Single, hungry, and female - watch out!

If I get hungry and want to dine alone, I don't give it a second thought. Women go to bars and take trips alone. We run companies. But if we dare eat alone, we get the third degree.

"One only?" "Are there more in your party?" "Are you together?"

The last question sends me into orbit. I always want to say, "Do I look like I would be comfortable going to dinner with those 10 noisy brats?"

It doesn't help, either, that I'm short. When I'm alone, the host walks right by to seat the party behind me.

Now I realize this is all a generalization, and it doesn't happen in every single restaurant, but as a single woman who has dined on my own for many years, I find I am often made to sit in the most cramped table right in the middle of the room or next to the fish bowl.

I never see families or married couples put next to the fish bowl. They get nice, roomy tables, because the assumption is they are going to spend more money. Single diners may spend less, but we don't toss our soup, salad, and entrée on the floor, and we don't require a whole kitchen crew to clean up our mess when we leave.

We singles are quiet and easier to wait on, and since we go to restaurants all the time, we know the importance of decent tips and good manners. OK, we steal crackers and those little creamers, but we don't order only the "specials" or ask for 10 different combinations of the same meal.

All we want is a little peace and respect. I used to say, "One only," when the host finally found me in the lobby buried under a gaggle of married couples and out-of-control kids. Now I announce, "I'd like to be seated in the nonsmoking section, and I'm really hungry."

The host is somehow still amazed that I'm by myself. "Just one?" she asks.

"Do you have a problem with that?" I respond in my best, "Are you talkin' to me?" Bobby DeNiro taxi driver voice. "And don't even think about putting me next to the fish bowl."

She's not sure if she's dealing with a deranged person, so she gives me the best table in the house - with all the leg room of a first-class flight. She knows it's not nice to mess with a short, single, hungry woman.

Terry Loncaric is a freelance writer.

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