Are there restaurants near the hotel? Does the hotel have a restaurant and room service? Are cabs available and safe? This is information you can obtain from the hotel website or the concierge in advance.
Vignettes of best-laid plans gone wrong
In Amsterdam in summer 2010, we were staying at a charming* small hotel with a lovely breakfast room but no room service. We were in an old part of an old city, on a canal near the Amstel River. It was an area of sidewalk cafes and dives popular with young people. The air smelled of marijuana. No problem. We had dinner reservations each evening at famous restaurants. Until my friend was stricken with food poisoning. The hotel was able to produce chicken soup for her, but I was on my own, and there were no good options.
A few years later, another friend and I were in New York for theater and opera. We decided to be “frugal” and stay at a four-star hotel in the theater district to avoid cab rides in the evening. Again, it had a breakfast room but no restaurant. We had not factored in bad weather. In heavy rain, we could not walk to restaurants or theaters as planned. Cabs did not stop at our hotel since we were so close to our destinations. Now we stay in a five-star hotel a few blocks farther from the theater district, with a good restaurant and excellent restaurants within a block or two off heavily-traveled Fifth Avenue. We also arrange for a car and driver at night, for we know that when we need a cab most—when the weather is terrible—we are least likely to get one. And we are too old to stand on the curb in front of Lincoln Center at midnight to try to flag a cab after the opera.
Cabs, Uber and otherwise
I may be silly in this regard, but I am uncomfortable taking strange cabs by myself after dark. Uber feels safer. Instead of having to hail a cab from the curb after dinner, I can order a cab on my smart phone and watch its progress as it approaches me. No cash changes hands, because Uber has my credit card info, and there are no tips. If I should have the misfortune of getting a rogue driver, Uber knows who picked me up and what route he took after I got in. If I must take a cab, I think that having the hotel or restaurant arrange for it is a safer option than simply my hailing a cab on the street.
Strategies for dinner alone
Because of transportation issues, I often eat dinner at my hotel when I am alone. I favor hotels that have lobby lounges with a light menu or little bistro-bars. And I adore hotels—like XV Beacon in Boston and the White Elephant in Nantucket—that have complimentary car service. Then there is the Peninsula in Chicago, with its lobby lounge, a fine-dining restaurant and a Chinese restaurant. When I will be in a strange city by myself for several days, I email the concierge in advance and ask for reservations at restaurants that are a safe walk from the hotel and appropriate for a single, older woman. The first time I did it, I hated describing myself that way; but I have found that it pays to be honest.
After several days on my own in Europe earlier this year, I began to rethink the whole subject of dinner. Let’s face it: Dinner drags when you’re by yourself. An elaborate, multi-course meal that lasts for several hours can be painful. On the other hand, if I am rushed through an expensive meal in an hour at a “fine dining” restaurant, I feel cheated. While Lev and I avoided fancy lunches, preferring quick stops wherever we found ourselves at noon, I plan to experiment with making lunch my main meal, then eating in the hotel bar or having room service in the evening. That may not be the most exciting choice, but it works. And as a widow who travels alone, I have learned to be content with what works.
*The older I get, the more I realize that the word charm covers a lot of sins. Once I thought it was “charming” to be tucked away in the attic of an old inn in southern France, with a bathroom six steps up. Now I am acutely aware of the possibility of falling on the stairs in the middle of the night.
Photo: Patio with outdoor dining, Brazilian Court Hotel, Palm Beach, Florida