I eat at restaurants by myself all over the world. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me—in fact, I often enjoy it.
A few tips:
- Bring something to do. I usually have my Tom Bihn laptop bag, so I have plenty of choices: actual laptop, New Yorker or Economist magazine, my paper notebook, reference notes for a project, and of course my phone. I don’t want to just sit there and stare while everyone else is talking to each other.
- Make friends with the host or maître d’. I don’t mean ask for their number, but do check-in and be friendly. If the place is crowded, mention that you’re on your own and that you don’t mind waiting. Being nice goes a long way.
- Sit at the bar or a table—your choice. Ironically, I think there’s a perception that if you sit at the bar, you want to talk to people. I generally don’t want to talk to people I don’t know when I’m eating. That’s why I bring stuff to do!
- There’s a perception that some restaurant staff don’t like solo diners because the bill is lower. Maybe in some places this is true, but in other ways a solo diner can be a lot easier for wait staff. I’m pretty flexible about where I sit. I usually order everything I want all at once. I like refills of my coffee and water, but not much else. And of course, when service is good I always tip well.
- Similarly, sometimes I’ve had bad tables when dining by myself—but I’ve also had great tables. I don’t think it’s true that you’ll always be seated by the kitchen or otherwise in an undesirable location if you’re on your own. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. Other times, I’m actually happy to have an out-of-the-way table so I can work.
I actually thought of this post while dining somewhere that I didn’t really feel comfortable. I was staying on Palma de Mallorca, in a hotel in which the other guests were almost exclusively German and British tourists from at least two generations before mine.
In plenty of places I have no problem putting my laptop on the table and getting things done, but I had the strong sense that such a thing would be weird there. (It was weird to be there already.)
If I’d had a choice I would have walked in, surveyed the scene, then gone somewhere else. But again, most of the time this doesn’t happen. Most of the time I am a happy solitary diner. In this case, I read my New Yorker and wrote the notes for this post in my notebook. The next day, I found a different restaurant.