Tips on how to rock solo dining from food columnist Andrew Coppolino
'There’s a different vibe in taking a meal on your own,' Coppolino writes
Valentine's Day is busy for restaurants no matter what day of the week it happens to fall on, but it's especially busy when there's a Valentine's "long weekend" like this year.
The annual "tables for two" surge that the restaurant industry experiences got me thinking about what happens when you want a table for one. It turns out, online reservation platforms like Open Table have reported an increase in reservations for one guest over the past several years.
When you think about it, dining solo makes sense: I often do it as part of my work writing about food, and I find there's a different vibe in taking a meal on your own, whatever the reason.
You can go at the time you want and often without a reservation if you head for seating at the bar. You can eat what you want and as quickly, slowly or sloppily as you want. You can dress as you please and choose either very casual venues or more upscale.
It represents freedom and independence, an occasion to be reflective — if you choose. You can watch (or not) headline news (without the volume) or closed-captioned sports highlights at your favourite pub.
It might be a peaceful time to read the paper or just watch people.
Best solo dining spots
Restaurants, and especially the bar seating at restaurants, can be keenly attuned to serving single diners: the bartenders themselves, either male or female, are similar solitary individuals at their posts; you can make small-talk with them if you wish.
Here's a short list of a few restaurant bars to consider for solo dining:
Blackshop! Restaurant and Wine Bar, Cambridge — Matteo Giordano, a 16-year restaurant veteran, says the bar at Blackshop! offers their dining room menu and wine list. It's separated from the main dining area and is "quiet and elegant" with leather chairs and a brass foot-rail.
"It's popular with single diners having a drink and dinner after a long day. There's a big screen television but with the sound. It's a relaxing atmosphere," Giordano says.
Loloan Lobby Bar, Waterloo — Loloan is a perfect spot for solo diners. I love the atmosphere of the restaurant tucked into the ground floor "lobby" of a condominium on Waterloo's Princess Street. It's elegant but casual, and sitting at the bar you can scan the entire restaurant as well as the streets through two walls of large windows.
"Solo dining is what lobby bars are built for," according to Loloan's Paul Boehmer. "The bar surface was designed with eating in mind so it's a comfortable height."
There are 24 bar stools and three high-top tables to choose from.
"Our bartenders encourage dining and we have daily bar snacks which are small plates of street food-style dishes," adds Boehmer.
The Jane Bond, Waterloo — Celebrating its 25th year in downtown Waterloo, the Bond has been a leader in vegetarian food for a quarter of a century. The bar is small but there's music by a DJ on select nights. The menu is home-made vegetarian and vegan fare — and co-owner Shane Gysbers oversees a well-curated craft beer list, if hops are your thing to contemplate on your own.
The Bent Elbow, Kitchener — Sticking with beer, the "Bible" at Bent Elbow in Kitchener's east end is pages of both familiar and unusual beers and a couple of dozen taps. A cast of solitary regulars who will make you feel welcome will likely be at a few of the 12 bar stools. Silent sports plays on a single television and I love the friendly pub vibe. The food is elevated pub grub, virtually all of which is made in-house.
Public Kitchen and Bar, Kitchener — Public serves tapas-style small plates that, while they are great for sharing, are excellent for sampling solo.
Sitting at the bar, you can see beyond bartender Shawn Flanagan's bar mise en place (he's often pickling and preserving things and making various syrups and concoctions) and through the glass partition into the kitchen. There are regular single diners at Public, according to co-owner Carly Blasutti, including ones who are like family to the staff.
"We have one guest who is so regular on Friday nights that she calls to tell us she won't be coming in so we don't worry," Blasutti says.