Do you ever eat at restaurants alone?

Hi friends, and Happy MLK, Jr. Day. Hope you're keeping warm (it's 9°F in NYC today!).

So I'm working on a follow-up piece to the "What Do You Cook When No One's Watching?" question I asked the community back in November: https://food52.com/blog... Since then, I've been writing about cooking for one and solo dining in—but have yet to tackle solo dining out. Would love to hear from you: How do you feel about dining alone at restaurants? Do you ever do it? How do people treat you? What are your experiences when you're out and about, just you, yourself, and...Yourene? Please share your stories; I'd love to include them in my next piece for the Table for One column. I touched on this subject briefly last week (https://food52.com/blog...) but plan to do a full deep dive next.

I'm fascinated by how much the world is changing and adapting to the needs of solo diners in restaurant culture. This also feels very timely, considering the recent unfortunate news about Nello (here it is, in case you haven't seen it): https://drugstoreculture.com/the-night-i-was-mistaken-for-a-call-girl/

Looking forward to the conversation.

E

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21 Comments

Smaug February 8, 2019
I don't eat at restaurants at all anymore- I was never very fond of restaurant cooking and they're godawful expensive. However I used to eat in them alone sometimes and never had any sort of problem- only takes one to leave a tip after all. Then again, I'm a white male and never went into seriously crowded businesses demanding a table for one.
 
Nancy February 7, 2019
Eric - here's the opposite to happily eating alone. A bank has just "single-shamed" thousands of people who order single take-out on Valentine's Day.
And caused a furore.
https://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/people-furious-single-shaming-valentines-day-tube-advert-111059470.html
 
Lost_in_NYC February 1, 2019
Absolutely! I have done so many times while traveling solo for work or personally. As others have noted, depending on where you are (city, restaurant environment, etc) there are many factors at play. What it comes down to is if you're friendly and nice to the restaurant staff and engage in small talk with them, they will open up to you. I had a solo dinner at Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2016 (when it was the city's only 3 Michelin star restaurant - yes higher than Noma!), the wait staff was amazing and even gave me a kitchen tour and I got to meet the chefs afterwards. If you dont want to chat, just bring a book or something to keep yourself preoccupied, but I find that engaging in some light banter with new people introduces you to new (life) experiences. Happy Dining!
 
sf-dre January 28, 2019
Who knew I was ahead of the curve? Started dining solo during college (back when the earth was cooling) to kill time in between an afternoon class and evening class. When I had a major falling-out with my then housemate it was a way to spend less time at home. As time went on, like MMH, I decided not to miss out on going out for a meal, a concert, movie, trip to Paris or Italy, etc. Service has been spotty at times, tends to be better at the bar, which I prefer to a table.
 
quasimodo69 January 26, 2019
Hello....I am 59....disabled....missing a leg.Poor.But ugly....LOL...so yes I eat out alone a lot.
I don't care to.So I often ask somebody....ANYBODY to go with me.
As a southern gentleman I let them know I pay.
I am on disability...so it's just once a month.Food and conversation....no takers.

And I am not the best looking guy....but I don't scare babies when I scooter down the street.
I am very well read and well traveled.Nothing shocks me...but I reel in my humor depending on my company....but I don't get the opportunity to show it.
So I have gotten used to eating alone...it doesn't bother me anymore.

I recently was moved here to Des Moines,Ia to a great VA hospital for therapy and I love this town.The people are REALLY nice here....genially nice .
Not phony nice...so take a cripple to lunch one day! :-)
 
Eric K. January 25, 2019
Thank you so much, everyone, for sharing your stories. More here: https://food52.com/blog/23699-honbap-solo-dining-table-for-one
 
Miss K. January 24, 2019
I dine alone frequently. I would say the worst time was when I was in Paris and was told that there wasnt any tables available for me. It was early evening and there were only a few tables that had guests. So perhaps 80% of the restaurant WAS available.
The premis being that since I was a single dinner I was obviously there to pick up on someone. I speak French, and I am very knowledgeable about the F&B business.I did actually have a reservation that was made by the restaurant sister restaurant in California.(He was the brother of the restaurant owner in Paris)
That was the worst!! I refuse to be mandated to some barstool in the bar. For whatever reason I chose this place to DINE...Do not ignore me and don't treat me as unintelligent.
 
Stephanie B. January 23, 2019
I don't dine alone very often, but when I do it's something I make time for and enjoy. The first time I did this was because I didn't have a choice: I was traveling for work and got to my hotel late on a weeknight, I wasn't traveling with any co-workers, and friends in town were not available that night. So I went out fully expecting it to be awkward. And it was. But only slightly, and the more I sat there the more I realized it was awkward because I was expecting it to be. By the time I was done, I was enjoying the quiet and the time with my own thoughts, and no one was looking at me like I was a sad weirdo for eating alone.

Now when I travel for conferences, I make sure to treat myself to a nice dinner, alone. It's become a valued pause from conferences that are packed with human interaction (poster sessions/product floors, awkward networking events, happy hours with a bunch of strangers...). I usually bring a book and headphones, but sometimes I end up chatting with people around me. As others mentioned, I head to the bar for a couple of reasons: 1) It easy to get a seat if you're just wandering around 2) Whereas FOH might make the ONLY one kind of comments and waiters might think you're perpetually waiting on another person, I think bartenders are used to serving people on their own. 3) Usually it's the best people watching and/or eavesdropping - I admit it, I creep on people sometimes.

