A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and... me
October 23, 2006 10:58 AM   Subscribe

How do I eat out alone?

I like to dine out. However, I don't really have anyone to go to restaurants with. My girlfriend lives three hours away and I haven't met many people since I moved to Boston a few months ago. So the question is: how do I go to restaurants by myself without (for lack of a better term) looking like a loser? What can I do at the restaurant in place of the socializing that normally occurs when groups go out to eat? Should I sit at the bar, or can I get a table by myself?

Bonus question: what restaurants are there in the Boston area that seem to attract lone diners?
posted by backseatpilot to Food & Drink (66 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Bring a book or a newspaper. Or, just eat nonchalantly. I see people eating alone all the time and never think anything of it, and only really notice it because I think about myself eating out alone and how weird it feels.

Generally, I sit in the corner of the place if I eat out alone, and just ignore everything else but my own food. You also might try getting the food to go and eating it out somewhere else, like a bench or something.

But really, the main thing is you're feeling exceedingly self-conscious about this.
posted by cellphone at 11:03 AM on October 23, 2006

how do I go to restaurants by myself without (for lack of a better term) looking like a loser?

The bigger question is, why do you care what a roomful of random strangers (people that you'll probably never see again) think about you? I dine out alone pretty frequently, and I always bring something to read. Cellphone's advice of sitting in the corner is a good thing as well, because then you can people-watch if you get tired of reading.
posted by pdb at 11:07 AM on October 23, 2006

I travel solo quite a bit for work and hate going out to eat alone (I have a feeling it's even tougher to be a girl alone), but hate room service even more. Sit at the bar, bring a book. I've actually met some interesting people that way. You get used to it and it's not so bad actually.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:08 AM on October 23, 2006

Take a book, magazine or newspaper.

Everyone has to eat alone some time, and it's not eating alone that makes one look like a loser -- it's being devoid of intellectual stimulation. While dining, most people take that stimulation from companionship, but if you don't have that available, read something instead. No one will give you a second look.

Or find a pub that has televisions. Eating while watching TV fills the same space.

Or, if you don't like to read or watch TV while you eat, you could just inure yourself to whether people think you are a loser... you will likely never see them again anyway so who cares?
posted by pineapple at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2006

Most restaurants will serve you at the bar. That's what I do. Then I people watch. Ask yourself how often you fixate on the diners around you when you eat out with friends at restaurants. I'm guessing not much. This is how much attention you will garner as a solo diner. Zero.
posted by spicynuts at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2006

Order dessert after your meal . . . make it look like you want to be there. :)
posted by Sassyfras at 11:14 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

People watch. Discreetly eavesdrop if anyone's talking loud enough for you to hear. Don't think about being along - think about enjoying yourself.
posted by orange swan at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2006

I've eaten out alone a million times and it never occurred to me to worry about "looking like a loser." You look like someone who's eating out. Bring a book, people-watch, or just think your thoughts. Trust me, nobody cares.
posted by languagehat at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is this really an issue? Really?

Whatever makes you comfortable - reading material, have a drink, whatever.

/Currently eating lunch alone.
posted by unixrat at 11:18 AM on October 23, 2006

If you really want to be around other people alone at a restaurant, eat at any hotel that caters to business travelers.

That seems sad to me though. I think what you really need is more friends. Join a bowling league or take swing-dancing lessons or whatever the hell it is that people do to meet people these days.
posted by empath at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2006

Another popular pastime when sans-reading material is playing games on your phone.
posted by mmascolino at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2006

Practice! (This works for movies too.) It's awkward the first couple of times, but it soon becomes very easy and even preferable at places with limited seating. Order wine by the glass so you're not staring at the whole bottle. I also try to tip a little bit more at places I'll be coming to again so that servers don't feel they're missing out by getting me instead of a couple.

You will, once in a blue moon, get service that forgets about you, resents having to serve a single diner, or doesn't bring you bread or whatever other goodies come automatically upon sitting down. In such cases you should of course suspend any higher tipping procedures and casually remark to the manager that dining alone at the establishment is much different than dining with someone.

