10 Experts Share How to Master the Art of Dining Solo
“Riding Solo” is a multimedia guide about how to live fearlessly in your own company. Whether you’re at a small event or traveling the globe, this series shares honest stories from real women learning to explore the world as their own plus-one. Experience the full package here.
I was sitting alone one Saturday afternoon, scrolling through Instagram, when my phone buzzed with a new email — my favorite restaurant was having a huge promotion. So I did what any single hungry gal would do: I hurriedly texted my friends and family to see if they would join me for some delicious grub. But after finding out that they were all busy, it seemed like I had two options: either go to the restaurant solo or pass up on this tasty offer. Because I’m not the type of girl who can say no to good food, I put on my big girl pants and headed to the restaurant alone.
After arriving at the restaurant, I was just about to stomp up to the front desk and request a table for one, when I panicked. As I looked around the lobby full of couples and families, my singleness felt extremely out of place — so much so that I immediately made up a lame excuse to the hostess and booked it out of the restaurant. As I turned and headed back home, I felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself that I couldn’t muster up the courage to dine alone. While it would be easy to dwell on this single negative experience and resign to only ordering takeout for my solo eating adventures, I wanted to give dining alone at a restaurant one more try. But before I brave the restaurant world as a party of one again, I’ve asked ten solo dining experts to share their top tips for feeling confident dining at a restaurant alone.
1. Choose a spot that makes you feel happy. When you’re dining alone, it’s important to let the waiter know where you would feel most comfortable. “If you prefer to be tucked away in a space where you can avoid dialogue, find a quiet corner or sofa space,” says owner of Peel One, Jamie Mawson. “Or, if you’d rather be able to chat with other people, pull up a stool at the countertop where you can have a conversation with other diners and the staff.” Just make sure to speak up and vocalize your needs.
2. If you feel nervous about being on display as a party of one, try sitting at the bar. “One of my favorite things to do is sit at the bar,” notes Mandie Brice, an entrepreneur who travels a lot and ends up dining alone quite frequently. “You can make friends with other solo diners or the bartending staff while you wait, and sometimes this can lead to great scores like free appetizers, drinks, or top-offs!”
“Treat it as a time to spend with yourself without the distractions of sharing the meal with someone else and having to engage in conversation.”
3. Research atmospheres and wait times before you dine. While having the confidence to rock any solo situation is great, don’t be afraid to do a little research before venturing out to find a restaurant that won’t mind catering to single diners. “Try to get friends’ recommendations of places where they had good experiences,” says founder of BlySpot Tina Marie Labruzzo. Along with getting the lowdown from your friends, try searching through reviews on apps like Yelp or BlySpot and paying particular attention to the experiences of folks dining alone.
4. Don’t be afraid to casually chat with the table next to you. “You will find that people are likely to strike up a conversation with you if you are alone, and sometimes it can lead to a magically fun time,” says Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort Deborah J. Cohan. “For example, I found myself at a conference in Boston, returning to eat at a favorite restaurant by myself, and two men, who happened to be brothers, were seated beside me. They were friendly, and not in a come-on way, but in the most deeply human and connecting way. They offered that I try the bottle of wine they ordered, we shared our entrees, and they paid for my dinner. We have been connected on Facebook ever since and have shared restaurant recommendations for other cities since we are all spread across the country!”
5. Prepare distractions for yourself. If you’re not comfortable chatting with the diners around you, don’t sweat it! According to Columbia trained psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, “Prepare yourself with distraction tools such as bringing a good book or audiobook, or planning to do work during the meal.” Even if you don’t end up using them, having a few pre-planned distractions will help you feel more prepared for any situation.
6. Focus on the whole dining experience. “Order a first and second course, so you can enjoy a couple dishes that span your time at the restaurant,” advises owner and founder of The Chef and the Dish Jenn Nicken. As a gal who has traveled the world solo for three months specifically to enjoy incredible food, Nicken suggests that you focus on the components of each dish and the flavors. “Dining with someone else is fun, but dining by yourself gives you an opportunity to really appreciate the food in a way that could be overlooked if you’re deep in conversation.”
7. Treat the experience as a self-care activity. After dining on her own for the first time last year, self-love advocate and photographer Keidi Janz at Tom and Keidi is a master at dining solo and treats it as a self-care experience all about enjoying your own company. “Treat it as a time to spend with yourself without the distractions of sharing the meal with someone else and having to engage in conversation,” she notes. Along with dressing up (for yourself!) and finding a place or cuisine that you want to try, “Go ahead and order all your favorite things, and get yourself some dessert too if the experience feels [like] a celebration. That’s the beauty of dining by yourself — you do not have to split appetizers or dessert with anyone else.” Well said!
8. People-watching is always a good idea. “It might sound creepy, but it’s not,” notes principal consultant at The HR Firm Celine Rodriguez Schulz. “As a busy mom of two, one of the things I feared the most after my divorce was eating alone when the kids were with their father. I normally enjoy my alone time, but it’s different when you really are alone.” But after forcing herself to learn how to eat alone, Schulz is now a huge advocate of people-watching while dining alone: “There’s something cathartic in watching people — the mom getting angry at the kid that won’t be quiet, the couple too into their cell phones to notice one another. All of a sudden, you’ll be thankful that you’re alone.”
“You will find that people are likely to strike up a conversation with you if you are alone, and sometimes it can lead to a magically fun time.”
9. Own it. “My number one tip for dining alone is simply to OWN IT,” writes feminist life coach, writer, and Ph.D. candidate Renee M. Powers. “Tell the host and your server that you’re excited to be treating yourself to a nice dinner and a table for one is all that you need. I backpacked Europe solo in my 20s and spent a birthday alone at a fancy restaurant in Cologne, Germany. The server and owner of the restaurant treated me like an old friend. They recognized that I was confidently doing (and eating!) exactly what I wanted and went out of their way to make my meal memorable. If you own your solo dining experience, no one will feel sorry for you. Instead, they’ll want to help you enjoy it.”
10. Whatever happens, reward yourself for being confident enough to try it, and then make plans to do it again. “I travel a good deal, which leaves me to decide between dreary room service or dining alone,” says speaker, author, and communication strategist at LR&A Laurie Richards. Her advice is simple: “The more you do it, the more confident you’ll be.” You’ve already taken the plunge once, so use that experience as a confidence booster when making new plans to go to a restaurant alone in the future.
(Photo via Getty)