A lot of you responded to my poll on Instagram stories last night by asking me the best practices for eating out at restaurant alone: How do I choose where I sit? How do I occupy my time? What do I do with my hands?! So I thought I would write a little guide as to how I go about it.
You should first know that I get it. Eating alone at a restaurant can be daunting. Having to face the hostess who may ask “is it just you tonight?” can be enough to have some people heading for the door. But I promise that if you stick it out (and it may take a few times!) that eating solo can become a savoured part of your routine.
A few years ago I realized that I needed to get better at being by myself. I had just moved back to Connecticut and there were so many things I wanted to do (which is actually what spurred this blog) and my friends didn’t necessarily have all the same interests as me. They were stuck in their routine with no interest in venturing out. And for a while I went along with that. But then I realized that it was silly that I was missing out on lobster rolls on the shore, day trips to go hiking in Litchfield County, and food tours through Mystic, just because I didn’t have anyone to go with.
So I embraced being alone. I started off by going to coffee shops and sitting down and drinking my coffee there (always with my laptop to help the transition), which led to dinner alone, which led to me backpacking Italy for a month solo. Being alone became a comfortable place. And the ironic thing is, you’re never really alone. You can always turn to the person next to you at the bar and strike up conversation, or talk to the bartender, or your server! Being alone introduced me to a lot of great people. And this is how I got comfortable doing it:
Get Over Your Fears
The biggest reason people don’t eat out alone (at least according to all the DM’s you sent me) is that you’re afraid other patrons are going to judge you. So let’s get over this. Dining solo is having a moment. And in a time where we’re getting married later, and just generally living differently than the generations before us, being alone is a sign of independence. So own that. It absolutely does not mean that you’re lonely. It means that you’re comfortable with yourself and fearless. And I promise you that other than maybe glancing at you when you walk in, other diners are way too occupied with their own meal/life/companions to care about yours.
What Types of Restaurants To Eat At
I hate to say it, but deciding what restaurants and bars you feel comfortable eating at alone is a personal journey. (Although I will put together a list of my favorites for you soon). For me, it means that the restaurant has a cozy feel and that the bar has other people sitting there (alone at a bar is peak awkward for me), though it shouldn’t be so busy that there are people pushing up against my back waiting for a seat. Sports bars are not my personal thing, but that might be a really good first transition for you.
Where To Sit When Eating Alone
The bar: I, personally, am comfortable eating at either a table or the bar. But if you’re just starting off on this journey, the bar is your best bet. Generally your back will be to the rest of the restaurant, so you won’t have to worry about making awkward eye contact with anyone. And, the bartender can become your safety net. If the bartender isn’t swamped, chat with them about the menu, about their day, about anything!
A table: The key to sitting at a table alone is to know what makes you feel comfortable. If you’re there during a slow time and the host is trying to seat you at a four top in the middle of the room, or in a looming six person booth, that makes you feel really alone, just ask for a smaller table, preferably against a wall or window. Always be polite when asking. And if the thought of asking makes you uncomfortable, turn it into a joke! Sometimes letting them know you feel awkward breaks the ice, and the staff might pay you extra care from there on out. And on the other hand, if you know you’re going to be solo dining during peak hours, call ahead and make a reservation. That lessens the chance that they try and seat you at the bar. Once you have your table, sit down facing the room (scary I know!) but eating facing a wall is weird. Plus, this way you can people watch to pass the time.
What To Order When Eating Alone
There are going to be people who tell you to order a single entree when you’re alone, but I'm here to tell you order whatever the hell you want. You want four different appetizers for dinner? Do it. A salad and two desserts? Go for it. The great thing about eating alone is that you have no table mates asking you to split dishes or imposing their dietary restrictions on you. This is truly a time to do you. I’d like to say any type of cuisine is up for grabs, but you may want to steer clear of hibachi tables, hot pot, and other interactive meals, and probably dim sum, so you don’t have an eyes-bigger-than-your-stomach-incident like I did in England. Save those meals for groups.
How To Occupy Your Time While Eating Alone
If you don’t think that you can just sit there and savour your meal and surroundings without feeling like everyone’s eyes are on you (again, they’re not) you can bring some armour. Armour is an object like your computer, phone, a book, notebook or a newspaper, that you can pass the time engaging with so that you aren’t just sitting there twiddling your thumbs. Obviously be mindful of those around you and don’t show up with your laptop to a busy restaurant on a Saturday night (it’s much more a lunch thing). If you don’t need armour, chatting with the bartender or your server is a nice way to insert some life into your meal. This goes likewise for the people sitting on either side of you at the bar. But again, be self aware and know when to tap out of a conversation if you can sense they, ya know, want to be eating alone.