Table for one
Published 02 August 2023

Higher Ground, Manchester. Credit: Shaun Peckham

At The Good Food Guide we’re accomplished solo diners. Most of the time that’s how we work.

As one of the team put it: ‘I'm always astounded when people suggest that it's weird or sad to eat alone. It can be such fun.’

There’s no doubt it makes the job of inspecting easier. We can grab a cancellation offered last-minute in that hard-to-book restaurant. And we can really pay attention to the rhythm of a restaurant, to how other diners behave, to how service interacts, to the pace, the standards of food, the wine list, the menu. We can lavish our attention on observing.

‘My first ever solo dining experience was at The Waterside Inn. I was nervous of being so visible, but the experience completely transformed my idea of eating out. The team made me feel like the single most important person in the room. They all chatted but never did anything forced, they noticed little things but never did anything that drew my attention to the fact I was alone. Mostly, they filled the gap of a dining companion by showing interest. The service and kindness was something I’d never seen the like of before.’

‘I love eating alone, even for pleasure’ says The Good Food Guide editor Elizabeth Carter. ‘I’ll happily take a book and head off for one dish and a glass of wine – it’s the perfect way to chill. That’s normally at a neighbourhood or mid-price restaurant and it’s not unusual to see other singletons.’

At Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill, we hear that the shuckers even prefer solo diners – they love the interaction at the counter. And we’re all for Russell Norman’s generosity at Brutto. The restaurant will always try to find a seat at the bar, or a cosy table, for solo walk-ins. Not only that, but currently there’s a spritz on the house for any singleton who’s either booked or walks in for lunch or dinner.

‘I've had some exceptional solo meals as an inspector. At The Clove Club, they brought me a copy of Noble Rot – I want to say on a silver platter, but I may be misremembering! I remember it being presented with a bit of panache, and I appreciated it.’

And while an informal meal can be easy solo, what about at the very top end? ‘In my experience, solo diners are rare at the very top level,’ says Carter, ‘to the extent that even I will suspect a fellow solo diner to be another guide critic.’ A common misconception in our business, it seems. Another inspector, spotting a solo diner reported: ‘I asked if the guy also eating alone was a Michelin inspector. Turned out he was from a crew filming in Hartlepool, 50 miles away. I love that people will travel all that way for a good lunch on their own.'

So, where to head when a meal out alone is on the cards? Comfortable counter seating, a spot in the window, or a cosy corner of a dimly-lit pub will do the trick. And of course, a sprinkling of warm service too. Here are 28 of the best restauarants for solo diners in The Good Food Guide.