And spicynuts is right, people don't register you as a "lone diner". They probably won't register you at all.
posted by ontic at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2006

Are you in Boston proper?
Sit at the bar if they have one. If you're conscious of being by yourself this can act as camouflage. Eavesdropping is easier as is reading (I like the height of the bar to put my book down on).

Enjoy yourself, enjoy the food. When I moved to Boston I was initially shy to go out by myself. Now I look forward to it. Just think about how independent you are for being able to brave dining alone.

I'm female for what it's worth.
posted by Constant Reader at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2006

I listen to podcasts when I'm eating alone. I've tried bringing a book but found it awkward, and I end up putting it down when I eat anyway, so I'm still just staring into space. With podcasts I get distracted from my self-consciousness through the meal, and anyone looking at me closely can see the headphones so I feel like it slightly lessens the loser vibe. I also tip a little bit extra (assuming the service is good) at places I go regularly since I'll often end up taking up a table that could have seated four people.
posted by jheiz at 11:27 AM on October 23, 2006

Pretend that you are a very-much-in-demand consultant, traveling on business to help out a new client. You've just spent the day meeting the client, learning about the company, and basically absorbing all you could about the situation you've been brought in to try to help.

You're using your dinner time to mull all this over, think through what you've seen and heard, and come up with a couple of strategies that might work -- all in preparation for asking just the right questions at the next day's sessions. It's important that you eat alone so you have time to think. Your clients understand and expect this; you may at times seem almost eccentric, but you're a genius -- and really, your whole secret to success is taking this time alone to reflect and use your mind.

There; not very loser-like at all, I'd say.
posted by amtho at 11:32 AM on October 23, 2006 [6 favorites]

Okay - I know someone who travels alone quite a bit and loves to try new restaurants. She's a total foodie. Anyway, she takes a little note pad with her and writes notes - sometimes about the food or the restaurant - but mostly just little thoughts, etc.

The thing is that the restaurants sometimes assume she's a food critic and heap on the food and service.

It's worth a try - particularly if you dress nice when you go out to eat (as she does.)

I always take reading material along with me - and if I don't have anything I'll buy a newspaper. Then again I tend to duck into dinners and hole the wall places when I'm on the go... when I go to a "real" restaurant on my own I sit at the bar which has several advantages: more space to dissect your paper, chance to meet other people on their own, opportunity to chat up the bartender, and don't forget the bar TV on which you can watch the Detroit Tigers dominate the St. Louis Cardinals.
posted by wfrgms at 11:32 AM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

like everyone else, something to read. though i suggest magazines or a newspaper. books have a tendency to close on you unless you get a book-weight. otherwise you'll end up using something from the table and that always gets screwed up. i used to be self-concious about this kind of thing, but it really is useless to worry about. until you're comfortable be careful of the book debacle. the only time anyone will notice you is the time you use a butterknife to hold your book open (even after bending the spine, it'll still do this) and it flies shut leaving your knife clattering across the floor. it's like a movie when the record scratches, EVERYONE will look at you. if it's your first time out you'll implode and never try again. the way i look at it, if it's the kind of person that would honestly think ill or pity of me sitting to dinner alone (then the most fleeting of curiosity), i wouldn't want to know them anyway, cause they most likely have way too big a stick up the ass. plus, if you have taste and read interesting subject matter, it can lead to interesting conversation (or creepy on the rare occasion).
posted by andywolf at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, that was a quick response.

The problem for me has always been going to a restaurant, having the host(ess) seating me in the middle of the dining room, twiddling my thumbs, and generally feeling uncomfortable. I'm not really sure what it is about restaurants in particular, since I can go just about anywhere else on my own (and generally make more of a spectacle of myself with my camera) with no self-consciousness.

As far as people not taking notice - I was in a bar/restaurant once with my laptop, sitting at a table alone, and I actually had some people come up to me and ask me what I was doing.

And then there was the time I was at a different bar (again with the laptop) and my boss walked in and noticed me...
posted by backseatpilot at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2006

I did this fairly often when I lived in NYC. I also went to the movies alone quite frequently and I've actually grown to prefer seeing movies alone. But I never became truly comfortable dining alone. I don't like sitting at the bar because most bars are designed so that the patrons sit with their back to the main dining room and I'm the kind of person that likes to see everything going on while I eat (especially when eating alone). Some restaurants have L-shaped bars that work much better for me. Or a U-shaped bar right in the middle of the place--those are the best, but usually that's more of a sports-bar style layout. As awkward as it feels, everything I've read leads me to believe that it really isn't too weird to go ahead and ask for your own table.

