Do or Don’t: Dining Solo

Do or Don't: Dining Solo

Do you ever go out to eat by yourself? As we conclude our month of restaurants, let’s chat about this love-it-or-hate-it dining experience. I tried it last weekend…

The other day, when I got home to my apartment after an afternoon of hanging out with friends, I realized I wasn’t ready to end my night. (Stella, check you out!) So, I turned around and strolled to a twinkly café by the water for an early dinner. I was psyching myself up, thinking nice things like, “Go nuts — order an appetizer,” and “Yes, you deserve a cocktail!” But, as I entered the empty restaurant behind a pair of mushy lovers, I fell apart.

“I’m alone,” I squeaked to the server after he repeatedly asked, “Three?” to the couple ahead. I grabbed a seat at the bar, dropping my phone in the process, drawing the attention of the unoccupied staff. Then I dropped my menu. When you are on the shorter side, crawling up and down a bar stool turns out to be quite the spectacle. Minutes later, I confused the bartender by asking for a Negroni and soda instead of a Campari and soda. (Stella, check you out!)

Funnily enough, solo meals while traveling are often my dearest memories. I’ve done it dozens of times. You can order at your own pace, people watch or avert your attention to a book, order seconds and scoot all of the tomatoes to the side of your plate without having to explain yourself. This was the first time I second-guessed a date with myself. Maybe it was because I wasn’t on vacation (so I felt less anonymous). Maybe there was too much candlelight. Maybe the empty restaurant made me feel spotlighted. Maybe it was Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You” thundering through the place.

As soon as I started to lose faith in my beloved pastime, the restaurant began to fill up. The servers kicked off their practiced dance around the bistro tables, kitchen staff fired up their grills while bantering about whether to call the soup “puréed vegetable” or “vegetable purée,” and lively conversations of patrons made Alicia Keys’s heartbreak anthem feel like a distant memory. I realized the only person judging me was myself. So, I kicked back and ordered another Negroni and soda — with pride.

Do or Don't: Dining Solo

What about you? Do you enjoy dining alone? Do you sit at the bar or grab a table? Do you bring a book? (Our friend Kate recommends not bringing one, so you can be open to random conversation.)

P.S. More fun dos and don’ts! Plus, drinking alone, and restaurant table manners.

(Photos by Alfred Eisenstaedt.)

  1. Hi guys ! This facebook page/group is created for you if you want share your table while you’re travelling and feel uncomfortable about eating alone. Seems that lot of people has this feeling in travel ! Feel free to comment and add some new ideas ! Soon a website and a app for smartphone.

    If you like this idea, like this page and join our group !

  2. He says...

    Lol! Great post, and I suppose we’ve all been there. Most of my eating out alone is when I have to travel for work, but have been known to “push” myself out into a restaurant alone because fast food is so unhealthy for you. I still feel awkward, that is until the second “brew”, then I relax a bit, and actually focus and enjoy my meal, caring less whose around or what they are doing. But, usually don’t hang around for coffee or dessert when I’m alone.
    Oh wow, I spend too much time going thru your food section!!! Sometimes I think who want to go out, I’m trying this from cupofjo!!!
    Love the site!!

  3. Tasha says...

    I started traveling alone February 2015 since then I’ve been to Panama, Chicago, New Orleans and most recently Oahu. I just got tired of waiting for someone to go with. Usually, when I want to eat somewhere I make a reservation especially if it’s popular or I am happy to eat at the bar, and I do talk to people around me, if at all. I don’t feel bad or lonely because I am going to see all the places I want to see. I love food, and I make tons of reservations for one and people are usually pretty impressed. When I’m at home, I will sometimes grab a drink at a restaurant near me but typically I only eat alone when I am outside of Manhattan/Brooklyn, since I can always find someone to dine with me here.

  4. Katie says...

    I have no hang-ups about hanging out alone normally and usually love my rare solo travel days (my husband and I have been together since age 18 so couples traveling tends to be the default though). But for some reason I never love dinner alone. I am too much of an extrovert, and while lunch alone never bothers me, dinner alone always feels depressing. Also, somehow I always end up picking a place that is disappointing (when I’m traveling and don’t know what’s around). Maybe I need to try it in my own city where I can pick a favorite place instead!

