Table for One: Mastering the Art of Eating Out Alone

I’m the type of person who recharges by being alone. I genuinely enjoy being by myself but there’s something about being alone in spaces where everyone else is paired up that brings some uneasiness. I spent the last few years surrounded by friends so finding someone to tag alone to dinner or the movies was easy. Now that we’ve all relocated to different cities, I don’t always have the luxury of a guaranteed plus one. On the other hand, I fell in love with going to the movies by myself a couple summers ago. I proudly purchased my ticket, filled a cup of Slushie (Blue of course) and found my seat. It felt empowering. I have to constantly remind myself about how I felt because it’s so easy to fall back in the trap of missing out on a great film out of fear of being alone. 

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Similar to checking out a new movie alone, the same feeling of nervousness peers its head when it comes time to eat at a restaurant by myself. Eating alone is something I’ve grown to enjoy but also requires a silent pep talk in my head before I walk in the door. It’s much easier to convince yourself to walk in and enjoy the food you’ve been craving than missing out because you’re afraid of what people might think about you. The truth is syncing schedules takes time and hunger waits for no one. Add cool events like restaurant week and pop up restaurants to the mix and waiting on others could end up costing you. There comes a time when you absolutely need to take the plunge into going to a restaurant by yourself. While daunting at first, it’s a liberating experience. A chance for you to take control of doing the things that spark your interest with no excuses.  

Eating Out Alone: Where should you sit? 

Picking a place to eat is usually the hardest part for me. I have a series of places where I’m a regular and can comfortably walk in and seat myself. On the other hand, I live for exploring new food so I try to jump at the chance to eat somewhere new. Something that’s made eating by myself more enjoyable is picking place that offer seating at the bar. Sitting at a bar makes the experience smoother for me for two reasons. For one, I like having the option to strike a conversation with the bartender or with other guests next to me. Secondly, I don’t feel as watched. A regular table in the middle of the dining room often comes with stares of pity and curiosity. Did she get stood up? Is she really here alone? The bar is built in cushion you swear you don’t need but are terribly thankful for. 

The Safety Blanket

To fully commit to the act, I think you need to commit to the alone part of solo dining. That means, your table (or bar space) is for you...only. Keeping your phone in your hand or having something to read is great safety blanket in the beginning. Once you hit your third or fourth rodeo, you start to notice the contrast in a real solo dining experience versus one with your phone and a book. I’ve been the person who sits in the restaurant checking all my social accounts. In attempts to digital detox, I was also the girl at the table reading. While better than immersing myself in the lives of strangers I’ll never meet, it still didn’t contribute to the goal of eating out alone. Finally, I did solo dining the right way--the right way for what I wanted to achieve.

My Most Recent Experience 

I took myself out to a burger spot I’d been eyeing for a while. To my surprise, the space was empty when I walked in. I chatted with the waiter for a recommendation and landed on a crispy chicken sandwich that came with avocado and a spicy aioli with a side of onion rings. Yes. I went to a burger place and ordered chicken.

I left my phone in my bag and took the time to just eat. A few minutes into my meal, more people started walking in. Honestly, I wanted to rush out. Part of me felt like I was taking up too much space that people in bigger groups could have used. Would any of these people be rushed to give up their seats for me? I looked around and there were plenty other tables.

Let yourself take up space, I reminded myself.

Enjoy your food. I found that being without my phone or a book gave me more time to think about the people around me. That felt both good and bad. Yes, I felt more self-conscious but it turns out I was doing most of the watching and everyone else was focused on their food, friends or phones. 

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It gets better with time  

I wish I could say I jump at the chance to eat out alone. That’s not true. I love eating with people because I make food an experience. I like talking about flavor profiles and what I think the restaurant excels in or where I think needs works. I like seeing how opinions of a dish vary from my own to that of whomever I’m eating with. I love the conversations that food evokes and in many cases, I don’t get that from being by myself. I do, however, love the time it gives me to just focus on the food. I like being able to work through my thoughts without any outside impressions which often makes its way into articles I write. The alone time gives me a chance to recharge with my food and if I’m at the right place, with a nice glass of wine, too. I think eating out alone should be something everyone can do without breaking down in a nervous sweat. To master the art of eating alone, all you need is to find a good seat at the bar, ditch your safety blanket after a couple attempts and enjoy the people watching because truly, no one is watching you.