Another thing I've heard, which surprised me, is that nicer restaurants are sometimes more accomodating to the single diner. If you have a restaurant in mind, why not call the maitre'd before hand and ask if they welcome lone diners? If I got a warm response over the phone, I'd feel much less awkward when I showed up.

Whenever I ate alone or saw a movie alone, I always planned to say I was traveling for business if anyone ever questioned me. Of course, no one ever did, but it made me feel better knowing that it'd be totally acceptable to do these things alone if I were traveling and that may be what most people assume.
posted by mullacc at 11:45 AM on October 23, 2006

If I recall correctly, there are a least a few places in Boston that have communal tables. It's not a bad option if you're more in the mood to chat than to read (myself, I'm a reader, but admittidly it can be difficult to choreograph both a book and a dinner plate). Off the top of my head, I believe Upper Crust pizza (low end) and Radius (high end) both have communal tables.

Oh, hey, I just found solodining.com. They also list Durgin Park, Saint, and Toro.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:47 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

i'm assuming that you don't try to read with one hand and eat with the other. doesn't work, unless it's a burger or something similar.
posted by andywolf at 11:51 AM on October 23, 2006

book weight
i'll shut up now.
posted by andywolf at 11:53 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Eat at a sushi bar...Or check out yelp
posted by sneakyalien at 11:59 AM on October 23, 2006

Like mullacc, I tend to hate sitting at bars by myself. I find I can spread out a bit more at a table, and arrange my book or magazine and drink and food to my liking.

It's like having the bed all to yourself -- you can sprawl as much as you like. :-)

I always read when I dine alone, unless it's an outdoor cafe-type place on a busy sidewalk where I can people-watch. And I order wine and as many courses as I like and generally just treat it like a nice thing I'm doing for myself.

If you're uncomfortable at the table they bring you to, simply ask nicely if you could wait until one of the tables against the wall opens up (assuming they're not all huge eight-person tables or something). You're giving them business, as long as you're polite there's no reason you need to feel cowed into submission.
posted by occhiblu at 12:02 PM on October 23, 2006

As far as people not taking notice - I was in a bar/restaurant once with my laptop, sitting at a table alone, and I actually had some people come up to me and ask me what I was doing.

This to me would be god send. New friends!! I keep hoping for the day that I'm eating along reading and someone comes up and talks to me so.
posted by spicynuts at 12:05 PM on October 23, 2006

I used to eat out by myself when I lived in Cambridge, because I liked to. It's an easier thing to do at lunch than at dinner, if only because there are more solo people out on their lunch hours, and because lunch is more casual. I liked to eat at bars that had good kitchens and were more restaurantish during the day, because it really was more relaxed and you tend to just wander in and sit down. The Plough & Stars on Mass Ave near Central Square was my favorite for this (this was before they closed and reopened, though).
posted by rogue haggis landing at 12:06 PM on October 23, 2006

When I eat out alone (mostly when travelling) I go the notebook route. I write down random thoughts, story ideas, character sketches or just doodle. It has led to a few interesting conversations, but I agree that the majority of people are not even registering you.

(I don't know if anyone thought I was a food critic. Perhaps I'll try dressing more nicely next time)
posted by mikepop at 12:07 PM on October 23, 2006

How do I eat out alone?

Confidently, happily, as though you're a regular and belong there.

You're just a guy enjoying his meal. And a lot of the people eating in groups might envy you your thinking time.

No need to pretend tremendous importance, or feign preoccupation, or set up barriers like books and newspapers (although I do sometines like to read).

You're just having a good meal and you're content.

