Dining Tips for Successful Solo Dinners | The M Dash
Ever since I was eight years old, I’ve loved eating at restaurants. For a while, this preference was somewhat problematic, since I grew up in suburban New Jersey, where most meals were taken at home. But even so, I convinced my parents to let me plan our menus (which included multiple courses), lit candles, and begged my dad to play his old Otis Redding albums to “set the mood.” My family was half-amused, half-bewildered. But it didn’t matter what they thought; I just wanted a restaurant all to myself. It’s no wonder as an adult, I still love eating out alone, which is why I came up with these tips for dining alone.
I’ve been surprised to learn, however, that this is a polarizing activity. Some say it’s boring, depressing, or—even worse—embarrassing. But for me, it’s an opportunity for contemplation and people-watching. My love of solo dining started when I was alone on business at the age of 25. After two nights of glowering over bad room service in my Houston hotel, I decided the only way I’d feel halfway human was by venturing out to eat. By the end of the trip, my (fun!) dinners had become the highlight—plus, I experienced some great food on the company’s dime.
Now, even if I’m not traveling, dining out by myself has become an essential part of my routine. It’s like going for a long, solitary walk—only much more delicious. I people-watch, I daydream, I observe. In short, I give myself a well-deserved break.
Still not sure if you can pull it off? Here are my tips for how to be your own best date.
1. First things first: Choose a nice place.
When presented with the prospect of eating alone, many people will select a spot that’s mediocre (or worse) because they feel foolish having a decadent meal by themselves. But think about it: There’s no way you’re going to enjoy eating solo if you put yourself in a bland setting with standoffish service and blah-tasting food.
If you’re going for it, do it right. This doesn’t mean choosing the most expensive place in town, but it also doesn’t mean resorting to your neighborhood Chipotle. When you’re on your own, you’re generally more aware of your overall experience. You don’t have the distraction of a hot date or the buffer of conversation. Select an interesting place and then kick back and enjoy your own company.
2. Pick your seat strategically.
You know the scenario: You’re alone, so you decide to eat at the bar. Within minutes, a goober “in town on business” plops down next to you and starts droning on about his net worth. Sound familiar? Sound awful? Before you agree to a bar seat, ask yourself: Am I in the mood to be chatted up? If you aren’t, skip the bar and opt for a table. Moreover, ask if there’s a seat near a window or in a corner. From here, you can still people-watch and soak up the scene, without feeling overexposed.
3. Ditch your phone or laptop.
While it might sound counterintuitive, do not spend your whole dinner with your nose in your phone or laptop. You’ll cause your waiter serious anxiety each time he attempts to maneuver a plate around your MacBook, and you’ll miss out on all the fun.
See, one of the joys of eating out alone is getting to appreciate the sensory elements of the restaurant—its sights, sounds, smells—without any of the usual distractions. Don’t dull the experience by mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or crushing email. Stay present, just as you would if you were dining out with a companion.
4. Timid? Start with breakfast and work your way up to dinner.
From navigating multiple courses to ignoring the couple making out to your left, a solo dinner can be a bit of a gauntlet—particularly for a newbie. Instead of plunging headfirst into an evening meal as your first solitary adventure, opt for breakfast. Not only is the morning vibe more relaxed, the meal is shorter and you’ll likely be surrounded by other solo diners. Plus, I firmly believe that a nice breakfast out—with or without a companion—is a stellar way to start the day.
5. Own it.
There’s this nasty misconception that dining out alone is for sad spinsters, oddballs, or pathetic cat women. That’s ridiculous! In my opinion, a woman who dines on her own—and does it with panache—is loaded with confidence. She’s curious, she enjoys her own company, and she knows that being alone doesn’t equal being lonely. I love the company of my friends, family, and fiancé, but once in a while, there’s just one person I want to go to dinner with: myself.
Illustrations by Mai-Dea