I've had really good experiences dining alone. I've never had a problem with service, and usually other patrons understand that socializing is not a priority. One time I was at a great small plates and wine bar in DC, and a group of guys next to me commented on how much I was ordering. I think it was meant as an icebreaker rather than a judgement, but it was a risky conversation starter to say the least. The service, food, and wine were all so good that I just wasn't ruffled.

I do think solo dining for lunch is much more common, but I like going solo for dinner. Lunch is always rushed for me, if I'm going to take myself out for dinner I'm going to enjoy it.
 
MMH January 24, 2019
I really love breakfast and I really don’t like to talk in the morning. I adore going to breakfast alone and reading and not talking and getting perfect eggs.
 
zaqary January 22, 2019
I too love dining alone, but it took me time to get there. I first started when I was going to culinary school on the East coast in my 20's. Many places were small and busy so they only had room at the bar, which suited my then need to not stick out. Now it's turned into a convenience to not have to wait for a table. Initially it was stressful to think of dining alone, but I told myself that it was like any other experience, many of which I did solo.

I have never been turned down for taking a table meant for 2+, and I've even had hosts ask if it was ok if they sat me at a very large table mean for 6+. I used to be bothered by hosts asking if it was 'just' one, but I quickly learned none ever meant anything by it and that it was my own insecurity that made me bothered. Restaurant staff have never treated me poorly, in fact I feel better taken care of when I am alone.

Nowadays I quite enjoy going alone when I want to try a new place and really focus on the food, furthermore I take it as a time to read and unplug, or to simply treat myself especially now that I unfortunately no longer live alone.
 
Erin A. January 22, 2019
One of my best-ever dining experiences was a solo dinner at Momofuku Ko when I was still in college. A night-of reservation at the counter became available so I snapped it up and quickly got dressed. The restaurant took such good care of me and the meal never skipped a beat; the freeze-dried foie gras with lychee and (I think) peanut brittle was maybe one of the best things I've ever eaten. I loved getting to just watch the chefs do their thing behind the counter without having to worry about talking to anyone else—except for the cute waiter.
 
Stacy I. January 22, 2019
I love dining alone- always at the bar. As a recent divorcee, I really enjoy cozying up solo with a glass of wine and a fancy app. I don't need to feel guilty for splurging (vs on a date) and I can order/eat things in whichever order I like. Best of all- I am never ever rushed, the staff are usually sweet and just chatty enough.
 
Heather January 22, 2019
Yes, absolutely, it is liberating. And amusing. I tried Dirt Candy's Solo Valentine's dinner because I'd always wanted to try their food but could never find a vegan-loving person to join, so this was the perfect option. And I ended up making temporary friends with some other people seated at the bar. Other than that, eating at hole in the wall shops and small restaurants cooking global cuisines popularly termed "ethnic food" is a pretty common practice, as well. Upon starting my first job out of college, I consciously cultivated a mindset of "who cares?" about dining out with company because really, I love my friends, but its unhealthy to obsess over needing company all the time. Maybe this outlook is impacted by my sense that eating out need not be special or a big to-do all the time, and that is informed by my status as a city girl surrounded by food options. Maybe if I were in suburbia or somewhere with fewer food options, I would consider it more of a treat.
 
MMH January 21, 2019
I just got home from going to a movie by myself which I do all the time. I vowed long ago that I would not miss out on anything because I didn’t have anyone to go with. I’ve been divorced since my daughter was 2. She’s 18 now and I’ve wanted her to be confident about doing things alone.
I eat alone frequently. My secret is that I exude confidence. I walk in. I say what I want and where I want to sit and if they won’t give it to me I leave.
I want a booth. I’ll wait.
Often I’ll call ahead to get what I want.
I always tip well.
 
Nancy January 21, 2019
Have experienced the range that you (Lynn Rice Scozzafava) describe so well and the mostly positive experience that you (SMSF) also describe so well.
Just a few footnotes or anecdotes.
Hate it when FOH ask "Are you ONLY one?"
I universally reply, "yes, for one" (and drop the "only").
Once I had an inadvertent solo experience which just shows you how good a top restaurant can be. Was waiting for two colleagues and a dinner meeting at a good Toronto restaurant. Hadn't expected to be waiting, so had no reading material. Waiter asked what I wanted to read, gave me a choice of magazine genres, and brought the type I asked for. Only at the end of evening did I learn he'd gone out to the nearby convenience store to buy it.
On a swing trhough France years ago, on my way to meet family in Spain, resolved to eat at L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges even though Chef Bocuse was then getting bad press for being a chef-entrepreneur, more away from Lynon than home, etc. Finally, a little while before I travelled I read a great review in Gault & MIllau that addressed the bad rep...they said his restaurant was better than 90% of others even on the days he WASN'T there. So (still not full of confidence they would take a reservation for one) I booked for two by phone from Paris. And on the day (shamefully) lied that my companion wasn't feeling well so I'd come alone. A May weekday lunch, when the weather was crisp enough for there to be a fire in the sparsely populated dining room. Warm service (not the haughty French waiters we often used to encounter in USA and Canada), great food. And the great man WAS there, dining loudly and cheerfully at a round table of friends. He came over to visit between courses, and later gave me a tour of his kitchen.
Not bad for the first of two solo meals in 3-star restaurants planned for that short trip down to Barcelona.
Based on that experience, I got up my courage, booked for one and ate alone on a Saturday night at Ousteau de Baumaniere. Good but not as good as chez Bocuse. But great fun!
So, not only tolerable to eat alone in public...but great adventures are out there...
 
