A guide to dining alone when traveling for work.
When you are on the road traveling for work, it’s hard enough going to restaurants and asking for a table for one. It's made even harder when you forget February 14th is Valentine’s day. Days and dates all blend together and the only day that really matters in consulting is Thursdays. Thursday is the new Friday. On Thursdays, you get to fly out from your client site. Double bonus if you can leave early because there is only one flight back to your home office. So sorry I have to cut the work day short
Thirsty Thursdays start as soon as you sit down on your flight and pull out a stack of Delta snack coupons and exchange it for an alcoholic beverage of your choice. Or two. Or three.
By now, a consultant should have leveled up on his/her alcohol tolerance powers.
Well, it was Valentine’s Day, but it wasn’t a Thursday, so I was blissfully unaware until I went about my usual routine of trying a new restaurant for the night. The conquest was The Press Bistro in Midtown, Sacramento. Ironically, I had passed this bistro and bar on one of my late night attempts to run off some of the rolls that had started accumulating around my midsection.
Inspired by the French bistro and Italian Trattoria, the Press Bistro offered food and drink of the Mediterranean table in a relaxed, neighborhood atmosphere. The bistro, with its floor to ceiling glass windows and door, was inviting to passersby to peer inside, where small wooden tables of two’s and four’s were neatly arranged throughout the open-concept space. In addition to the dining room, the outdoors patio seating offered a 18-foot redwood community table, creating a social environment to share and enjoy food, drinks, and company.
Like a good consultant, I had done my research beforehand and had narrowed down my menu choice to the grilled swordfish atop a bed of corn and zucchini risotto with a side of lemon butter sauce. It's healthy, and has vegetables and protein. Probably a good idea to if I wanted to avoid rolling in the deep. Well, all I can say is that I have the best of intentions, but sometimes the situation demands a different execution!
I was lucky that we ended up leaving work (relatively) early at 6:45 pm, so I headed straight to the restaurant without dropping off my laptop bag at the hotel or changing out of my work clothes in hopes of beating the dinner rush. As I walked past the glass windows, I could see there were still a couple of empty tables in the back.
Oh goody! This meant I won’t have to wait to get a table.
“Can I get a table for one?” I asked as I approached the hostess.
The hostess looked up, bemused, as if I had just spoken to her in French.
“Do you have a reservation?” she replied after a long pause.
“No I don’t.”
“In that case, the wait will be about forty-five minutes.”
“Forty-five minutes!?” I exclaimed. “Sorry, but I saw two empty tables near the back as I walked by. Aren't those available?”
“Yes, they are, but they are already reserved for couples,” she replied coolly as her elevator eyes scanned me up and down, as if ascertaining the various factors that made me request a table for one. Was it the face? The rolls? The whole package?
“You guys are sure busy on a Tuesday” I said.
“Well, it is Valentine’s Day,” she sniffed.
Of course! No wonder the cast-iron pole with the restaurant’s logo in the cut-out silhouette of an agrarian press had a tiny pink bow tied around it. And here I was with the audacity to demand prime real estate— a table for two with no RSVP on what is probably the busiest night for the restaurant.
Clearly I was deranged. PSA: Valentine’s Day is a day reserved for couples. No singles allowed. I should have just gone back to the hotel and ransacked the mini-fridge, devoured the carton of Ben & Jerry’s, while watching a Bridget Jones’s Diary re-run.
But I was here, and I was hungry. And angry. Angry at the fact that I was clearly being subjected to racism against singles, or what-I-call singlism. Hence, in protest of this grave injustice, I decided to stage my own sit-in at the (bar) counter.
“Well, can I get a seat at the bar then?” I asked indignantly.
Witch, I will not be denied my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of dinner.
“Yes, but you’ll have to wait thirty minutes,” she replied curtly, clearly over this conversation with lonely boy.
“Please wait out on the patio. We will call you when a spot is available.”
I swung the glass door open again, and stalked off towards the outdoor redwood table.
“Who does she think she is!?” I muttered angrily as I sat down and pulled out my laptop from my bag. “Valentine’s Day is nothing but an invention by Hallmark as an excuse to sell more flowers, chocolates, cards and pinkness.”
Deciding to make good use of this waiting time, I called up my reliable companion through many nights alone in the hotel room, Ms. Excel. I also pulled out my headphones and immersed myself in a dance with Ms. Excel through a sequence of steps and pivots whilst listening to my Adele playlist.
♫There's a fire starting in my heart.
