DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a hostess at a restaurant in a small town. Even though it is just a weekend gig, I have become invested in an older woman who comes in every Sunday and eats alone. I’ve never prodded her about her personal life, but it makes me so sad to see her alone. She is probably in her later 70s, and I want to do something to make her dinner a little less lonely. Is this even any of my business? It just breaks my heart to see her alone. – Table for One, Tupelo, Mississippi

DEAR TABLE FOR ONE: First, slow down and make sure that you are not superimposing your views onto your customer. There is a very good chance that she is at peace and possibly even happy to dine alone every Sunday. Please know that many people of her age (and younger, by the way) are single and do not live near family, so it is common for them to eat alone. What may be less common is for them to venture out to eat at a restaurant among other people. That said, rather than feeling sad, choose to be empathetic and inspired.

When this lady comes in, always greet her by name and attempt to engage her in small talk. If you get a sense of what interests her – and if you are so inclined – you may want to share news of upcoming events or even invite her to attend an event with you. But mainly, be kind and engaging without overdoing it. She feels safe at your restaurant. Don’t give her a reason to feel uncomfortable.

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DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a lot of food allergies (dairy, tree nuts and some citrus). I feel like my friends feel uncomfortable talking about food with me and pity me. I don’t care that I have a restrictive diet, but I never know how to respond. For example, if someone orders orange juice at lunch, they’ll look at me and apologize. I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re not trying to poison me! I’ve never addressed this head-on because I would feel uncomfortable with that attention on me. – Allergy Aversion, Buffalo, New York

DEAR ALLERGY AVERSION: Well, we could be twins! Except my list of allergies is much longer. One thing I considered for a long time and finally have done is to create a card with a list of my allergies on it to hand to waiters when I go to restaurants. This prevents me from having to remember and relay my food challenges in the company of a group of fellow diners. It also helps waiters ensure that they do not bring me food that has hidden ingredients that I cannot eat.

As far as your friends go, I suggest that you speak to them directly. Thank them for being aware of your food allergies. Then go down the list of what would bother you, if anything, if they consumed any of your allergens in your presence. Let them know that otherwise they can eat or drink to their heart’s content without worrying about you.

— Lifestylist and author Harriette Cole is president and creative director of Harriette Cole Media. You can send questions to [email protected] or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.