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A guide for solo eaters

In the age of you are what you eat (and post to social media), it would seem that just about everyone nowadays dines on their own. Maybe it’s that closeup bowl of ramen we see on Instagram, the perfectly placed cocktail or a single, centered plate on an otherwise empty table that makes us all appear so solitary in our dining habits.

In reality, in 2018, 23% of Americans dining out at restaurants were doing so as parties of one, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. At the same time, we ate 45% of our meals at home by ourselves.

While the numbers suggest that more people find it more comfortable, convenient or cost-effective to dine in on their own, local restaurant workers say they are making a conscious effort to cater to those who dine out alone.

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Owners and managers will tell you that their success in this comes down to service and surroundings. And they’re not just catering to travelers or to men anymore.

“I think there is an archetype that exists of the ‘solo diner’ that is the traveling business person (almost always male) that is going to dine at the bar, have some red wine and eat a steak,” said Kevin Burke, general manager of downtown Denver’s Morin.

“This diner does exist, and we do see a number of them,” he said. “Luckily, it feels like this diner has achieved some gender parity that wasn’t present five to 10 years ago.”

Burke says he sees similar numbers of both genders, if not slightly more women, dining alone at the year-old French bar and restaurant on a regular basis.

He sees women especially treating themselves to multiple courses or the chef’s tasting menu ($67 or $75) and “put(ting) themselves in a position where they are having dinner, but having dinner with a community and having dinner with the whole restaurant,” he said.

While food blogger Laura Young doesn’t think Denver as a whole has a “table for one” culture, she has experienced what Burke describes at Morin. “The bar on a weekday happy hour is beautiful and so spacious. You also won’t get bothered by random (people),” she said.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

The bar at Morin, led by Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges. Their wine program was featured on Wine Enthusiast’s 100 best wine restaurants of 2019.

Down the road from Morin, My Brother’s Bar has, in various forms, served diners for 146 storied years. When the bar changed hands in 2017 to its current family-owners, they decided to update only what was necessary and leave everything else as is.

“We definitely earned everyone’s trust, and we’re not changing anything,” said Danny Newman, an only child who runs My Brother’s Bar with his parents, Paula and David.

“I can’t even imagine what it would take to recreate something like this,” he said. “I think it really is the authenticity of a good old space that hasn’t changed. It’s not ostentatious, it’s not trying to be anything beyond what it’s going to be.”

At My Brother’s Bar, the Newman family — and founders Jim and Angelo Karagas before them — have fostered a community that newer restaurants work hard to build.

“A lot of people end up coming in alone and then hanging out with people who are also there alone,” Danny Newman said. “We have people who have been meeting or seeing each other here for years or decades even.”

Kari Duczeminskyj takes an order from ...

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Kari Duczeminskyj takes an order from Steve Mestas at My Brother’s Bar during lunchtime on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.

Newman says he trusts his staff to keep customers coming back, too. “(Bartenders) do a really good job of knowing how to pull in regulars,” he said. “That’s kind of their job.”

One Denver restaurant group has made it its job to define hospitality in the modern dining world.

Earlier this year, Frasca in Boulder won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service, beating out competition across the U.S.

But where Frasca is better known as a special occasion spot, its Denver sister restaurant, Tavernetta, wants to attract diners every day for dinner, lunch and happy hour, general manager Justin Williams said.

“We wanted to create an environment where people felt like they could just walk in,” he said. “For the first three days or so, we took reservations (in the restaurant’s lounge). I realized very quickly that that was the wrong move.”

Creating plenty of space for people to walk in, to sit at the bar or relax in a lounge is just the first step, according to Williams. He thinks restaurants can do a lot more to cater to single diners.

“Our responsibility is to figure out what a solo diner wants,” Williams said.

Casey Giltner, Provided by Tavernetta

A diner sits with pasta and a glass of wine at Tavernetta.

He and his staff try to discern whether someone dining solo wants to socialize or to be alone, for example, and whether that diner is in a hurry or wants to slow down.

“I think that it’s about connecting with people on a level that some people want and some people don’t,” Williams said. “Our hospitality is about trying to figure out what guests want … but it’s also very real. We’re doing something because we want to, and it’s a very genuine feeling.”

Laura Shunk, communication director at the Colorado Restaurant Association sees restaurants like Tavernetta as places to treat herself.

“Dining alone at the bar at just about any fine dining-ish restaurant is truly one of my greatest pleasures — it feels like self-care,” she said. “I’ve had several meals like that at Tavernetta recently; I find it especially luxurious when I can have a glass of wine with my solo lunch.”

Whether it’s a glass of wine with lunch, a bowl of pasta for dinner or another experience you’re after, if you communicate what you’re looking for, Williams said he and his staff will always respond and adjust.

In the end, if you’re comfortable trying it out, “your experience will be what you want it to be,” he said.

Steve Mestas looks at his phone ...

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Steve Mestas looks at his phone as he dines solo at My Brother’s Bar during lunchtime on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.

The golden rules of solo dining

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