Reaching a fever pitch,
It's bringing me out of the dark♫
It was now past 7 pm and the dinner rush was starting as other couples began to arrive. All of them were dressed up in smart blazers and dresses, while I looked like a slob in my increasingly wrinkled dress shirt, now half un-tucked. Some couples didn't make reservations either, so they joined me on the waiting list outside.
Every ten minutes or so, the hostess would come outside and call a name:
“John? John? Party of two?” said the hostess as she surveyed her clipboard.
Inevitably, a tall and handsome man wearing a slim-fit suit and tie stands up, proffers an arm to his leggy blonde girlfriend and gives her a peck on the lips before the pair walks jauntily into the restaurant, holding hands.
I was determined not to be distracted by this pair of showboats, so I turned up the music even louder and refocused my efforts on my spreadsheet. I must have become too engrossed in my work because the next time I looked up, I could hear the hostess shouting almost at the top of her voice.
“BEN? BEN? PARTY OF ONE?”
The couples who had all been chatting animatedly around me suddenly became quiet, like the silence that falls over noisy kindergartners in a classroom when the teacher suddenly walks in unannounced. All eyes started to search for this “Ben, party of one.”
Of course, I was not difficult to find. The crowd which had congregated around me slowly parted like the red sea, unveiling a singular figure sitting in the corner, typing away furiously on an HP laptop while wearing a pair of over-sized headphones that made him look like a buffoon.
Can I just say they were BOSE noise-cancelling headphones and they work really well? It’s not my fault I didn't hear the hostess sooner.
Again, I could imagine the congregated crowd collectively join in the elevator eyes exercises, looking me up and down to determine the factors for table for one:
“Must be a workaholic, just look at him, working on Valentine’s Day. No wonder he’s asking for a table for one.”
“Awww, pity, he looks like a nice person. Must be one of those socially inept programmer types, who dates someone through WoW avatars. He looks like the stereotypical nerdy Asian prototype.”
I chose to be the bigger person, and ignored all the (imaginary) snide comments above, and followed the hostess into the restaurant. I was shown to my seat at the bar, and I sat down next to an elderly woman with wisps of snowy white hair.
“Hello dearie,” said the elderly woman as I settled into my bar stool. “Are you waiting for your special lady friend?”
“Um, no,” I replied. “I’m here by myself. I'm traveling for work and forgot today was Valentine’s Day……”
“Oh. I see.”
She didn't seem convinced.
“Sooooo…..how about you? Are you, er, waiting for your, er, special gentleman friend?” I spluttered, trying to deflect the attention back onto her.
“Oh, my husband just went outside to the car to get my cardigan. It feels a bit cold in here. Old bones, you know.”
“Yes, yes,” I nodded in agreement.
Idiot. Why did I say yes? What did I know about old bones?
(I will acknowledge it was not the finest demonstration of my linguistic prowess)
Luckily, I was rescued by the bartender.
“Would you like to see a drinks menu?” said the bartender as his hands worked non-stop, preparing a cocktail.
I looked at the wine menu, and picked out a lovely Bordeaux blend from Chateau la Valade—Vintage 2009.
The place was busy, so I had drank most of my wine before the bar tender came back to take my order.
“Would you like another glass?” he asked politely.
“Yes, but can I also order some food too? Can I get the pappardelle con raghu?"
Screw the healthy option! I needed some comfort food pronto. Comfort in comfort food, right?
“I’m sorry sir, since it’s Valentine’s day, we only have the Valentine’s day menu….”
Are you freaking kidding me? Even the menu was designed for couples?
Now I was really hungary—angry and hungry. My mind went through the options:
- 1. Throw a fit and leave angrily after downing the remains of my glass of wine. (Although it would probably make me look like an angry drunk, which would be yet another reason I was asking for a table for one)
- 2. Try to go to another restaurant, and repeat the same (humiliating) process all over again
- 3. Go back to hotel and eat the leftover airplane peanuts while ransacking the mini-bar (and end up with a distinct possibility of passing out on the bathroom floor)
- 4. Stay and request another bottle of wine. There’s no problem that alcohol can’t resolve, right?
I decided to go with option 4.
“Fine, can I see the Valentine’s dinner menu then?” I answered waspishly.
“Sure. But just so you know, it’s a set menu, three courses, and the portions are designed for two.”
“That won’t be a problem,” I replied swiftly. “Valentine’s Day is about heart, right? Well, then I’m going to eat my heart out.”
“Can I get you another glass of wine, then?” he laughed.
“Make it a bottle.”
Two hours later, I was stuffed, drunk, and happy. I knew I was always the bigger person. After this meal, I was literally a bigger person. Mission accomplished. Take that table for one!