And you're friendly towards the waitstaff--they're part of your good experience.
posted by Phred182 at 12:09 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Both my wife and I are so used to reading-while-at-the-bar that we'll often set aside time to do so one night a week. You can find us usually in the Harvard Square area at some stage of our random John Harvards, Cambridge Common rotation. Both those places are fine for eating/drinking alone and I've had positive interactions with strangers at each.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:11 PM on October 23, 2006

It can be especially nice, when you've just moved to a new city, to become a "regular" at one or two places. The staff get to know you -- you always tip well and make a small amount of nice conversation, you're always gracious about the food -- and gradually, you're getting welcomed like an old friend when you go in there. They recommend whatever's best for you. As you eat, maybe the owner comes out to check in with you. Picture George Clooney, dining alone at his small neighborhood cafe, just to relax and think about the week's adventures, charming the staff. A mysterious but obviously beloved figure, the envy of other diners.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:12 PM on October 23, 2006

I do this all the time. perfect excuse for me to read the new yorker or a decent book and take the occasional snapshot of other patrons (I am one of those guys who takes his camera everywhere).

you can't really do this everywhere easily - some places will try to put you at their worst tables. I refuse the ones in the middle of the room or next to a door (kitchen, entry), because of the noise and cold I then would have to face. you're likely to get the shaft during peak hours when there are tons of couples - twice the business for the same table, but during the day, you shouldn't have to accept this at all.

and yeah, sushi bars rock.
posted by krautland at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2006

You can also develop an interest in the Red Sox. During the season nearly every bar, even those in the nicer restaurants, have the games on mute. Watch the game & chat with the bartender. You 'll be comfortable in no time. And by the time they crash and burn (sob) you'll be old friend at your regular spot, and will be happy to just go and eat even after the season.

I realize this is poorly timed advice.

Thus, go to plan b: magazines. Easier to read than books and newspapers while dining. And you can find the time to finish that ridiculously long article in the New Yorker you've been meaning to get out of the way...
posted by miss tea at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2006

I hope this isn't too much of a derail, but may I recommend checking out Meet Up's Dining Out In Boston Group?

I'm a member of the group here in Tampa, and love the heck out of it. It gets you out to great and different restaurants for the food you love and also might get you some new friends and acquaintances.
posted by willmize at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2006

Books, magazines, and a notepad so you can jot down ideas or items on a to-do list.

I second being friendly with the waitstaff. If you become a regular, they will often chat you up, give you free food, or sit down at your table and talk with you when they see you.
posted by adipocere at 12:26 PM on October 23, 2006

I can remember a time when I worried about eating or going to movies alone, but I've been solo for so long now, it's the default situation for me, and I honestly don't even think about it anymore. I think of eating out alone as a pseudo-social event which I personally find satisfying; sometimes being alone at home is too isolated, and being out with friends demands too much of you. Of course, if you'd really rather be out with other people, then going out alone can be more alienating and uncomfortable, in which case I'd focus more on meeting people, etc. But if you just want to food prepared & a nice environment, but are happy to be alone with your thoughts, then dining alone can be pleasurable.

and it's not eating alone that makes one look like a loser -- it's being devoid of intellectual stimulation.

Well, you don't need a book to have intellectual stimulation. You can just ponder things. I usually have reading /writing material with me wherever I go, but I don't necessarily always take it out.
posted by mdn at 12:26 PM on October 23, 2006

I tend to avoid the trendoid popular places downtown and just go to a few little Chinese/Vietnamese or Mexican places on a sidestreet. There are more likely to be folks who are just getting supper after work there and a loner with a book draws no attention.
posted by Iron Rat at 12:29 PM on October 23, 2006

What can I do at the restaurant in place of the socializing that normally occurs when groups go out to eat?

Enjoy your food! I like to bring a book to read while waiting, but I set it aside once the food arrives. When's the last time you actually paid attention to the experience of eating? Without any distractions, you can really enjoy the aromas, flavors, textures, etc. of your meal.

As for not looking like a loser, I don't think you've really got anything to worry about. If you need to practice, solo weekday lunches can feel less awkward than solo dinners. I think a lot of people go to lunch by themselves just to get out of the office for a bit, so you'll just be one of many people eating on your own.

Once I had a server who was so impressed by the fact that I was treating myself to a nice dinner on my own, he brought me a perfectly-paired glass of wine for each course, on the house. Yum.
posted by vytae at 12:33 PM on October 23, 2006

Take a laptop. Log-in to MetaFilter. We'll be right there with you.
posted by micayetoca at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2006

I also have an issue with this. The worst for me is when the host says, "just you?"

when I dont have a book or anything else with me, I play games on my phone. I try to imagine people around me think I'm someone really important who has to send text messages or emails while he's eating.

