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A Case for the Single Seating Dinner
How two proprietress sisters on Mallorca helped me discover the ultimate restaurant experience
This is likely the first email you’re receiving from Blackbird’s The Supersonic, so by way of table-setting, we’ll use this space to share four things: company news, industry analysis, product announcements, and our observations about the magic of hospitality. Today’s post, the first of many from our content lead, James Jung, is in the last bucket. We hope you enjoy and, as ever, we’d love to hear from you: either in the comments below, on Twitter, or by dropping us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’re probably expecting a thought or two on the current state of web3 and how its applications might help solve some of hospitality’s more pernicious issues. We’ll get there, but today I’d like to commiserate over something all of us have experienced: being late for an impossible-to-get dinner reservation. You know the feeling. You’ve selected the date, rallied the troops, called in the favors, begged, borrowed, and stole to secure the resy, and then…your meticulously laid plans hang in the balance because you’re running late.
In the case of my wife and I this past August, out for the sole date night of our two-week family vacation on Mallorca, the blame lay squarely on a pair of clingy boys not keen to spend the evening back at our hotel with their babysitter. That and a tricky drive to the hilltop town of Caimari, and suddenly the six-course dinner that we’d both been looking forward to for months seemed to be evaporating before us. And then …
“Welcome,” our hostess said, her Spanish accent heavy, her smile broad, her Mediterranean vibe emanating. We were at Ca Na Toneta, one of Mallorca’s best restaurants and one of the best kept secrets across Spain’s entire Balearic chain. A place, in other words, where you do not show up late. Given our tardiness, my wife and I expected some form of punishment. Yet, there stood our hostess — Teresa Solivellas, one of the two sisters who own the joint — still smiling, completely unperturbed by our lack of punctuality, almost pleased to see we were not moving at her pace.
What world was this that we had entered, where one shows up late only to be invited to have cocktails on Ca Na Toneta’s back deck for as long as we pleased? “There is no rush,” she assured us. “We have only one seating. You eat when you like.”
“One seating.” These were the words I’d been looking for, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Our dinner did not lack superlatives: the white washed space and elegantly minimal decor; the equally restrained attire of the staff, stylish workwear presumably dreamed up by a local designer; the seasonal ingredients comprising the delicious six-course tasting menu. But it was the single seating dinner format that sold us on the experience.
Sitting there, amid the conversations of other diners – a French couple, a Viennese family – how satisfying this was. The relaxed freedom of dining at an inimitable restaurant whenever you like, with no rush to get there, and no frowning from the staff for lingering over cocktails or coffee. Come when you like, eat when you like, leave when you like — it’s all good. Behold, the nu plus ultra of dining out.
The significance of the single seating dinner is not lost on Ca Na Toneta’s proprietresses either, both of whom view it as a cornerstone to their hospitality philosophy. Months later, I reached out to chef Maria Solivellas and asked her to elaborate on the idea.
“We have always worked in this way because we have always understood Ca Na Toneta as a lifestyle despite being a business," she wrote me via email. "[The restaurant] is our house — who receives someone at home and gives them a limited time? This [laid back approach to hospitality] is one of the beautiful things that we must preserve from our Mediterranean culture and genetics. For us it is essential that our guests have a relaxed experience, that they feel free, that they are connected to the space, to the flavors, to the smells…and that they can take the time that is necessary. We cannot think of another way to receive someone into our house.”
Single seating restaurants are unicorns in this world. Ostensibly, the original Rao’s offers it, as does — to an extent — Mexico City seafood icon Contramar. Garzon, Francis Mallman’s inn in the town of the same name, does, too. There are others, of course, but they are rare and they are secrets. Economics makes them very hard, especially in big cities. But, can’t we dare to dream? Why can’t this type of dining experience be available in your own zip code, at your favorite restaurant? Isn’t the pleasure of dining at your leisure, for as long as you want, a perk some of us might be willing to pay for?
We think this sense of dining freedom — of a night less structured than expected, of a relationship with the restaurant more enduring — is especially interesting as we develop the future of restaurant-consumer connectivity. We’ll return to this theme soon.
Blackbird Labs, Inc.
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