ONE FOR THE ROAD THERE'S NO SHAME IN EATING ALONE ON THE ROAD...IF YOU KNOW THE RIGHT TRICKS.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Hungry and alone? Whatever you do, don't believe everything you see in the movies. In the 1984 film The Lonely Guy, Steve Martin's forlorn protagonist picks a busy restaurant. "Are you alone?" asks the incredulous maitre d'. The entire restaurant falls silent. An overhead spotlight hits the lonely guy as he's led to a table in the middle of the room. Waiters clatter away as they clear the other three place settings.
But the real Steve Martin knows better. During the shooting of a later film, Housesitter, he often took a table for one at Biba, a tony spot on the edge of Boston's Back Bay. He's not alone; road warriors will make 300 million-plus business trips this year. Smart restaurateurs are tripping over their apron strings catering to the solos. Learn what to look for, and you won't be treated shabbily.
--The concierge is your friend. If you don't have a restaurant in mind, ask for advice. At the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, the concierge steered me to Brasserie le Coze, right across the street. I also had her call ahead on my behalf for a table, figuring that the restaurant has an interest in keeping the hotel guests happy.
So I approached the restaurant, shoulders square, smile on my face, determined not to be Steve Martined. Before I could even open my mouth to tell the hostess I had been sent by the Ritz, thank you very much, she simply smiled and said, "Hi there. Table for one? Please follow me."
--Phone first. If you can't find a helper at your hotel, "you can learn a lot about a restaurant by calling ahead yourself for a table for one," says Marya Charles Alexander, a South Pasadena consultant who makes her living eating alone and selling her feedback to restaurants. "If you tell them about the wonderful things you've heard about the food or that you're thinking about bringing your sales team next week, they'll roll out the red carpet."
--Look the part. If you keep yourself from ripping off the hose or taking a scissors to your tie, the restaurant staff will see the expense account in your eyes and butter you up. If you're feeling really generous, order an entire bottle of wine and give the leftovers to the staff. You'll find your reward the next time you come.
--Alone together. Several solo-friendly restaurants have food bars, in addition to the ones you belly up to for your booze. These counters offer the regular menu, and they're usually near the kitchen, where the only smoke is from the grill. Try eating at the ones at Emeril's in New Orleans, Red Sage in Washington, or Union Square Cafe in New York City. Any oyster specialist or decent sushi restaurant will also have a solo-friendly counter.
If all you want is to be left alone, however, female business travelers suggest sticking to establishments with owners or bartenders who are women. Biba in Boston and Babette's Cafe and the Georgia Grille in Atlanta all serve great food and are owned by women.
You may want to avoid the revellers as well. The problem with going to the very best restaurant in town is that once "Happy Birthday" is yodeled in various keys, it will begin to feel as if you're the only one in the restaurant who isn't there to mark an occasion. All I wanted from the Ritz was some nourishment, and even the beautiful food and charming service couldn't keep me from feeling just a bit out of place.
--Up-market trash. Better, perhaps, to see eating alone as an opportunity to seek out some high-class junk food while no one is looking. At the Buckhead Diner in Atlanta, I ate so many homemade potato chips with melted Maytag blue cheese that I had no room for the veal meat loaf. Finish a plateful of those chips, and your stomach will be talking so loudly that you'll never be lonely.