I like to travel alone.  I’m not a loner and can usually be found at my favorite joints with 6 to 10 of my closest friends.  I love great service and experiencing the best a restaurant can offer.  But sometimes I enjoy venturing out on my own.  Traveling to new places and having the freedom to explore solo.   I can run my own schedule, go where I want when I want and not be stuck waiting for others to take two hours to get ready or make me sit while they take an hour to finish their last drink.   The freedom and adventure of traveling solo is liberating.

The downside of traveling solo comes is the form of the restaurants which want to relegate single guests to a world of sitting at the bar and in many cases experiencing only a small fraction of what they offer a table of two.   Some bartenders who just don’t get it treat single individuals differently then two people sitting together.  I just experienced this during my recent trip to Vegas and this is my story…

First night in Vegas I decided I wanted to start with a restaurant with a strong culinary direction and know for service, food and atmosphere.  I decided on Carbone at the Aria.  This would be my second time to Carbone in the last year.  The first time I recall great service more then anything as my guest and I enjoyed many courses from apps all the way to the desert. 

You always remember the service in the most lasting way.  Taste bud memory fades but good or bad service is a picture that stays with you. 

A beautiful room is the lowest common denominator when it comes to restaurant greatness as Carbone showed me.

I arrive at Carbone and was told they where booked tonight and no single tables. I get it. They are a busy place.  I had to ask if I could sit at the bar.  Strike one, they should have offered.   I was told I could. I sat at the bar and to the right of me on the floor laid a fork.   If this fork was on the floor at a table it would have been picked up but nobody seemed responsible for the seating side of the bar.   Strike two.

Now lets get into the service at the bar of Carbone.  I sat and waited.   Finally I asked the bar back for a glass of water.  It never came.  I then had to wave down the waiter to get his attention.  I asked for a dinner menu and he handed me a drink menu.  Two people sat to my right. He greeted them both, shook the man’s hand placed two Reserved metal signs in front of them and took their drink order.   

I had to grab his attention again and asked for a dinner menu and glass of water again.  I ordered a Whisky Sour.  When it came it was very good.   I ordered the Cesar Salad and Lobster Ravioli.   The water finally showed up.   

I noticed bread in front of people to my right and left and asked if I could get bread. He told me they are baking it and will be a while.  Here is the deal with that, he should have told me that they bake fresh bread for each guest and it would be out shortly rather then make me wonder what was going on.  

This bartender had the opportunity he give me a great experience but he decided instead to ignore me and offer the least amount of service possible.  

It continues…

I finish the salad and it was was rather larger and realized I really could not handle a full main course.  I told the bartender and it turns out he never ordered my main course.  I sat for a while more and was offered nothing else.  I had to get his attention again to ask for an espresso.  It arrived and I notice others with the same got a plate of cookies.  I asked the bar back in front of me if I could have cookies as well.  He got them for me.  Finally,  I finished my espresso and decided I wanted to try one of their deserts.  I asked to bar back if they had a desert menu.  He said they did not but had a cart.   I told him I appreciated him helping me as the bartender totally dropped the ball and I should not have had to ask myself if they had desert.  Shortly the desert cart showed up behind me and the guy on the cart told about what they had.  I ordered, it came shortly.  I had to ask for another glass of water.  Desert was wonderful.  

I had to ask for the check, got it and tipped an undeserved 10%,   

As was leaving I saw a guy who I figured was a manager.  I told him about how this bartender blew a big opportunity with me.  He apologized, said he was the GM asked me to come back and give them another chance.  I appreciate this but there are 400 restaurants in Vegas alone. 

“This is not about how sitting at the bar will mean shitty service”

I don’t want to make this about how you can’t get great service sitting at a bar, because you can.  Granted, sitting at the bar with your legs smashed into the bar base is a bearable thing if the service is every bit as good as it would be as if you sat at a table. If the experience was incredible I would return many times and probably with large groups of friends. 

If a restaurant trained their bar staff to offer every bit as good of service as their table staff, people like me that from time to time will sit at the bar for dinner during their solo adventures and would walk away as happy as that party of two in a booth. 

It is the choice that the restaurant has made that makes the difference. 

Herringbone at the Aria understands what service is all about.

By the way as a solo traveler, in some cases you should ask firmly for a table to truly experience a restaurant as it should be.   

Today for brunch I went to Herringbone at the Aria in Vegas.  I asked for a table outside but was told if I wanted to order off the menu I had to sit at the bar. The outside area had 60 empty seats and I did not want to sit in the lack of comfort of a bar stool while I had brunch.  After a couple minutes I got manager approval to sit at a table.  

There is another thing here about the “party of one” tables.  A lot of times restaurants still blow it with these people, not being able to get into the groove of serving an individual.   

Herringbone did not have that problem at all.   My server was on the her game.  She recommended an entree.  The busman kept the water filled.  But here is where she stepped up her game.  She came back and noticed I did not finish most of the dish and the entree was a bit soggy.  She said “let me get you this other entree instead”.   It arrived and as I grabbed my knife I had to quickly drop it because the sun had heated it up to an unbearable temp.   Out of the corner of my eye I saw that the manager saw what happened and with the speed of The Flash had another knife on my table replacing the ultra heated one.  

Herringbone was 100% on their game and Carbone had no idea what game they where playing. 

In Vegas there must be 500 restaurants.  Do I waste the one dinner I have a night and go back and give Carbone another chance knowing that they will look at me as somebody that is back because they screwed up last night and I’ll get service that’s pushed harder then normal or do I go to a new place and give them a shot or better yet, maybe I go back to the place that was fantastic (Herringbone) and give them my business.

What would you do?

This story was originally published at http://www.foodandwinebuzz.com/buzz/the-single-guest-and-how-some-restaurants-are-blowing-a-huge-opportunity/.

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