Tips on How to Prequalify

A Solo Diner-Friendly Restaurant

Before You Commit to A Meal Out . . .

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Prequalifying A Solo Diner-Friendly Restaurant

Before You Commit to A Meal Out

(A "Thanksgiving meal"story that you can apply to any meal out on any day!])

When Thanksgiving invitations dry up, what are your options when you've just moved to a new community???

Make plans to create Thanksgiving on your own? Perhaps prepare a sumptuous menu for one featuring turkey or ham, or foresake tradition for the spice of the unusual?

You editor has done it before and enjoyed the experience. In the past, the thought of deciding upon and making a meal just for me was too delectable to resist. Memories surrounding roasted turkey breast interlarded with a mixture of chopped walnuts, minced garlic and butter and paired with a wild rice-vegetable mixture are fond, indeed!

But having survived the trauma of moving, rather than fussing over myself on this occasion, I really wanted others to do that for me.

So, how did I search for and discover the "perfect" restaurant to host my "perfect" Thanksgiving? I took some of my own advice I "prequalified" restaurants by telephone.

A week before the holiday armed with a list of local restaurants open on Thanksgiving that appeared in a local newspaper I began calling. Here's how I began the conversation:

"Hi! I'm new to your area and I'm trying to decide where I'm going to treat myself for Thanksgiving. Would I be comfortable/would I enjoy having Thanksgiving by myself in your restaurant?" (I didn't identify myself.)

Here are the responses I received: (I wish it were possible for me to share the actual tone and attitude of the people representing the following restaurants. These qualities are important. Sometimes they will determine whether you decide to gift a restaurant with your important business, or NOT!)

Red Tracton's (858) 755-6600; 550 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach, California

"Right here [You'll have the best T-Day here]! It's busy; we have the greatest Thanksgiving; we buff up our regular turkey dinner for Thanksgiving.

Our main dining room seating is great and so is the lounge area where there are little tables right up against the wall.

We don't often have have solos for Thanksgiving, but the staff members families come to eat by themselves, so the atmosphere is very warm.

If you can't come for Thanksgiving, you've got to visit another time. 'Tons' of solos, ages 45-70, dine here for lunch and dinner throughout the year. Everyone is very friendly; you'll get to meet some people."

Attitude: Warm, welcoming, enthusiastic

Mimi's Cafe (619) 491-0284 (Chain restaurant, including sites in Mission Valley, Mira Mesa and Oceanside.)

"If you want to, you can try to walk in around 11:00am, but there will be a long wait. We have a wonderful reputation; we're completely booked."

(The person identified as a manager never responded to my question.)

Attitude: Person of few words. See above.

The Marine Room (858) 459-7222; 2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla, California

"I'd feel comfortable dining here alone. Our ocean view is the best in town and we offer booths and some tables for two, but you'd probably be more comfortable eating in the lounge which we'll use for more table space on the holiday.

We have few solos for Thanksgiving, but many for lunch during the rest of the year a mix of locals and others, ages 30 to 80."

Attitude: Pleasant and helpful.

Quail's Inn (760) 744-2445; 1035 La Bonita Drive, San Marcos, California

"You can sit wherever a table is available. Actually, there are limited reservations for Thanksgiving; however, walk-ins are welcome.

The average age for solo men and women is 50s. We see them at lunch and dinner. This restaurant is part of a large seniors' community, so we have a 'captive audience.' "

Attitude: Helpful.

Pacifica Del Mar (858) 792-0476; 1555 Camino del Mar Del Mar, California

"We have seating for solos along a railing with the best ocean view; the tables are set for two. Another area they enjoy is our large bar with 25 seats around, plus an addition six tables.

During the off-season, we attract large numbers of solo regulars. You'll have to try us. I'd dine alone here."

Attitude: Enthusiastic and helpful

Rancho Valencia (858) 756-1123; 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe, California

"This is a really beautiful resort and the people who work here are extremely nice. We have tables set for two smaller tables, very comfortable.

