at 3:58 pm

You need to go see "The Lonely Guy" with Steve Martin. There's a classic scene of him dining alone in a restaurant.

Posted by Theresa
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2006 at 11:02 pm

When I'm dining alone, if the restaurant people try to seat me at a lousy table, I ask for a better one. "How about that one instead?" is usually greeted with, "Oh, OK."

Check out what you're wearing and compare it to what people who are eating in the restaurant are wearing. If you look like a slob, they may try to put you off to the side so you don't scare off other potential diners.

I've gotten fine seats in Palo Alto restaurants when dining alone. It could be because I won't let them stick me at a lousy table though. I'm capable of voting with my feet also -- if a maitre d' tried to insist on seating me at a bad table, I would just leave and go somewhere else.

Posted by George
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 18, 2006 at 8:06 am

Gee, that was a lot of help. The suggestion that perhaps this diner looks like a slob is unnecessary and a bit insulting, to say the least -- not sure it's in keeping with the respectful guidelines of this forum. The truth is that I am better dressed and better looking than most of the other diners I have seen. And even for someone who is isn't, do you really condone that level of appearance-based discrimination?
As for voting with my feet: I have been in Palo Alto just a few weeks and (to my frustration) have already had to do so several times. The point is that one shouldn't have to -- at least not that often. Nor should one have to frequently resort to vetoing a lousy table -- one should get a decent table in the first place, don't you think?
In my brief experience, the local restaurant scene is less inviting than other cities I have lived in, worked in, or traveled to. The quality is respectable; the prices are certainly "sophisticated"; the marketing is very good; but the level of hospitality is disappointing so far. I love dining out, so I will keep trying and hope the experience improves. Any suggestions for good establishments would be appreciated.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2006 at 10:27 am

George, what restaurants have you tried so far? I used to live in downtown PA and know for a fact that there are lots of excellent restaurants with good service, but there are also a handful restaurants known for their lousy service. Could it be that you happen to have frequented only the lousy restaurants since you've moved?

Posted by Joline
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2006 at 4:50 pm

HI George,
I have been in Palo Alto for a couple of years and my recommendation would be Tamarin on University Ave.
If dining alone continues to be a problem for you, i am not opposed to accept an invitation, out of sheer kindness of course.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 19, 2006 at 12:38 am

Hi George,

When I first saw your letter's topic, I jumped to the conclusion that you are a woman because of the way you were treated in our local restaurants. I had thought that type of treatment was reserved for women dining without the accompaniment of a man.

Unfortunately, your experiences are all too common for women diners. We are directed to the table by the kitchen door, or one in the path of waiters serving other tables, or to any seat that discerning diners would consider less desirable. I resent having to ask for a better table, and when I am on my own I quietly walk out. When I'm with a friend, it's harder to leave because so many women don't want to make a fuss.

I'm glad you've found some restaurants to be welcoming, and I urge you to continue to patronize them. I have some favorites, but I'm always willing to try newly opened restaurants in the hope they will treat my women friends and me well. Alas, that's not always the case. Recently, attracted by reviews for a new restaurant in Portola Valley, a friend and I tried it out. Although the restaurant had only 2 other diners (it was 5:00 p.m.), we were given the least comfortable table in the place. We asked for one of the booths and were told the booths were unavailable even though they were all empty! When we made to leave, a booth was made available--I wish they'd let us leave! We watched as couples who were seated later, were served first; we had to remind our waiter of our presence--just the sort of thing that you experienced when dining alone in Palo Alto. I hope your letter serves notice to our restaurateurs that all customers deserve excellent service. I hope, too, that when anyone receives poor treatment in a restaurant, they have the guts to walk out.

And yes,Theresa, my friends and I are always nicely dressed and appropriate in our behavior.


Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2006 at 11:18 am

Do management and future diners a favor and express your disapointment as you leave, either directly or with a nickle tip.

Posted by pollycharlie
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 19, 2006 at 8:36 pm

This is interesting. I had the exact same feeling today, and I was just online searching what's wrong with eating alone and what I can do about it. I also just moved here a couple months ago. I travel alone a lot, and in my experience this is INDEED the worst place for diner alone -- let alone the fact that I am a woman.

