The essential guide to dining alone
If you’re reading this, then you already know: at some point in the next week, month, or year, you, too, will eat out alone. It happens to all of us.
Despite having a wife, a family, and all the people I met in the Intimate Romance Garden on Second Life who I sometimes feel know me better than I know myself, I spend much time traveling and exploring new restaurants in random cities and, often, that means going to these places and re-enacting that scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Jason Segel
is weirdly naked has to ask Jonah Hill for a table for one.
But alas, dining by yourself doesn’t have to be a heavy hearted exercise in desolation and mozzarella sticks. So, here are some quick and vital tips to making the most of your solitary eating experience:
1) Find a seat at the bar.
Eating at the bar is one of the most underrated activities in the world -- not only are bar menus often better, more casual, and cheaper than the real menus, but the crowd at the bar is social, and you can often find yourself engaged in the timeless act of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations about their sexual proclivities and problems with Rick, even if they don’t want you to! Also, there is nothing better than keeping a bored, but cool bartender company on a slow weeknight and suddenly finding yourself tasting new apps, getting extra pours of booze, and hearing more stories about Rick. That dude is shameless.
2) But don’t be that guy.
You know who we’re talking about. The solo diner at the bar so eager to engage with everyone else that he constantly has his head on a swivel looking for someone to even slightly make eye contact with so that he can ask them if they’ve ever seen the show Blue Bloods. Let the conversations happen organically. Treat it like an airplane seat. If the person next to you is in it for the long haul and wants to engage, they’ll give you the social cues. And just in case that doesn’t happen…
3) Bring a book/magazine.
Sure, there is a chance that you will run into Bill Watterson, and you two will bond over your mutual love for those Calvin and Hobbes comics featuring the Transmogrifier, and you will never need to read a thing. But there is also a chance that no one else will be around, or you will want to ignore them because they have crazy eyes and like Blue Bloods, or just asked if you wanted to buy some “stepped on stuff”, so it’s best to have something to peruse. I favor softcover paperbacks, because they fit easily into one’s coat/that’s how most of the Nancy Drew novels I purchase used on Amazon are sold.
4) But maybe not a gigantic book. Or a weird magazine.
No one is saying that coffee table book of tattoos shaped like Eastern European countries isn’t cool (…), it’s just taking up a lot of bar space, and you’ve got to eat all those mozzarella sticks, remember?
5) Be bold with your order.
There are certain specific advantages to solo dining, and this is definitely one. You have no one to share with, so no one is going to judge you for ordering a meat-based appetizer and a meat-based entree and a meat-based dessert. You are your own manly man, the king of your own food-based castle! Now back to that Nancy Drew book, to find out if Twin Elms mansion really is haunted!
6) If all else fails, being on your phone is (kind of) fine(ish)
Not to sound like my dad, but
I’m disappointed in your career and personal choices all anyone does nowadays is peruse their phones. And yes, you definitely could be reading a book or a newspaper or Thrillist’s Food/Drink section, but, for some reason, seeing people engaged on their phones in eating settings is particularly irksome. So my advice is this: do whatever you want on the phone, but be aware of your surroundings. If the server has to stare at you and say excuse me to put down your food, that’s not cool. If the bartender no longer even passes by to see if you want another Red Dog, because you’re too busy chopping fruit ninja-style, just stop. Be respectful of the non-phone world, friends.
7) Just go with it
Being out to dinner by yourself is an adventure. And as everyone knows from Choose Your Own Adventure books, they can sometimes end up fantastic, and they can sometimes end up with you locked inside a funhouse mirror in your grandmother’s attic as part of a curse by an evil witch doctor who used to casually date your uncle. It's basically self-engineered unpredictability, friends — no matter what, your solo dining move is going to end in a story, it's just your job to find out if that story is happy, sad, or weirdly scary and involving fire. Just maybe don’t go anywhere with Rick.
Kevin Alexander is Thrillist's food/drink executive editor, and enjoys dining alone or with his many celebrity friends, including former LPGA tour champion Nancy Lopez. Follow him to a bar seat @KAlexander03.