On this week’s EMFE-FM segment, I talk with 90.7’s Nicole Creston about the advantages to dining at the bar instead of in the dining room. You can listen to the segment Fridays at 5:45 p.m. It is rebroadcast Saturday mornings at 9:35, and you can listen to the podcasts here.
Often when dining alone — and many times even when I’m with others — I’ll choose to dine at a restaurant’s bar rather than at a table. No, I’m not one of those people who feel self-conscious dining alone; I have no problem sitting by myself at a table. But there are just aspects of dining at the bar that I enjoy.
First of all, you tend to get good service. The server — usually the bartender — is right there and seldom leaves. If you need something, you just ask without so much as raising your voice or signaling someone across the room. It’s also nice if you want to get samples of various wines before committing to the one you’ll have with dinner.
And eating at a bar is ideal if that dinner is going to be an annotated one. It’s fine to dine on multiple courses at the bar, but it’s best when you’re just making a feast of a few appetizers or sticking to just one entree and out.
Sometimes the bar is the better choice if the wait for a table is going to be too long. Few restaurants reserve barstools — they’re mainly catch as catch can. When a place is very crowded and there are no spaces available, try to see which patrons might be the next to leave. Look for a check booklet that might signal a guest is paying out, or who is finishing the last bite of dessert. Sometimes, I’ll look to the bartender for clues as to who might be the next guests to leave — good bartenders know how to read their guests — then I’ll hover behind those guests, ready to pounce on their seats when they get up.
I find that dining at the bar can be more convivial than eating in the dining room. Strangers tend to talk to one another, often using the food as a conversation starter. It doesn’t seem nearly as intrusive to ask someone next to you at the bar what he ordered or if she liked the soup as it does to lean over to someone at the next table.
Eating at the bar isn’t always ideal. It’s fine for one, two or even three people, but any more than that and you’re too strung out for all the members of your party to interact. (In the cases where your party is four or more, consider a communal table in the bar area.) Also, be sure to check beforehand that the restaurant’s entire menu is available at the bar. Some establishments offer only a limited bar menu.
Here are some good eat-at-the-bar restaurants:
City Fire: the Restaurant Row newcomer has a comfortable bar that’s close to the dining room.
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen: Also at the Dellagio, Big Fin has a vibrant bar crowd.
Tap Room at Dubsdread: If you can dine at the bar here without striking up a conversation with those around you, you have serious issues with interacting with people.
Ravenous Pig: Perfect on those nights when you show up without a reservation and the wait for a table is too long (read: whenever the Pig is open).
Prato: The hot new restaurant on Park Avenue has a bar that dominates the room, and is actually more comfortable than the tables and booths.
Prickly Pear: The bartenders here are always friendly and amenable.HUE: The bar area has always been the focal point of this Thornton Parker; might as well have dinner there.
Emeril’s Orlando: You just can’t walk into this CityWalk restaurant and expect to get a table, but the bar seating turns over quickly, and the bartenders here are superb.