In other towns (such as San Diego, where I lived for a while) when I ate alone, I usually get very friendly treatment. Sometimes the waiter/waitress would ask me if I were travelling or just enjoying my day. But here in Mountain View... it seems like they would like to get me out ASAP. Like I am "poluting" their restaurants. =) And here I thought people always tell me NoCal people are "friendlier" than SoCal people. Well, can't make the general assumption about people, but it's definitely worse being an alone female diner in the Bay.

Posted by David
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2006 at 9:55 pm

Actually I was looking for late dining in Palo Alto but found this thread and continued to read. I was amazed I had the same feeling a couple of days ago. I'm italian and being here in Palo Alto working for 4 weeks. I went to the brewery in Emerson st and nobody seemed to want to attend me. I had to stop a waitress which hardly replied to me and a couple of minutes later I had a menu, finally. Since I'm not from the area I was thinking that maybe I was in a self order area. Well, had to wait again a lot to somebody decide to ask me what I would. When I finally got the food there were no fork, knife nor napkin. Since I ordered a burger eating wasn't a problem but soon had to ask for a napkin as you can imagine :)
This was the worst experience I had. And about the comments of women only tables I'm amazed that happens, in Italy is so common to see tables of women only celebrating a birthday or meeting together in a restaurant. I always prefer to think I was just a bit paranoid.

Posted by Mike
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Maybe it's time to eat in. If you don't like the service you get then perhaps you shouldn't go to that restaurant.

Posted by Melinda
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2006 at 11:19 am

Walter, I think it is unfair to dock the server just because you get a bad table. It is not the servers fault that you were seated at that table. I think it is v. tacky to only tip a nickel. Servers make less the min. wage and depend on tips to live. They also have to "tip out" at the end of the night and if you only tip a nickel they actually lose money on the table.

Posted by J.Johnson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2006 at 12:01 pm

Walter E. Wallis commented:

"Do management and future diners a favor and express your disapointment as you leave, either directly or with a nickle tip."

Uh... no, don't be a jerk by leaving a nickel tip. You do that and whatever legit complaints you might have are overwhelmed by the impression that you're just a cheapskate.

If you have a gripe about the service at a restaurant, complain to the manager. If you can't even be bothered to express your complaints in any kind of descriptive way, then why should a restaurant care about your complaints?

Believe me, a diner who takes the time to politely talk with the manager about his/her complaints will be taken infinitely more seriously than any other way of getting a point across.

Posted by curious
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2006 at 1:35 pm

Which restaurants teated you badly, George?? Let us know so we can avoid them!

Posted by Illusions Fayrouz Restaurant
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2006 at 6:20 pm

No, this is not the norm, you have obviously chosen restaurants that have little training or lack mutual respect for others, especially their patrons! I have seen this in all restaurants across the country and it really comes from the attitude of the owner/manager. Next you encounter this type of treatment ask to speak to the manager/owner so that you may share your feeling for their own good.


Illusions Fayrouz Restaurant

Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2006 at 5:35 pm

If you are cheap, you don't tip. If the service is lousy, you leave nickle because you are too pissed to want to debate with the management. I left my last nickle with a waitress in Vacaville who served my waffles without syrup, and pointedly refused to acknowledgemy wave. It was 60 years ago, but I know what serving is, and how important tips are. In fact I have long objected to tips being taxed. I also, like most folk, can tell the difference between a servor who is overworked and one who doesn't care. The don't care needs to go somewhere else.

Posted by former waitress
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 11, 2006 at 11:02 pm

I have to agree with Walter. As a former waitress, several years, I worked hard for the tip that I was HOPING (not expecting) to get at the end of my work with a table. There were plenty of servers that I worked with who did not bother to do the work that they needed to do to make certain their groups were satisfied (typically that would mean someone else had to cover the slack until those slackers quit or were fired). I always wished that the people being served wouldn't leave a decent tip (or a tip at all) to those servers.

A tip is a token. I think that servers should get a higher salary, and then tips can really and truly reflect your satisfaction with the service.