But really, I'm playing "Dig Dug."
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2006

You won't look like a loser. Nobody will care except you. There is some chance that people will mistake you for a travelling business-person.

Instead of socializing: watch sports events, or read a book or something. A lot of upscale steakhouse type restaurants have TVs at the bar that work well for this.

As for bar versus table, I always made that decision based on what I felt like eating, and if there was a particularly good sports event on TV. It feels normal to me to eat a steak or some fish at a bar. Less so to eat an 11 course tasting menu there.

There are a million reasons why people dine alone, and none of them should make you feel like a loser.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:46 PM on October 23, 2006

Oh, and fyi, I have eaten a *lot* of meals alone, as I used to have a high-travel job, and I absolutely love food. I had absolutely no issue going to a schmancy restaurant and getting a table for one. Nobody ever batted an eye at me.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:48 PM on October 23, 2006

As a server/bartender and someone that knows what you mean about eating alone..

First, alot of people eat alone, dont be afraid to ask for a table out of the way or against the wall. Most people wont question you, tell them you have work to do and dont want to be bothered. If you do want to socialize, then sit at the bar. As a bartender my job was to first talk to the people at the bar and second make them drinks.

Now, as for myself going out to eat alone, I used to be the same as you and it was very uncomfortable but Ive learned to ask for tables near windows and I just people watch or read. Im very glad that I got over that initial fear because now eating dinner alone is one of my favorite things to do to gather my thoughts or just generally have 'me time.'
posted by trishthedish at 12:48 PM on October 23, 2006

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

I dine alone quite a bit. If I'm feeling sociable, I'll sit at the bar. (Even if no one else is sitting there, you can be sociable with the bartender.) If I'm not, I'll bring in something to read with me and sit at a table. In fact, I eat alone enough that I almost always have a book in the car with me to be my "to-read-in-restaurants book." [Currently Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis] I don't feel like a loser. I doubt anyone else in the restaurant thinks I look like a loser, but if they do, it doesn't affect me anyway, so what do I care?

i'm assuming that you don't try to read with one hand and eat with the other. doesn't work, unless it's a burger or something similar.

Well, in addition to sandwiches, anything that comes already in bite-size pieces can be eaten with one hand. "With one hand" does not imply "without utensils." But even if you have to use both hands, I've found that many times the top edge of one's plate can be used to hold open books that won't lay flat by themselves.

On preview: The worst for me is when the host says, "just you?"

Just remind yourself that the host is simply asking for information, not making a value judgment.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:50 PM on October 23, 2006

I was in a bar/restaurant once with my laptop...

See, I think people who bring laptops to a bar/restaurant are weird. Not a value judgment, just a reflection of the fact that I grew up before laptops were a standard accessory, but if I were staring at you in a restaurant, that would be why; the fact that you were alone wouldn't even register. I say this because I suspect that accounts for at least some of the attention you attract. (And yes, I'm sure there are lots of people who think that reading a book in a bar/restaurant is weird, but the hell with them, right?)
posted by languagehat at 12:53 PM on October 23, 2006

I travel for work at least one week out of every month and one of my great pleasures is dining alone. I get to go wherever I want to go, when I want to go and for how long.

This is what I Moleskine was made for. I've filled countless volumes in the last two years by always having mine with me whether I go to a sandwich shop or a fine dining establishment. I *will* sit at the bar if it isn't a smoking bar, but otherwise I insist on a table.

When random diners catch my eye with "the look" I just smile and nod or lift my glass if I'm in the process of drinking.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:17 PM on October 23, 2006

Look for restaurants that have a bar where dinner patrons are seated (this is increasingly common in upscale restaurants.) You feel less conspicuous, and it's usually easier to avoid the pacing/attention problems that often occur when you're seated alone on the floor. And the bar attracts lone diners.

