The single diner. An island in a sea of chaos. Sometimes content to wait, book in hand, a peaceful reprieve for the overworked server. But so many singles are needy and impatient, with no newspaper or something to look at, the passing of time on fast forward in their boredom. They silently stare into the crowd: "Where is my server?"
I don't necessarily hate the single guest for taking up a good table and ordering a salad and iced tea, and I actually feel bad if I have to make them wait for anything. I'm just not foolish enough to put them at the head of my list of priorities. Tables that come first on a busy night:
1st Six-top, head of the table in suit, orders two 150-dollar bottles of Barolo, and four appetizers to start. They need share plates, our nicest wine glasses, and bottle service STAT so that they might order another bottle later on
2nd Four-top, with full round of cocktails, nicely dressed, settling in for a good (expensive) meal. Head of table is perusing the wine list, open to suggestions
3rd Two-top, VIP regulars. Easy but always want drink and food order in immediately
4th, 5th, 6th, etc. (depending on how crazy the section is) Other tables spending money
Last Priority Singleton ordering salad and iced tea. Tip is likely to be $4, which after tip out and taxes is really $2
Again, a mellow singleton is not necessarily a bad thing. I see them as a "place marker" table, giving me time to get that Barolo poured, take wine orders, handle the veeps, and so on. But inevitably some bored idiot will land in my busy-ass section, staring at me till I acknowledge them, looking like their pants are on fire.
The most oblivious of the impatient singles always have some sort of special need that threatens to strike down the server in the middle of a dinner rush. We have, for example, a regular who always wants something that is not on the menu (requiring a conversation with the busy and grumpy chef) and will only accept his coffee served at the exact same time as his dessert. I once looked over to another (full) server's station to see the man with his dessert, sans coffee. He was literally shaking with anger. I quickly ran to put out that fire for my coworker.
Or my hundred dollar bill lady. She was alone on the patio, on a night when I had very busy 8-table section inside. She was nice enough, and I willingly did many sprints outside to meet her mild requests, but everything fell apart when it came time to pay. Not being outside, I couldn't casually observe if she'd left any payment. Several times I peered through the glass when at the bar picking up drinks, and the bill presenter hadn't budged. And my busser was out there cleaning up‒ He'd surely let me know if there was a payment, right? Finally, I got a moment to breathe and run outside, on the off-chance she had in fact paid. Sure enough there was a hundred dollar bill, tucked inside the presenter, out of view.
*A note about 100 bills. If your bill is 25 and you pay with 100, you will wait for change. Period. Servers don't carry more than a 40 dollar bank typically, so you have suddenly become at the mercy of the bartender, who is even busier than the server.
Our bartender was slammed. It took him at least five minutes to break down that bill, and probably another five for me to have the time to deal with getting the change together and bring it outside. "That took entirely too long," she informed me.
Yes it did, I thought. The two dollars I keep of your tip was unfortunately not worth screwing over my other tables by walking outside ten times to see if you'd paid, or worth pissing off my bartender by pushing him when he was busy. I let her lecture me a bit (as time was ticking away), apologized profusely, and didn't make excuses, like a good servant does.
She was heated enough to come in and continue complaining to my boss, who in turn bitched at me for not carrying a 75 dollar bank. OK. I had just barely paid rent, and I sure as shit didn't have 75 bucks in small bills lying around.
Singletons, please, bring a book, an ipad, a friggin' crossword puzzle; entertain thyself, and don't expect to be served faster than anyone else.