SMSF January 21, 2019
I started dining solo when I traveled for business alone. I hate getting room service so I would seek out nearby restaurants and eat at the bar, bringing something to read with me. I never experienced anything but gracious service, plus it's a nice way to get a bit more local "flavor" than sticking to the hotel options.

I started working from home years ago, and I like to get out of the house and treat myself to a lunch out from time to time. My neighborhood seems to be full of people in the same boat, as many of the restaurants are at least 50% solo diners at lunchtime! I suppose the owners and servers don't love the smaller checks we solo diners generate (and I understand why) but you'd never know it. Maybe I'm just lucky!
 
J January 21, 2019
My answer is similar to SMSF's. My only bad experience was at a Seattle restaurant who's policy it was not to seat solo diners anywhere except the bar.
 
Lynn R. January 21, 2019
I live in rural CT and travel a little bit (for beer and/or family). Whether at a favorite New England bar or a trending spot in Denver (the city I most often visit), I measure a place's success by how willing they (the folks there) are to accommodate me as a solo diner. I prefer to sit at the bar as I can then choose (or not) to engage with others, but even when I preemptively say, "I'm just heading to the bar," I still most often get an odd look. If the FOH folks speak first, it's almost always, "How many in your party?" I HATE that. How about simply greeting me, and let me tell YOU that I'm waiting for a friend, or that there will be 3 of us, if that's the (rare) case? Because I will say that, to clarify for you what my needs are. Why is the default that solo diners couldn't possibly be dining alone? The default should always be: here is a diner; let's greet them warmly.
Here's my list of successes/fails once I've been seated:
Fails (worst cases I've experienced; probably 65-75% of the time):
Being straight up ignored until I've gotten up and left. We solo diners are aware of how much attention you're paying to couples and groups.
Having to ask to be shown menus, having to ask for a drink, for water, for utensils, for dessert, etc.
Being pitied or patronized: I chose to eat alone. Do you think I'd be here if I didn't want to be?
Making a face when I order a lot of food: I'm going to take some home for lunch tomorrow, but really that's not your business, is it?
Being mistaken for dumb, as if I stumbled into this place and this solo dining experience by accident and don't know anything about food or beer. This is a weird one, and sometimes I chalk this up to my being a woman, and an older woman at that.
Successes (best cases, which result in a substantial tipping situation; 25-35% of the time):
Chatting me up (if I don't have a book open), shaking my hand, introducing yourself, and then calling me by my name for the rest of the evening.
Checking in on me.
Trusting me that I know what I like and what I want; answering my questions as if my happiness depends on your responses.
Including me in larger bar conversations; inviting me to participate with eye contact and physical proximity is the best when bar folks know how to do this; I'm not "tacked on" but rather part of the evening's fabric of patrons.

So the ratio of bad:good is not that great, but I'm very willing to keep trying new spots. Mostly because I believe the poor treatment isn't ever a company ethos, but rather an inefficiency in staffing. No matter where we are, unless we're in intimate conversations with our intimates, one-on-one interactions tend to the awkward, right? I'm guessing there's little training for how to engage solo diners, and groups, by their very nature, are either easier to manage or to leave to their own chatter.

When I have a bad experience, I don't ever return. When I have a great one, I typically follow up with an email to an owner or manager detailing how and why my experience was special. Those who get it (and hey, it's not rocket science) deserve praise and gratitude.
 
Eric K. January 21, 2019
Lynn, I think you've just put into words something so many of us have felt. Thanks for sharing.
 
zaqary January 22, 2019
Lynne, it breaks my heart to hear that you've had such frequent negative experiences. I don't want to think that it's because you are a woman, because I can't imagine why that would matter to anyone, but that seems to be the obvious reason. Not once in ~16 years of dining alone (1/2 in neighboring RI) have I experienced any of those issues, but I wonder now if it's because I am a young-ish white male. I am glad that you don't let it stop you!
 
Eric K. January 23, 2019
+1 to zaqary (whose name is spelled really bo$$)

Lynn, I've gotten responses from all over the internet and I'm seeing a difference in how solo women are treated at restaurants vs. solo men. Even though I'm Asian, I think I take it for granted that I'm also a man. Hope your experiences in the future are more positive than the ones you've outlined here. But like you, I think of the bad experiences like red flags / bad Yelp reviews. Restaurants to avoid forever.

Which is why when you do find the attentive, thoughtful restaurant, it feels like a stolen treasure.
 
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