Dining alone in a restaurant is neither a shameful thing nor an experience to avoid.
Maybe you’ve had an experience like Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Sometimes a server does make a fuss, but, really, most are happy you’re there — if you are happy to be there, yourself.
There’s an art to the solo dine. In the right frame of mind and with reasonable expectations, a solo diner can have a delicious experience.
It helps if you like to eat, of course.
These tidbits should help the reluctant learn from my own mistakes. Know thyself, dear diner, and feel free to enjoy a great meal, regardless of situational solitude!
Let’s start with a basic tenet: you’ve got to dispel any insecurity you might have about your right to eat alone.
American culture is a little crazy about food. As a result of what we’ve been taught, some of us feel self-conscious about enjoying eating, especially in public. But the fact is, we’ve all done it.
Confidence is key, here. If you find yourself wondering whether others in a restaurant are looking at you or judging your presence, remember they’re really more interested in the cannelloni.
Location, location, loca…
Where you choose to sit in a restaurant has perhaps the greatest impact on whether you’ll enjoy your solo dining experience.
It’s up to you to share your seating preference: want to be situated in eaves-dropping distance of an interesting-looking group of folks? Prefer to pass the time in a more secluded area? Unless the joint is really jumping, any friendly establishment should be happy to accommodate your pleasant request.
Read the restaurant
Ah, this is important. I like to know a little bit about a place before I go there, just so there are no unpleasant surprises.
When you know the details – like how much the food costs, or that there will likely be patrons dressed to the nines – you can adjust your expectations. I’m not saying you should feel compelled to conform, but know the general guidelines. The point of the solo dine is for you to enjoy yourself.
Your meal on mobile (or, the smartphone connection)
Here’s a call: to eat while connected, or no?
A meal alone certainly gives you a chance to catch up on emails, fave websites, and memes you’ve yet to have the time to embrace. Or you might want to cherish a few moments to yourself, entirely disconnected from the grind.
When I’m feeling digitally social in these situations, I like to philosophize by text with a friend who likely won’t respond right away. (Do you have those, too?) I might describe the scene, the people, the food. It’s sort of like talking to myself in the presence of another, online. I’ll hear what my friend has to say later, but, for now, I just want to put my impressions out there — and I want to enjoy the food.
What if you want to be social?
Just because you arrive alone to a hip eatery doesn’t necessarily mean you wish to stay that way. Again, it’s up to you to signal your intentions.
Your body language tells the tale about whether you want to engage with other diners. A seat taken at the bar is a reasonable give-away, too.
The Staff and the Solo Diner
Servers are generally friendly to those dining alone; ones who are frustrated about the desire for a larger table (and tip) really only spite themselves, if they take these feelings out on the solo diner. I choose to be super-nice to servers, but I tip based on the bill and the quality of service received — generally no more merely because I happen to be eating alone.
Enjoying a food scene with friends is one of the great pleasures in life, but there’s no rule that says it’s the only way to experience a restaurant. Go ahead, muster up your courage: “table for one, please.”
Photo credits: Shutterstock / Rovenko Photo, Tyler Olson, Tanya Uralova, Nejron Photo