I love dining alone, but if there's no dining bar option, you do need a server who gets that a solo diner is going to need less turnaround time to order, but may want more time over coffee at the end of the meal, etc.
posted by desuetude at 1:21 PM on October 23, 2006

Go grab the current issue of the Improper Bostonian. They just did a big story on this. Short summary: restaurants love it; restaurants attached to hotels have the highest rate of single diners; even the fancy ones are happy to have you reading at a table alone; and try not to be a cheapskate in the process (don't just order water).

BTW--I live in Cambridge and eat alone all the time. No one seems to ever gives it a second thought.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:29 PM on October 23, 2006

how do I go to restaurants by myself without (for lack of a better term) looking like a loser?

Rest assured, at any given occasion when you are in public and
  • alone
  • in a group
  • with a woman
  • with a man
  • walking your dog
  • well-dressed
  • dressed like a slob
  • paying attention
  • zoned-out
  • reading
  • listening to your iPod
  • staring at the wall
  • people-watching
or any number of other things

someone at some point is going to look at you and think "loser."

So stop worrying about the circumstances surrounding any given time it happens.
posted by phearlez at 1:32 PM on October 23, 2006 [5 favorites]

Agreement with all the early posts; since they echo each other, I won't go into that anymore.

Sometimes I have to travel alone for business. If I have to eat alone, I do, no problem. But if I'm in a strange city or a strange country, I will often sit at the bar and eat there if I'm in a sociable mood. Once people hear you're from out of town, some will congregate around you and you might even make some friends.

I traveled to England on business several years ago. I was there for two weeks and stopped in at the same pub probably 5 times and got to know the proprieter.

I went back 6 years later, and his family remembered me! (He had passed away while I was gone.)

Sometimes I have great luck along these lines, and sometimes, all I get is polite service and nothing more. You won't make friends (or even chat buddies) every time, but even if it happens only once it a while, you will enjoy a pleasurable evening out.

Since you're in the same city full-time, I would think that you could quickly become a regular at a nearby bar & grill. Once that happens, you won't have to eat alone most of the time, even if you go there alone.
posted by Doohickie at 1:34 PM on October 23, 2006

I'm in the same boat with the "loser" feeling. My wife has no issue and often eats at the bar.

One thing I just recently noticed is that I have no problem and don't notice the awkward feeling of eating alone when I am someplace that uses chop sticks. Weird, but I think the focus on the unusual foods (japanese, korean, etc.) plus the focus on not screwing up with the chop sticks, keeps my mind nicely occupied the whole meal. I don't get this at knife & fork establishments.

Worth a shot!
posted by qwip at 1:40 PM on October 23, 2006

The only time I have ever noticed someone dining alone was when I saw this woman reading a thick novel while she waited for her dinner.

My thought was "Wow, she is so confident, and she is doing exactly what she wants! I hope I can be like that someday!"

Pick a restaurant you like, so your comfort level is high. Bring something to occupy yourself while you wait for your food if you think you need it, or sit by the window/busy spot to people watch. Don't rush through your meal. You have as much right to be there as any couple or group does.
posted by melissa at 2:03 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, you don't need a book to have intellectual stimulation. You can just ponder things.

Totally agreed, and it's a great time/place to do it. But, if one is asking what separates "looking like a loser while dining alone," from just "dining alone," I think that people are less inclined to look with pity at someone whose mind is visibly engaged.

Inasmuch as they are inclined to pay attention at all, of course.
posted by pineapple at 2:09 PM on October 23, 2006

My friend often freak-out when they hear that I go to movies and restaurants by myself quite often. Just don't worry about it, and go. If you want, bring a laptop. People with think you're just taking a break from the office and doing some work outside.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:34 PM on October 23, 2006

The worst for me is when the host says, "just you?"

At which point, regardless of the host's gender or attractiveness, you reply "Well, if I had known you wanted to join me, I would have made a reservation."

Creepily suggestive eyebrow gesticulations optional.
posted by juv3nal at 3:03 PM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm another happy lone diner when the mood or circumstance strikes (I also go to movies, plays, concerts, and museums by myself, and will happily travel alone too). I guess the reason I never feel like a loser is that I see it as a time not only to enjoy a meal, but also to enjoy my own company. Enjoying my own company might include a book or The New Yorker, it might include a podcast, it might include staring off into space pondering, it might eventually include striking up a conversation with someone else at the bar or restaurant.

