How To Go To A Restaurant By Yourself

Pairs well with “One,” by U2.

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Josephine Estelle, Ace Hotel, New Orleans. Photo by me.

It’s not my favorite, either. I’d sincerely prefer to dine with a friend or two, perhaps even a significant other. Though since I haven’t sat across a table from a romantic partner since Shakespeare was a child, I can’t really tell you if I’d like that anymore. I just assume.

At a certain point I decided I was damn tired of missing out on new restaurants, oft-Instagrammed cocktails, and just no-dishes nights simply because I didn’t have a dinner companion. Eating dinner in public alone had always scared me. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe I felt judged, or I didn’t know what to do with my face while I was sitting there. Honestly, where do you look, where do you point your face when it’s not talking to another human being? Almost every option makes you feel, if not look, like a goddamn creep.

Emboldened by a boiling over of the amount of FOMO I’m able to swallow, I gave it a try, and as it turns out I’m fantastic at going to restaurants by myself. I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice for anyone similarly intimidated by entering public places untethered. It really ain’t so bad.

  1. Try it while you’re traveling. Traveling alone is a whole other bag of cats, but here I’ll address just one aspect, something you can do even when you’re traveling with others, simply taking a moment for yourself. Maybe it’s the impossibility of seeing someone you know, maybe it feels more natural to try a new place in another city, whatever the reason, it’s more gentle to ease yourself into the solo dining hot tub while you’re away. You’ll also have more fun selecting the restaurant by reading blogs, foodie websites, etc as opposed to mentally shuffling through your local go-tos. Let Anthony Bourdain give you a suggestion or two. He knows what he’s doing.
  2. Sit at the bar. If you take nothing else from me, remember this: You must always sit at the bar. If the restaurant doesn’t have a bar, you are at the wrong restaurant. I’d rather eat jalapeño poppers at a bar than a perfectly aged steak at a table with a chair across from me that’s growing cobwebs. Solo dining at a table is the fastest way to tar and feather your self esteem. Look at an empty bar. It’s literally just a bunch of solo seats facing no one that people convert into pairs by awkwardly angling their bodies. The bar was made for solo diners. It is your church.
  3. Bring a crutch. “You’re never alone when you’re reading a good book” sounds like something the very nerdy 9th grade version of myself who still thought straight A’s were life’s greatest accomplishment would say while wearing a cardigan. It’s still true though. Bring a fully charged iPhone, a book, or a magazine. This is where you put your face. This is where you look so that you don’t accidentally instill awkward or sad feelings inside yourself by gazing around the restaurant until it feels like it’s consuming you in venus fly trap teeth. Having something to “do” is the best way to get comfortable being alone in public. After awhile, you’ll need your crutch less, and will feel more comfortable just sitting there, relaxing, and not caring what other people think about what you’re doing or looking at. They never cared anyway. They’re busy bitching to each other about work or catching each other up on relationship drama or, more recently, expressing mutual fear over our country’s impending demise. So I usually read Medium on my phone or a good biography I’ve been meaning to get into. Most recently, Patti Smith’s. I know I’m late to that party leave me alone. The book was phenomenal. Solo dining is actually a great time to catch up on things you’ve been meaning to read, especially if the space is on the quiet side. If it’s not, see #4.
  4. Talk to people. The bartender is your easiest target, obviously. Ask for wine and food recommendations, ask if he or she picked the music in this lovely establishment, commiserate over the goddamn weather. Just try to speak about a thing to a stranger. Once you’ve got your strength up, try talking to someone on a neighboring barstool. I believe in you.
  5. Order minimally, and carefully. The biggest bitch about dining alone is that you don’t get to try very many things on the menu. I tend to go the cheese plate/appetizer route or if I’ve read about something specific on the menu, one main dish and maybe a veggie. I hate wasting food (and money), and spare me talk of taking things home. They never taste as good once you’ve left the carefully manicured ambiance of the restaurant. You know I’m right. This is another perfect time to talk to a bartender or server. They know their menu well (or should) and they can tell you which menu items make everyone go apeshit. Or you can check photos on Instagram where the restaurant has been tagged. People don’t post dishes they didn’t love.
  6. Try different kinds of wine. A bottle is too much, a glass is too little (if you’re me), so I view wine as an opportunity to experience a restaurant’s menu as much as the food. If you order the same glass of wine twice, you’ve done yourself a disservice. This is also where talking to a bartender comes into play. Find out what excites them about their own menu, and go with that. I won’t dive too deeply into wine geekery but dining alone is a chance to discover more of what you like, rather than what you and another person are willing to compromise on.
  7. Take pictures. Post that shit everywhere. First of all, they make wonderful memories and will remind you how not bad dining alone really was. Further, social media photos of solo dining experiences are what I like to consider modern day merit badges for 1st-world-problem bravery. You didn’t save someone from a burning building, but you did save yourself from what society tells us solo people have to miss. Single? Love wine? Love trying new restaurants? Love leaving the house? You’re not alone.

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