Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guest Blogger: Table for One, Please

While I am away on my honeymoon, guest bloggers will be filling in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Do you ever eat alone? I do. And I love it. Does that sound strange? It does to lots of people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as social as they come and love to wine and dine with a friend or ten, but I also enjoy the pleasure of my own dining company and I eat out – and at nice places, not fast food spots! – multiple times a week.

It’s a habit I developed out of necessity some years back when my job required a lot of travel; I could only watch so much “Law & Order” in my hotel room and when I finished my evening emails and it was dinner time, well, I had to find something to do with myself and Chick-fil-A just wasn't gonna cut it every night when there were options like The Palm in Charlotte or the hidden Korean gem I found in Columbia. A solo diner was born.

I continued my habit long after leaving that job, and I've refined my techniques and preferences since. And even while technically dining alone, I've met so many intriguing people – and overheard such interesting stories! – and gotten such a panoramic view into all walks of life.

If you find yourself having to eat alone, or maybe wanting to – sometimes it’s just nice to be around other people and hear the hum of human voices, but not have to entertain anyone but yourself, you know? – here are the tips I have and things I've learned about how to do it right and enjoy it best:

  1. Go to places with a bar meant for dining. These are perfect for “one.” Most nicer restaurants as well as chains attached to malls are great picks, where you’ll find a welcoming seat if you’re flying solo. Plus, bartenders are almost always good conversationalists and a wealth of information.
  2. Take a prop. A book, magazine, even a laptop – mine is practically an extension of my arm, and with free WiFi so many places these days I can use it almost everywhere – so that you have something to do if you want to be busy, or if you feel awkward. Or if some pesky guy (or, OK, girl!) starts hitting on you and won’t take the hint.
  3. Pick the right restaurant. Don’t go to a Benihana-type place and expect to feel comfortable. Some places are naturally more amenable to single diners than others, such as smaller cafes or places with lots of different sizes of tables, or, again, places with large full-food-service bars.
  4. Likewise, act like you belong there – because you do! And if you want to eat at a table, do! Behave like you belong, just like any other patron and if you get the side-eye from a server, ignore it.
  5. If you plan to “linger” a bit, say, with your book or laptop, let your server know. You’re taking up a chunk of their valuable real estate. And make sure to tip accordingly – that means 20%, really, and certainly not less than 15%. More isn't a bad idea, depending on how long you’re there!
  6. Become a regular. Whether it’s the local bagel place or a high-end steak house, restaurants love their regulars and take care of them. If you are a familiar face, they won’t mind (or at least, not as much!) if you linger a little longer at your table or always ask for your salad made a special way that’s off the menu.
  7. If you’re a woman, make friends with the manager or police officer (if there is one) – just in case. It never hurts to have a friend. The one time I needed to leave a place without paying my tab because of the guy that wouldn't leave me alone, I knew it wouldn't be a problem because it was my most-regular haunt, and everybody knew me; the bartender and GM knew I’d be back the next day to pay my tab.
Dining solo can be fun, and you never know who you might meet – or what interesting conversations you might overhear, especially if you sit in the bar area! The solo diner can tend to “disappear” among twosomes at the bar and when sitting at a small table between several larger ones. Getting out by yourself can be liberating, maybe a little scary, but mostly an adventure if you look at it that way! Try it – you might find it a new habit that suits you well.

Guest Blogger: Carrie Neal Walden,



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