by Kimberly Kohatsu, Managing Editor for the Menuism Restaurant Blog
In deciding to tackle the topic of dining alone, I had to rewind and revisit my life almost fifteen years ago. I've been going out to eat by myself for such a long time, I often forget how intimidating it seemed at first. So, if none of my tips or advice feel like they'll help you, take heart - once you get started, it becomes second nature. Give it fifteen years, and you'll wonder why you ever worried in the first place.
Then again, that's fifteen years from now. What do you do today? You've got that dreaded table for one somewhere in your future, and you're not sure how to deal with it. Here's what I'd recommend:
1. Pick your restaurant strategically.
No matter where I am, a seat at the bar is always a refuge for the solo diner. Bartenders are easy to engage with, and more than likely, you'll find yourself among other solo diners to exchange chit-chat and possibly more. Think beyond the bar too; certain types of food just invite conversation. For instance, eat at a sushi bar and talk up the sushi chef. Or find a restaurant with an open kitchen or communal seating. Consider a place where sports are on the television -- nothing unites people like cheering for or loathing a team. Most importantly, choose a place with great cocktails. A little liquid courage never hurts.
2. Ask questions.
Uneasy about striking up conversation? Start with the staff. Ask your bartender if there are any drink specials, or if she has a wine recommendation. Ask your waiter if he has a favorite dish, or whether he has tried the specials. Once you're comfortable doing that, ask the person next to you what she ordered, because it smells fantastic. Don't overdo it, but also don't be afraid - not only might you get some insight into what's good to eat, you'll position yourself to those around you as friendly and approachable.
3. Time your meal wisely.
When you dine solo, go when there's still energy in the dining room, but not at a peak time. During the dinner rush, the staff might be hurried or seem short, and you might increase the awkward alone time by having to wait for a seat. Instead, opt for a late dinner - you won't feel rushed, your server will have time to answer your questions, and the people-watching will still be interesting. But when I say "late," don't go too late - I wouldn't cut it any closer than 90 minutes before closing time or last call, after which everyone is just trying to get home.
4. Bring a crutch, but don't use it.
A book, a magazine, or your smartphone are all fine to have, and even fine to look at while you eat. But when your head is down and focused on something, your body language also says "do not approach." So if conversation is what you're looking for, you won't find it. Then again, if the conversation you've found isn't all that great, your crutch will be a great way to put an end to it.
5. Just keep doing it.
Sometimes eating alone is fantastic, sometimes it's completely forgettable. Don't judge the whole endeavor on any single experience. There have been times when I'm the only person in the restaurant, which is isolating and sometimes uncomfortable. Other times I've met great people and laughed until it hurt. As I said, the more you eat by yourself, the easier it gets.
6. Remember you're not weird.
Seriously, despite any self-consciousness you might have, the whole dining room is not staring at you. Have you ever looked at a solo diner and had a negative thought? I didn't think so. No one thinks you're weird but you.
Got another tip? Share it in the comments!
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• Everything You Probably Didn't Know About Colonel Sanders
Kimberly Kohatsu is the Managing Editor of the Menuism Dining Blog, the educational arm of Menuism.com, a popular website where a passionate community of foodies rate their favorite dishes and comment on restaurants they've visited. Kim is also a freelance writer and marketing consultant, whose recent dining adventures revolve around ramen, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken. When she's not eating, she's obsessed with all things panda.