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Jan 15, 2011 06:40 PM

Single... still eat dinner out? Tips?

Hi, I am forever single--which is great--but I have recently realized from reading another thread about food and grocery bills that single people still eat out. Really? To be honest, I never eat out; maybe once or twice--since I have been 'off in the world' after my BA and MA. It never struck me as a good idea to sit, order, wait, stare at the wall, wait, chow, pay and leave all by myself.

So when I eat out alone, should I bring a book? Is that rude, sad, or pathetic? Should I bring work?--when I've been at chain-lunch places alone, I have always felt guilty taking up a table by myself.. so I can already imagine feeling awkward at a real, thriving nice place to dine. I just moved to a new area, so I would like to try some places out (unfortunately a co-worker, male did not take me up on two invitations to eat out.. so I can tell that's not happening...), but do you have any suggestions for how to make the 'eating out' experience not wretched at a non-chain/non-lunch establishment, if I am alone?

I've never ordered-in.. so maybe I should just skip the 'eating-out thing and just 'experience' ordering delivery.

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  1. I like to eat out alone (in a relationship or not). I try to go at off-peak times if hogging a table is an issue. Usually Mon-Wed and either early or after the rush dies down. I take a book, but I know this is a contentious topic here... I wouldn't bring work, but for me that means a lap-top and a stack of books or papers.

    1. I was single for 10 years before I remarried, and I certainly ate out. Why stare at a wall? There is plenty of people-watching at restaurants, but I don't think a book is taboo. I always found it interesting to see the flow of the restaurant, how waiters worked, and so on. I asked the waiter questions about the food, spoke pleasantly, and expected respect and not to be patronized, and I mostly got it. I did make reservations for fine restaurants, and - this was more than a decade ago; I'm not sure if I'd bother these days - sometimes made it for two and then said my friend had to cancel, when I walked in. Sometimes I'd put "Doctor" before my name, which in those days gave an added impetus for good service. I once found myself in New York for the first time in 20 years, for one night only and called the Four Seasons to ask for a table. Nothing. Well, I said, if I show up and wait, is there a chance...? Yes, they admitted, that might work. I did, and it did. I was treated like a queen, too.

      Only once did I get a really stinking table assignment, in a room alone, until they brought in a couple with a very small child. I had my revenge, but that's another story. If a waiter was grouchy, I sympathized, which generally worked, although once: "Are you having a rough night?" I asked. "No," snapped the waiter. "Then," I replied, "stop flinging my food around."

      I tipped well, and when I didn't, I stopped by the manager to say, "I stiffed my server, and I want to tell you why."

      I ate from coast to coast, and went to Europe several times, speaking only dabs of French and Italian, and with one exception, was treated very politely.

      You can do this. Most restaurants can't afford to blow off a single diner in this economy. There is nothing to feel guilty about. If tables are hard to come by and you're sitting there drinking zillions of cups of coffee, that's one thing, but for the most part, you are just as entitled as a twosome. Many servers would rather have you than folks with a handful of children or someone who's had too much to drink or who comes in with an attitude.

      Look at menus on line. Ask intelligent questions if they're needed. Be pleasant. Don't fall into the cliche of women not tipping well - unless they deserve it; then see above. This is just way not impossible.

      1. - Eat at the bar
        - Eat at off-peak hours, talk to the staff
        - Book/Magazine is fine, moreso at off-peak hours. I fuss a lot with my phone. Answer emails, play Words With Friends, etc.
        - Find few places that you like and can frequent so the staff get to know you. Makes it nicer when you're on your own.

        Most of the awkwardness of eating alone is about you. Most often, no one else is going to care, so it's just you and what's in your head. If you are comfortable, then that's all there is to it.

        --- -- food. is. love.

        6 Replies
        1. re: jlunar

          Most of the awkwardness of eating alone is about you. Most often, no one else is going to care, so it's just you and what's in your head. If you are comfortable, then that's all there is to it.

          Couldn't have said it better.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            +1. Or is that two?

            I'm 63 and have eaten hundreds of meals alone. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. High and low end. As 'they' say, 'just do it.' It will get SO easy.

            1. re: c oliver

              Let me add to this.

              To the OP. If you really do not want to be alone when dining out -- regardless of whether there is a feeling of awkwardness -- look into restaurants that have communal dining tables. Best of both worlds ... eat with other solo diners.

              1. re: c oliver

                +3. Sometimes I just need some time alone....

              2. re: ipsedixit

                +2 (3?). There's no reason to feel "less than" any other person in the restaurant. I had my first experiences dining alone when I traveled on business and decided I hated the lingering aromas of room service. I learned quickly that I could take my time dining in fine restaurants, and I never felt guilty about taking up table space. While it's true that some restaurant seating arrangements work better than others (banquette-style seating is not my favorite when I'm alone), it's all quite manageable with the right attitude.