The key is to be present enough to enjoy it, whatever you do, and not worry about all the hypothetical things complete strangers may (or may not) be thinking of you. Because face it: most people won't even care. You're not actually that important to them -- and I mean that in a good way.
posted by scody at 3:15 PM on October 23, 2006

As a frequent solo diner and moviegoer, I'll echo everyone here who's basically said just do it and screw what everyone else seated around you thinks.

I don't go to dinner alone all that often, but when I do I'll people watch. I'll bring a book or some music if I go out to a coffeehouse or something, but not to a restaurant for a meal. I end up going to lunch alone more often than not, just becauseā€”I don't know, is it really common for coworkers to pair up or go out in groups every single day? I look forward to those solitary lunches, getting some alone time for an hour or so.
posted by emelenjr at 3:32 PM on October 23, 2006

I think people who bring laptops to a bar/restaurant are weird.

Seconded -- because the possibility of a food/drink spill onto the sensitive machine is very high. But with a book or magazine, no problem. In fact, I do my best reading while eating, especially in restaurants with an optimal noise level -- loud or quiet enough so you can't make out the neighboring conversation.

The only time I feel like a loser while solo dining is on Valentine's Day -- but if you get a good table, the people-watching that night can be very entertaining, all these couples where it's the one night a year they go out, and the guy's trying to be suave but doesn't really have a clue.
posted by Rash at 3:50 PM on October 23, 2006

is it really common for coworkers to pair up or go out in groups every single day?

Extremely common in a lot of offices. Thankfully my current occupation doesn't have this problem.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 3:51 PM on October 23, 2006

I think people who bring laptops to a bar/restaurant are weird.

I don't.

I've done this occasionally. Usually it means I want to get away from both my home and my office, in order to get some really good solitary working time in.

If I sit at a bar with a laptop, occasionally somebody will ask me if I want another drink, but otherwise I'll be left alone.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 3:53 PM on October 23, 2006


Go to nice places, have some wine, and you'll get treated well.

It's only a big deal if you make it so.
posted by oxford blue at 5:03 PM on October 23, 2006

Try starting out with early breakfasts (not brunch, which is more social). It seems quite natural to sit alone with your paper and cup of coffee before 10am.

As an aside, for some reason I've always wanted to go have breakfast by myself at Balthazar's in NY some weekday morning. It seems so luxurious, somehow, especially if everyone else in the city is getting to work.
posted by footnote at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2006

This inspires me to quote a Louis Jenkins poem:

The time has come to say goodbye, our plates empty except for our greasy napkins. Comrades, you on my left, balding, middle-aged guy with a ponytail, and you, Lefty there on my right, though we barely spoke I feel our kinship. You were steadfast in passing the ketchup, the salt and pepper, no man could ask for better companions. Lunch is over, the cheeseburgers and fries, the Denver sandwich, the counter nearly empty. Now we must go our separate ways. Not a fond embrace, but perhaps a hearty handshake. No? Well then, farewell. It is unlikely I'll pass this way again. Unlikely we will ever meet again on this earth, to sit together beneath the neon and fluorescent calmly sipping our coffee, like the sages sipping their tea underneath the willow, sitting quietly, saying nothing
I find eating out alone difficult to do too. At least you can contemplate the unique convergence of souls with which you implicitly dine.
posted by mto at 5:37 PM on October 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

What everyone else said. So I'll chime in with Cambridge spots I love to eat alone: Algiers, Harvest, Pho Pasteur, Miracle of Science, Ghandi, Oleana, The Blue Room...the list goes on. Maybe it's just easier to be a loner on this side of the river :-)
posted by cocoagirl at 6:14 PM on October 23, 2006

Seconding solodining.com, for advice, and info on solo-friendly restaurants. Also, communal tables can be great fun for diners on their own who want to socialize. Bring a book anyway in case your other communal table diner is a "Help help I can't shut up" kind of communicator, but in my experience they're not that common.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:16 PM on October 23, 2006

Ask for a table for one.
posted by Furious Fitness at 8:30 AM on October 24, 2006

Avocado, great idea.
posted by Phred182 at 3:12 PM on October 24, 2006

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