Tips for going out to Eat alone

It’s been a long time since I ate out alone, and yet for most of my adult life, that’s all I ever did.  I traveled a lot, for pleasure, always on my own, and reveled in the freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted.  When I got hungry, I ate, without giving a second thought to the fact that I didn’t have a partner; enjoying a meal is not necessarily a team sport.  Folks would ask me if I weren’t afraid to do so; I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.  What was there to fear:  the food?  Oh, once in a while I could not help noticing that a greeter would quite pointedly seat me in a corner, out of view, as if worried that the restaurant might acquire a reputation for being a lonelyhearts haunt.  (You’d think an establishment that attracted single women would be popular among single men!)  For the most part, though, I was seated as randomly, or otherwise, as any party of two or more, and received no more stares, and no worse service, than the average diner.

Why, then, are so many people afraid of eating alone, or at the very least annoyed at the prospect?  It doesn’t require any overtly different actions than eating with another person, except that you may refrain from speaking with your mouth full and needn’t try to impress anyone by pronouncing the wine list correctly.  However, it may require a change of attitude and perhaps a little subversion as well.

First of all, you need not bring something with which to occupy your hands or your time while waiting for your meal to be served… but it doesn’t hurt.  Assume you’ve brought nothing.  Amuse yourself by people-watching.  A seat by the window will double your chances to do that.  However, if you are in an introspective humor, on a deadline or involved in a book, there is no shame in pulling out said book, or your laptop, or pen and paper (sometimes I write and sometimes I draw) and letting the world go by; you can still observe it out of the corner of your eye.

(Please note that chattering on your cell phone is NOT a good way to pass the time between courses.  You may find it relaxing; no one around you will.)

Never apologize for being alone.  Whether the greeter hopefully holds up two fingers, or resignedly holds up one, smile and declare, “One, please” as if it were the most natural thing in the world… because it is!  Whose business is it if you eat alone?  What a strange assumption:  that you must be lonely or you’d have a person, preferably of the opposite sex, in tow.  You could be married, or have six or seven lovers, but be traveling, or working, or in the mood to be alone.  However, let’s assume for a moment that you’re the loneliest human being on the face of the earth; it’s still nobody’s business but your own, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

On the other hand, you need not put on an act for anyone, either.  If you’re not feeling cheerful, don’t fake it.  Be yourself.  If you’re seated somewhere you don’t want to be and other tables are available, ask to be moved.  If your service is slow without cause because someone feels a lone diner doesn’t rate attention, politely call attention to yourself and ask for service.

If you feel truly uncomfortable eating out alone and telling yourself the truth – that it’s not a crime or a sin, doesn’t peg you as a lonely or inferior person and most of the time doesn’t even have the stigma attached to it that it is assumed to have – then you may wish to choose the type of restaurant that puts you more at ease.  If you like to chat, try a buffet and make small talk at the serving tables.  You may do the actual eating alone but you’ll still have the social experience.  Some restaurants have communal seating but those are few and far between.  How about a cafe with outdoor seating?  Let passerby distract you, and be confident that if anyone stares, it’s because you look so gorgeous sitting casually and calmly at your little cafe table.  Perhaps a bar setting is better, so you can sit in the dark… because you enjoy it, not because you’re hiding, right?

If you feel positively intimidated, you may wish to practice in a place you know well.  If someone asks you where your other half is, explain candidly that you’re preparing yourself for whatever situation is about to compel you to eat alone, or if there is no such situation, that you’re trying for whatever reason to become comfortable doing so.  You may even be able to cajole the server into role-playing with you.  Bring a friend to sit at another table and monitor, and critique, your behavior.  You can do it!

Remember:  millions of people eat alone in full view of the rest of the world, every day.  Most of the world goes by without giving them a second thought.  Those who would judge, or gawk, are in the minority, and if you encounter such people, the burden of the discomfort should be on them, not you.  Enjoy your meal!