              3. re: jlunar

                Very much agree with the awkwardness issue - it's a non-issue. i admit i usually eat alone only at lunchtime, but i usually bring a book or magazine, and half the time end up putting it down while i'm eating anyway, just get engrossed in the food, in the scene around me. i used to think that people would feel "sorry: for me or think i was pathetic, but i don't think anyone cares at all. i never think that about people i see dining alone, i think they look bad-ass!

              4. I travel a lot and have eaten hundreds of meals solo. The first 10-20 are the awkward "why am I eating alone" self-assessment but then you get into the "no-biggie" self assessment.

                There are lots of ways to handle and it depends on what makes you comfortable. Want to sit at the bar, do it. want a table, do it. Want to order take-out, do it. Bottom line is you are as much of a customer as everyone else.

                People will tell you you should not occupoy a table since it takes away money form the server, or you should not bring a book because you will stay too long, or this or that. I am 53 and i believe that when you are a customer and not a line in the linear program where the definition is "Max every seat."

                For me...I bring a book or plan on doing a review and keep notes on my blackberry or bring your cell phone to text or talk quietly to others (if appropriate). Thing to remember you are a paying customer and deserve the same treatment as the people around you. Don't let people rush you or not give you the specials or bring food as if it were a fast food establishment.

                Go, relax, enjoy and after a few times you will get over any reservations you have. There is a lot of great restaurants you can experience.

                6 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  I too travel a lot for business and have done so for years. While I have a vague recollection of discomfort in the early days (when it was still a tad unusual for a young woman to be on the road alone), I do love dining alone as much as with convivial companions.

                  Oddly, sometimes when I dine alone closer to home I feel that I need to 'justify' taking a table to myself. It's mostly in my own head, as if dining alone while traveling is forced on me (and therefore OK) dining out in the neighborhood is more of a choice and open to questioning. Silly, I know.

                  The other element is that first moment with the host - "Just one?" or "How many?" when I'm clearly the only person standing in front of them. Argh - I hate that! Sometimes when I'm feeling particularly feisty, I will look around in an exaggerated way before I confirm that I am indeed a lone pathetic, tip-stealing single.<lol>.

                  BTW, I don't go anywhere without a book, Kindle and smartphone.

                  1. re: chrisonli

                    Yes, that first moment when confronted with the singleness. I take the bull by the horns on that one and immediately state, "table for one please." Accomplishes so much. Tells the host to please seat me, do not make any comments and I know what I am doing. So easy and so effective.

                    1. re: jfood

                      Ditto. Communication is an oft overlooked skill.

                      1. re: jfood

                        i've found fewer hosts asking me the "just one" question and mostly greeting me and then waiting for me to make my request. could be that they're not expecting reservations so they're more relaxed.

                        my preferred phrase that i squeeze in right after they greet me is "just myself". for some reason i like the tone over the emphasis on "one".

                      2. re: chrisonli

                        I've found making light of the phrase "Just one?" has worked wonders for me in setting a positive tone for many solo meals. I smile and respond, "No, I'm not a 'just.'"

                      3. re: jfood

                        See, I don't get the "Book will make you stay too long" thing. So many things I love require both hands. Plus, good food deserves my full attention. The book is for between ordering and the food arriving.

                      4. I like to explore food options my wife doesn't and I travel a lot by myself so I find myself eating solo frequently. Sometimes there's enough people-watching to keep you occupied, but I always bring a newspaper or book, just in case. When traveling it's easy - bring the guidebook.

                        Seating can sometimes be awkward, and you may have to share a fourtop with another single or the end of a six with a party of 3, but that can often lead to conversation.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: hal2010

                          On occasion I don't mind this and enjoy meeting a new person. However, more times than not I am luxurating in my alone time. Do not ever let a restaurant force another person at your table if you are uncomfortable. This happened to me at Pongal, a delicious South Indian restaurant in the city. Due to this being their policy during the lunch rush, I unfortunately have never returned. [If they had asked me prior to just plopping a stranger at my table, I wouldn't have had a bitter taste in my mouth].

                          1. re: hal2010

                            I can't imagine a restaurant seating a person dining alone at a table with a group, or even with another single UNLESS it's an option regularly offered by the restaurant and all parties involved have actually requested such a seating arrangement -- OR, if you happen to be dining at a NYC deli like Katz's or Carnegie. But no one should ever HAVE to share their dining space with strangers.

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              I've dined alone (or with one other person) at many restaurants in Manhattan's Chinatown, which often have big round tables that seat six or eight. Thus, I'm usually seated with other parties. There are also restaurants - Perbacco in the East Village comes to mind - that have a long communal table, a sort of way station between bar seating and individual table seating. I sat with others there as well. Doesn't bother me at all. Of course, if it did, I wouldn't go to those places, and that's an option open to everyone. Personally, I'd feel a lot weirder monopolizing a four top than I would sharing one with three others, even if I didn't know them.