September 2020

Your Guide to Dining Out … Alone

Author: Danielle Daily

Are you eager to dine out but your usual gal pals are social distancing? With public opinion divided on the safety of gathering with family and friends, it’s easy to end up eating at home despite local restaurants being open and hungry for business. Perhaps now is the time to get comfortable dining out alone.

When I first set out to dine solo, it embarrassed me to request a table for one. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way; plenty of people are uncomfortable dining out alone. For many of us, the very idea of dining without a companion is depressing or anxiety-producing enough to send us back into the kitchen to pour another glass of chardonnay and reheat last night’s leftovers, even though we’d rather be booking a reservation at that hot new restaurant we’ve been dying to try. However, I’ve found that with the right mindset and preparation, dining out alone, whether it’s because you’re single, new to the area, or your friends are social distancing, can be an enjoyable, even empowering experience.

I was taken by surprise when recently I found myself not just planning to dine out alone but looking forward to it. I’ve always loved dining out with friends because it’s a reliable way to relax and reconnect.

However, over time, I’ve developed a love of dining solo because it makes me feel powerful. Not that long ago, dining solo was something I couldn’t imagine myself doing, let alone enjoying. Each time I move from being uncomfortable doing something to doing it with ease, I experience a strong sense of empowerment. With a little practice, getting comfortable dining solo could boost your sense of personal power, too. Read on for my tips on how to prepare yourself to step out into the dining solo experience.

Let’s start by checking how experienced you are with dining solo. (You might not be as inexperienced as you think.) Perhaps you have grabbed a quick bite alone while sitting at an airport restaurant while traveling. Or maybe you ended up eating an appetizer by yourself while waiting for a friend caught in traffic on her way to meet you for happy hour. If you’ve done either of these, congratulations! You have successfully dined out alone. I hope knowing you’ve eaten alone in public before (even if you didn’t mean to), makes booking a reservation for one at a local restaurant seem less intimidating.

If you have racked your brain and can’t come up with any examples of having dined out alone, I suggest starting with breakfast or lunch rather than shooting straight for dinner. Lunch at a fast-casual joint is the perfect place to dip your toe in the water, as many working professionals dine alone at fast-casual restaurants. Seeing others also dining alone can help ratchet down any embarrassment or anxiety you might feel about standing out in a crowd. Fast-casual restaurants also have an added benefit in that you won’t sit down at your table until you have your meal in hand, so you won’t have to figure out what to do with yourself during the time between placing an order and receiving your food.

Once you’ve built confidence around sitting at a table for one at a fast-casual joint, you’re ready to take the next step forward and try eating at the bar in an upscale restaurant. This way you’ll be dining solo but not entirely alone because there will be other people seated at the bar as well. Also, you will find plenty of bartenders who like to get to know their customers by name and will engage in a friendly conversation with you while you enjoy your meal. In my experience, customers dining at a restaurant’s bar are often glad to strike up conversations with other diners, so instead of feeling like you just ate alone, you may leave feeling like you just dined with a new friend.

Lest you fear I will launch you straight into the dining room next, I have one more step for you to try before booking your table for one at a restaurant of your choice. The next step is dining solo at an outdoor table. There’s something about being in the open air that makes it look and feel less unnatural to be dining alone. Depending on which restaurant you choose, outdoor dining can lend itself to free public performances or interesting people-watching. A patio or terrace near a fountain, square, park or beach, can provide plentiful entertainment and company in the form of live music, children playing together, or teenagers parading by wearing fashions we remember from 30 years ago that trigger fond memories of people and places from the past.

Now that you’ve grown your confidence in a variety of what I’ll call dining solo ‘lite’ environments, you’re ready to tackle booking a table for one at any restaurant you chose. If you are still worried about being all alone, you can always ask for a table in a high-traffic area of the restaurant. This way, as servers pass by, they’re sure to give you the occasional friendly nod. Another strategy would be to bring a book or magazine as a crutch. Of course, you can always fall back on scrolling through your social media feed or organizing the apps on your home screen to distract you while you are waiting to place your order or receive your meal.

If you are not all that enthused after your first dining alone experience, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes the feelings of empowerment that come from stretching ourselves and trying something new are not present during the experience. It is often as we reflect or hear someone say, “I could never do that” when we realize just how brave we were to try something new that felt uncomfortable. Over time, you may grow to love dining solo as I did, or perhaps you’ll discover you prefer eating leftovers at home. Either way, how will you know unless you try?

Danielle Daily is a TEDx speaker, author, and Host of The Suddenly Single Show podcast. Find her at SuddenlySingleShow.com or on Instagram @TheSuddendlySingleShow.

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