And what is with all of the tip jars EVERYWHERE? Can I not go to the local shop without feeling guilty for not leaving a tip. I am not longer a waitress, and I make a decent salary in an excellent job, but I don't want to worry about leaving a dollar tip on a $1.50 cup of coffee. What is next a tip jar at Whole Foods?

Posted by Don of the Indochine
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2006 at 2:37 am

Hi George,
Come in and try our Thai & Vietnamese food at the Indochine. We are located at 2710 Middlefield Road, Midtown Shopping Center, Palo Alto. I have several single diners and you may sit where you wish.

Don Stewart of the Indochine

Posted by Laura
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2006 at 6:40 am

Out of town friends took my husband and me to lunch the day before Thanksgiving at Scott's. The restaurant was not crowded, but the service was terrible. Had to ask for a waiter, one luncheon came, the other two didn't. My salad of spinach, walnuts, cranberries, and specified ingredients was also adorned with tomatoes which were not apart of the dish.
We had to ask for coffee, ask for refills, and ask for the check. We sometimes dine in the bar area where generous hor'dourves are half price between 5-7, but there are some regular patrons who use cell phones at the bar and have a yelling conversation. Management does nothing although one night we threatened to leave if they didn't shut up someone. I miss old Stickney's with its friendliness, crumb cake, pastries, and warmth. Now THAT was old Palo Alto. Cozy, inviting. They loved their customers, their waitresses were the best.

Posted by Senor Blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 10, 2007 at 1:50 pm

OK Folks,
Enough beating around the bush.
That is the only way to effect a change in restaurant behavior.

Posted by Rich McA
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2007 at 11:51 am

Since I started working one day a week at home about three years ago, I've been eating lunch at downtown restaurants just about once a week. I've never had what I'd consider a bad experience. I most often end up at Jing Jing; the food's fine, and they always seat me at one of the two-person tables along the wall which are very roomy for one. I particularly like this since I like to read the newspaper when I'm eating alone.

David above mentioned "the brewery on Emerson Street" by which I assume he means Gordon Biersch. I've been drinking and eating at GB since they opened in '88 and it's true the service has sometimes been flakey, but only when I've been there with others. When I've gone alone I've always sat at the bar and have been treated well.

Posted by Ellen Clements
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 11, 2007 at 11:36 am

I am a woman who has been dining alone in restaurants all over the U.S. & Europe since age 15 or 16, & I have rarely been offered a bad table. When I have, I simply indicate that it's not satisfactory & ask to be seated at another. Perhaps I'm insufficiently fussy. My idea of a bad table is one too close to the lavatories, too close to the kitchen doors & therefore subject to a lot of food-server traffic, too close to the front door, so that one is exposed to too many drafts, or too close to the loudspeakers. Being off in a corner—shadowy or not—is not a problem unless one is ignored by the food server.

Posted by Cathy M
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 20, 2007 at 7:16 pm

I've lived in Palo Alto for the past 8 years, and can't recall an instance when I've been treated badly while dining alone. I also travel 5 days a week, every week, all over the US. Needless to say, I'm dining alone 90% of the time then, too. Again, I get pretty good treatment. Never been stuck by the bathroom or kitchen unless that's the only table left. And I don't dress up (rather, I dress down) when I go out to eat. Maybe it's because I don't go in with the preconception that they're going to stick me in the boonies. Or maybe it's my subconscious 'don't mess with me' vibe. Or maybe I'm just not as demanding. I'd like to suggest you should the smaller restaurants. Mom and pop places seem to smile and welcome everyone. Singles or large parties.

Posted by bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2009 at 12:47 am

I do it all the time. It's something you just have to get over worrying about. I ask for a table I want. In the winter I do not want to be by the door. If I am alone I usually go to read and want a table by the window or some light. I don't usually have any problems, and I do not slobby sometimes, I just want something to eat! ;-) Well, maybe rumpled, not slobby, I just smile and try to be nice.

They are worried about having to work for one person, and not getting a tip. If you work up a relationship with a place you like you won't get that.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,592 views

Pacifica’s first brewery closes its doors
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,303 views

Premiere! “I Do I Don’t: How to build a better marriage” – Here, a page/weekday
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,701 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.