Table for one

A practical guide to dining out solo

Associate Editor Jeri Davis is one of those people who enjoys flying solo, but even shy folks can get something out of dining alone.

Associate Editor Jeri Davis is one of those people who enjoys flying solo, but even shy folks can get something out of dining alone.

PHOTO/MATT BIEKER

Think about the things you do alone out in public. Maybe it’s grocery shopping or grabbing a lunchtime coffee at one of the local shops. What else? If you’re taking the time to read this, chances are you’re not the kind who’s comfortable doing everything solo, from trips to the movies to cocktails on a Saturday night or a meal at a restaurant. That last one seems to be a big one for people.

“Sadder than destitution, sadder than a beggar is the man who eats alone in public. Nothing more contradicts the laws of man or beast, for animals always do each other the honor of sharing or disputing each other’s food,” so said 20th century French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. And, funnily enough, people seem to agree.

Surveys routinely reveal that when dining alone people’s biggest worry is what others will think of them. But let’s be very clear; that Baudrillard guy was totally wrong. When you eat at a restaurant alone it says just two things about you: 1.) you’re hungry, and 2.) you can afford to treat yourself to a meal.

Let’s get one more thing straight before we move on. Doing things with other people is wonderful. So, this is not an ode to the perpetual loner. It’s not geared toward seasoned misanthropes. This is a practical guide for folks who think doing things with others is wonderful but are curious what it’d feel like to strike out on their own.

1. Get out of your own head

Seriously, get out of your head. Don’t worry about what others think of you. The wait staff and other customers aren’t going to judge you for being alone. Do you sit there and judge solo diners when you see them? No. (And if you do, then you deserve to be alone. Shame on you, you jerk.)

The way I see it, it’s basically like Eleanor Roosevelt—obviously smarter than Jean Baudrillard—so eloquently said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

2. Make some decisions

You’ve got some thinking to do before you ever head out for your solo meal. First, consider which meal will you go for. Any meal of the day on any day of the week is acceptable, but you need to decide which you’d prefer. A busy breakfast joint on a Saturday morning can be daunting for a first timer—as can a nice dinner place on a Saturday night. If the thought of either of those makes your palms sweat, perhaps you should consider a weekday lunch.

You can also opt for a place that has bar seating, which lends itself to solo dining. If after picking your place and time you’re still a bit nervous, take the time to peruse the menu online, if available. This will help save you from “stress ordering,” i.e., looking at your server like a deer in the headlights and blurting out the first menu item you see when asked for your order.

3. Make your strategy

You thought you’d already strategized, right? It’s OK. There’s only a little more to consider.

One thing you should decide is if you’ll take something with you to distract yourself. You can bring a book along to read. It’s also fine to plan on playing games or scrolling Facebook on your phone, but a book also works as a seat reserver—something you can leave on your table if you need to pop off to the bathroom but don’t want the server to think you’ve pulled a dine-and-dash.

Something else you might consider is bringing cash to pay for your meal, especially if you opt for a busy restaurant during peak hours. It’s totally fine to dine by yourself during these times, but you should be prepared to get in and out in a timely manner. Having cash will let you avoid waiting for your server to drop your check, return for it and run your card through their POS system.

4. Make your move

It’s time to do it. Grab your cash, keys and distraction and go.

It might sound cheesy, but don’t underestimate the power of a smile. Power—or at least confidence—is what a smile really conveys. Wearing one when you walk into your chosen restaurant can help set the tone for your meal.

If you’ve brought a distraction, don’t dive right into it. Take the time to converse with your server and take in your surroundings. And when your meal arrives, take the time to savor it and your solo dining success.

5. Make it a habit

The first time you do something new is generally the most stressful. Provided you didn’t find the whole experience awful, you should dine alone again. You should make it a habit. Try new places and things. When you dine alone, you’re free to pick whatever restaurant and whatever meal appeals to you most in that moment.

If your first solo dining experience was a weekday lunch, you can work your way up to a Friday night dinner. If you went to a place with bar seating, you can go somewhere and try out a table for one. If you brought a distraction, you can put it aside and opt to people watch and listen to the conversations around you of couples on first dates, families, business partners. If you went for a table the first time, try bar seating instead and strike up a conversation with the people around you. Just do what feels right—because solo dining should be a fun and empowering experience.