Hello from Southend, where I'm giving a private course on Apache httpd and Tomcat. Last night, a cold January evening left me preferring to stick around my hotel and the attached restaurant / pub rather than traipse down to a blustery Seafront, and that gave me an opportunity to catch up on some sleep after an obnoxiously early morning too.
When I walk into a restaurant as a lone traveller, I always take something of a deep breath. These places are designed for groups - eating out is a social event and us business visitors are somewhat forced into sole dining in a place we don't know anyone else from Adam. I recall a brave alternative which I hope to emulate one day, where all lone diners are seated together. For a specialist business accommodation / conference centre it can work well, though I'm not so sure that it would at a more general place such as the Strawberry Field where I am now.
But they DO have some things right at the Strawberry Field. Cards on the table that you can turn over to say "this table is occupied" when you go up to the bar, for example. Doesn't that sound such a little thing. Well - it IS a little thing to provide but it sure makes a big difference at times. It's very awkward for all concerned when a singleton leaves a table (for loo, to order, etc) during a meal and another person or group comes along, doesn't see perhaps a book left at a place, or a coat on a chair, and gets seated. Been there ... on both sides!
Service - I've a suggestion that singles meals should be prioritised - served quicker. The best part of half an hour waiting for food is fine if you're chatting with the partner, or having a business meeting or discussing how "The Blues" did at the weekend. Alone, waiting, time can drag. I've no proof, but there's a chain I sometimes used that I use that I swear DO take that extra care, and tell their wait staff to stop for enough time to say a couple of words too. And it makes all the difference.
Alternatives ... a quick cheap and cheerful trip to MacDonalds, KFC, Burger King or the like (yes, I frequently use them when away) or getting a takeway and taking it back into my room. Great solution this last one if I've work to do or had a long day, but I always feel slightly guilty when I carry my bag of loot back past reception.
Now if the hotel clearly welcomed people bringing their own food in (and remember they don't have room service) - perhaps by providing a plate, or knife and fork - wouldn't that be great. For sure, a few less grumpy old men in the restaurant next door (they didn't have the staff to cope anyway!), but a number of happier visitors who could become firm regulars if they're staying - in the example in question - here in Eastern Essex.
(written 2006-01-24, updated 2008-06-11)
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