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.
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.
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As I said, I like the bar. I just don't like being told I have to sit there.