  5. Mary says...

    Too damn funny with the negroni and soda. Loved it all

  6. Ella says...

    The first time I dared to eat alone was in the middle of a world-shattering breakup (I was 22). It was at the late Pastis in the meatpacking district, in NYC, back when it was still cool. I had a late lunch – a Croque Madame with fries, salad, and a glass of red wine. Maybe I had 2 glasses. I had a book with me, but I ended up people watching anyway. It was so liberating, and it became the first of many. I usually pick a spot at the bar. 13 years later and when people ask me if I’ve ever done it, I tell them it should be on everyone’s to-do list. I now live in a small town in the south of France and whenever the subject comes up, people still look at me strangely that I actually like dining alone. Nowadays, I have a 5 year old as a dining companion. It doesn’t really count, but it’s the closest (almost) solo dining experience I get.

    • Anna says...

      You sound like a lovely person. <3

  7. It’s lovely to eat by yourself.

  8. I’ve been out dining solo a few times, but mostly when traveling. The first time, I knocked a wine glass off a table – so embarrassing. For some reason, I always end up in tapas restaurants alone, which is kind of solo-dining level expert, but the last time I gave myself carte blanche to order whatever caught my eye without worrying about it, including dessert. It felt so indulgent and satisfying.

  9. My favourite memory dining alone. Supper, east village on a hot summer night last August.
    I was sitting outside at a small two-person table. On my left, two girls in their early 20s. One has just moved to New York, you could sense how nervous/excited she was. You know, when you move to the big city to start your adult life and you’re hopeful but also terrified. You just landed your dream job but you’re also far away from anyone you know.
    On my right, two women in their early 30s. Both struggling actors discussing how they’re done with New York. It’s just too hard, too expensive, too dirty. One had recently been to Portland, OR where he boyfriend is from and they were thinking of moving there. Of course as their dinner went on they decided to stick it out “one more year probably”.
    I’m 30 and I moved to London, UK when I was 19. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so close to four people I had never met. I love dining alone (and NYC) :-)

  10. I have been single for a while now. First, I couldn’t get myself to go out alone. I felt awkward and it made me feel even more lonely to see all these people socializing around me. And then I started to hang out in coffee shops. Next thing you know, I was looking for restaurants with a bar area where you can eat, it was just more comfortable at the time. I now go to restaurants alone and have no problem with it!! It can be very intimidating at the beginning though.

  11. Mouse says...

    I adore eating alone in a relatively nice restaurant. I have a nice glass of wine, a book, look around, eat dinner……

    It was my life for many years as I travelled for work, and I got used to it and now that I am more at home and married, I miss it actually.

  12. Antoinette says...

    Dining alone is one of my most indulgent practices. When I met my fiancé I had to lightly explain that I wanted to enjoy my favorite meal, alone. He’s come to appreciate the time I go alone and I’m lucky to have someone who understands. I go about once a week. I find I get amazing service and for fun, I try to pick a French restaurant where I can practice speaking as I learn.

  13. Traci says...

    Now that I’m a mother of two young girls, I savor the chance to dine alone. It feels like such a treat to me.

    I never feel self-conscious; I only feel like everyone should be celebrating along with me!

    If I’m solo dining on a patio, I like a book to come with me. We keep a volume of Hemingway’s short stories in the car, and the writing is a good mix of thoughtful and short.

  14. Sarah Ford says...

    I have lunch in a café or bistro alone but not tried dinner (yet!).

    I have gone to the theatre alone, only because I wanted to see my favourite play and no one else wanted to or they weren’t available. I wasn’t going to miss it so booked a single ticket. I dressed up, treated myself to lunch and went to the matinee performance and loved it!
    Will definitely go on my own again rather than miss out on something I want to see.

  15. Do! Make sure it’s something you love too. I find that I enjoy the food more and my focus becomes simply that. Good practice every once in a while! Being comfortable in our company a great thing.

  16. MARIA JOSÉ says...

    Hi! loved this post.
    Tell you something… I’ve been doing some hard practice on this one, as I have been solo for a couple of years. Or worse than solo… with people too far away, or too… accompanied. So I started with solo beers, always with a book (best companions ever), then passed on to solo cocktails, and solo quick lunches. I actually felt a lot of love for myself when I attempted, succesfully, a solo tasting menu at a chef bistro in Paris. And now… I realize that as much as I think a table is the best thing to share… I just love being able to sit alone, order, enjoy, concentrate on the meal and just look at myself watching people around. it’s sort of… “fuck, I really like me!!!!”.
    look for rituals, look for the right place, look for ways to do it but… try it.
    (anyway…just in case, I never leave the house without a book). big hug!