Diving into the famously fabulous local food-and-drink scene is one of the greatest thrills of any visit to Barcelona. In recent weeks, however, reports have emerged of some restaurants and bars in Catalonia's Mediterranean-side capital turning away solo diners in favor of bigger groups (often foreign spenders), mainly in the heavily touristed city center, the Eixample district (home to Gaudí's wondrous architecture) and pintxo-bar-filled Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec.
"Barcelona is waging war against solo diners," screams a recent headline in The Telegraph, while The Times reports that Barcelona restaurants have banned solo diners. What is happening? If you visit Barcelona as a solo traveler, will you be turned away from a restaurant when dining out?
Why are some restaurants discouring solo diners?
According to the Spanish newspaper El País, the issue revolves mainly around Barcelona's lively terrazas (terrace seating), which are in high demand with the peak summer season currently in full swing, despite terrace tables continuing to grow in number in 2023. On social media, some residents have reported instances of being denied terrace seating when looking to dine solo.
There are also complaints that some restaurants are reserving all outdoor tables for full meals only, which means ordering just a coffee or a glass of wine is not an option. As a Barcelona local, I can tell you this has been the case for years at certain Spanish establishments during traditional lunch and dinner times, but it is reportedly becoming more widespread. Some residents believe it is being driven by restaurants catering to the earlier dinner slots favored by many seasonal tourists – a time when Spaniards are likely to still be relaxing over a pre-dinner drink.
Another contentious, connected issue is the introduction of time caps for meals at some restaurants, which has become a more common policy all over the world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses build back up after months of closures and restrictions. Though time limits can apply to all kinds of groups, there is typically a shorter sitting if you're dining solo.
Rising living costs and fast-increasing rents certainly pose a challenge for Barcelona's restaurant industry, not to mention the knock-on effects of the pandemic, which saw hospitality businesses all over Spain completely shuttered and/or subject to tight official restrictions for months.
But while a few local restaurants might now be opting to turn away solo diners for (supposed) financial reasons, this is far from any Barcelona-wide policy or ban, and there are many tempting places all over the city where solo diners are warmly welcomed. In fact, some restaurants have big communal tables, more relaxed bar seating, lunchtime set menus and other helpful touches designed specifically with solo diners in mind.
Table for one
Restaurateur Badr Bennis runs two hugely popular spots – creative-Italian BENZiNA and small-plates-style Doppietta – in the stylish Sant Antoni neighborhood and believes welcoming solo diners is not only the right thing to do but also great for business. "In BENZiNA and Doppietta, we receive quite a lot of solo diners who are always welcome, and we try to make their experience as special as possible, with extra attention to detail to make them feel at home," he tells Lonely Planet. After all, if you've had a wonderful experience as a solo diner, you're highly likely to recommend the restaurant and return again, whether that's for another solo meal or a group gathering.
For many people, dining solo is a real treat – a chance to read perhaps or write, enjoy some independent downtime and order precisely what you fancy from the menu without having to discuss (or share!) with anyone else. It also happens to be a great way to boost confidence, improve relationship skills and meet new people, and solo diners often benefit from being able to squeeze into popular restaurants at short notice or without a reservation. Table for one, then?