One of the worst things about traveling on your own, and probably the only thing that always concerns me, is eating out. Now, I love a nice meal, in comfortable surroundings, with a glass of wine or two and friendly service, and I always leave a good tip. But it is something that is quite hard to do.
Go into a restaurant on your own and ask for a table and you get one of three reactions:
- a genuine welcome, they find you a nice table, give you attentive service and make you feel welcome
- you can go in but you have to be out by a certain time
- sorry, single people are not served
The first is very rare. If you find a place that accepts single folk and serves good food, treasure it.
The third is most common, in London and in much of the UK. The restaurant does not have to serve you, or anyone, and at least you know where you stand. You can appreciate they would rather have two people at a table than one, but I always try to eat at quiet times and surely an occupied table is better than an empty one?
The second reaction is the most common. Actually, in London, even in a couple or group, you are frequently given a time limit. Get out by X or else… Personally, I think it is a reflection of their speed of service in cases like this.
My worst experience was at a well known pizza chain in a very large branch on the south bank of the Thames. This is somewhere that seats maybe two hundred people. I arrived at around 4.30pm. Even though maybe 10 people were in there, I could have a table only until 5pm.
I ordered starter, pizza and a drink. Drink and starter came quickly, as did the bill! Then there was a long wait for pizza.
At 5pm, I was packing up to leave as instructed when the pizza arrived. I ignored it, left cash for what I had eaten and was ready to go. The confrontational waiter asked why I was not paying for my pizza. I haven’t eaten it, you told me I had to go by 5pm, I am going. I think he was more concerned not to get a tip, to be honest.
The waiter was shouting at me to pay the full amount, then a ‘manager’ was called. I explained – they had told me to leave by 5pm, and I was off. There were still maybe 20 people in the place, it was empty. They were extremely rude, but eventually I left and went to McDonald’s. I wrote to head office for the chain, but no reply of course.