Some of our in-house guests dine alone with us; many come in with a book. Locals who dine alone with us range from 45-75 years old.

May I fax you our Thanksgiving menu? [She did.] I hope you'll consider joining us at one of our wine dinners in the future; seating is communal at a captain's table."

Attitude: Concerned and helpful

A.R. Valentien, Lodge at Torrey Pines (858) 777-6635;11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California

"I'm so sorry; we've been fully booked for some time. However, I have a suggestion this really is a perfect place to dine alone because of the beauty of the surroundings and the staff really prides ourselves on making our guests comfortable. Oh, you're from the Pasadena [California] area? Then you'll feel right at home; the architecture is early-20th-century California Craftsman-style. But, back to my suggestion looking at the book, though I can't give you a reservation, I'm sure that if you appear around 5:00pm, we'll be able to seat you.

I hope you'll be able to join us; if you wish, please mention my name when you come in and let people know we've had this conversation.

Attitude: Concerned and helpful

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Flying Bridge (760) 722-1151; 1105 North Coast Highway, Oceanside, California

"Of course! [Of course, you would be comfortable dining alone with us!] This is a family-run business, actually two restaurants in the same place.

You'd be most comfortable in the lounge/bar where there are tables, or in the cafe where booths or 13 seats at the counter are available. Also, we have an ocean view!

We'll fit you in and take care of you!!!

Attitude: Enthusiastic and helpful

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My choice for Thanksgiving dinner: A.R. Valentien - The Lodge at Torrey Pines (La Jolla, California)!

(For details, click: here)

Blessed with a wealth of selections (of my "own making" to be sure!), deciding upon A.R.Valentien was difficult. And the impossibility of making a reservation (Thanksgiving was booked!) complicated my decision.

However, armed with the address of an alternative restaurant (Red Tracton's) nearby, the reservation taker's words encouraged me. I decided to "go for it":

". . . looking at the book, though I can't give you a reservation, I'm sure that if you appear around 5:00pm, we'll be able to seat you.
I hope you'll be able to join us; if you wish, please mention my name when you come in and let people know we've had this conversation."

After a stormy drive (wind, no rain), I arrived. My initial impression of The Lodge began with the parking valet. A recent arrival from Montana, he was welcoming and refreshingly enthusiastic about California and his new job.

Another warm greeting awaited me at the reservation desk. Mentioning the reservationist's name, I related our discussion. I was seated almost immediately!

My table for two was "set for one" (an courtesy I always appreciate the removal of a place setting(s) can be disturbing to other diners). Service was immediate, professional and apiece with the total A.R. Valentien experience comfortingly welcoming.

I soon was alternating my attention between the menu, observing the surrounding diners and my casually elegant and architecturally familiar surroundings. (Outside, tree shadows danced; the wind still raged.)

Throughout a meal that began with silky butternut squash soup with spiced walnuts, croutons and crème fraîche, embraced a main course of red wine braised duck leg, roasted duck breast with peas, onions, wild mushrooms and winter squash and culminated in Bourbon pecan pie with home-made vanilla bean icecream members of the staff stopped in the midst of duties to offer their services or to inquire about the food.

When I finally finished my meal and prepared to leave, several members of the staff encouraged me to spend time enjoying the architecture of the complex. While I did so with pleasure, several members of the hotel staff inquired as to whether I was enjoying myself.

Concluding thoughts:

A.R. Valentien would do well to create and automatically offer reading material about the restaurant and its surroundings to solo diners. Such an offering would enhance both public relations for the restaurant and any solo diner's meal. When I inquired, I was surprised to discover that no such amenity was available.

I was extremely satisfied with the quality of the solo Thanksgiving experience I enjoyed at A.R. Valentien. I wanted to treat myself to an elegant, yet low key, nurturing dining experience that's what I received!

Had my mood and requirements been different, who knows which restaurant I might have selected. However, the time spent pre-qualifying restaurants wasn't lost. I now have at the ready a terrific list of restaurants from which to choose the next time I decide to treat myself!

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