When I worked in restaurants, I was always surprised by how many guests opted to wait over an hour for a table rather than just eat at the bar. I consider eating at the bar the quintessential restaurant experience, since the setting fosters the camaraderie that makes restaurant-going worthwhile. Plus, the bartender's typically the most skilled staffer in the room, so guests eating at the bar can count on professional, knowledgeable service.
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Still, there are exceptions. There are empty bars, bars with too many televisions, bars manned by surly barkeeps and bars shoved into darkened corners and cold foyers: None of those bars are especially pleasant places to eat. But restaurants don't always give solo diners much choice.
I was first forcefully steered toward the bar at Abacus: When I showed up there around 5:30 p.m. on a summer weeknight, the hostess met my request for a table with a firm "I'm sure you'd be happier at the bar." I took her advice, as I have in other restaurants where the hostesses had clearly been commanded not to waste a two-top on one person.
I appreciate how disappointing it is for a server to find one diner instead of two at a table, since the empty seat could potentially translate into a double-digit dollar loss. But it's impossible for a hostess to size up how many courses a diner plans on ordering or how much alcohol he or she might drink: One person could easily rack up a higher tab than two. The economic rationale for snubbing solo diners seems thin.
As I said, I like the bar. I just don't like being told I have to sit there.