Broad City is one of my television “comfort shows.” As I dine out alone more frequently, I think of the episode (Season 3 Episode 1) where Abbi arrives to brunch before Ilana and the hostess says to Abbi, “Your table’s almost ready, but we can’t seat you unless you’re all together. Unless you’re here all by yourself?” and raises her eyebrows as she looks Abbi over.
I feel that. Dining alone is intimidating. Perhaps even stigmatized. But I’ve been doing it more, and I encourage other single folks to do it, too.
My first time dining solo was at V Grits in Louisville, Kentucky.
Banh mi and a side of chili, per the staff’s recommendation.
My second time was in Austin, Texas at Counter Culture.
Seitan satays and banh mi (again).
Initially, what made dining out alone acceptable to me was that I was traveling alone. But I ultimately realized, no one in the restaurant knows this! No stranger in the restaurant knows the circumstances which brought me there alone. Which meant that any mental block I encounter regarding the acceptability of eating alone in public is psychological.
And I personally find that pretty empowering.
Subsequently, I’m challenging my own preconceived notions about eating out alone. Because I am single. My local girlfriends recently moved away. I am fortunate to have several local friends remaining; however, they are all male. To be sure, friendships between sexes can be platonic, but I miss the safety and effortlessness of interacting with my female friends. Meeting up with no makeup on, dressed in athleisure, having cocktails and eating too much food, laughing, together. Women, safe to be our sometimes sloppy and wild selves, together.
Especially considering when I do go out with a male friend, it seems (at least to me, in my experience) restaurant/bar staff still maintain gendered ideas surrounding who picks up the tab. It’s an awkward conversation, and rather annoying, that I do not enjoy having. It does not make me feel good to give food service professionals additional work and ask that they separate the check once they have already brought the check out, combined. And yes, I’ve tried nonchalantly slipping in, “This will be separate checks, thank you,” as I’m ordering. But it seems to imply an inaccurate idea that my table is in a hurry.
So I’m dining out alone in my hometown.
Black bean taco with pickled apple chutney and famous Brussels sprouts at Merchants Pub and Plate in Lawrence, Kansas.
Cashew tofu with pineapple at Zen Zero in Lawrence, Kansas.
If you’re like me and want to eat out alone, the following may be helpful.
Tips on dining out alone:
Bring a book.
Bring headphones and listen to a podcast or music while you wait for your food.
Sit at the bar if you’re uncomfortable taking up a table by yourself.
Chat with the bar staff or others around you. (Use your intuition.)
Mindfully savor your meal.
Plan to tip 20–25%.
Now that I have done this a few times, I am able to reflect on my behavior and recognize what I’ve done well and what I wish I would have done differently. For example, at V Grits in Louisville, I was enamored. I was star-struck being in a safe, vegan space. (I’m a Midwestern vegan, after all). I chatted with the staff and learned that all but one person employed there was vegan. (The one outlier was a pescatarian). Interacting, or even simply existing, in the same space as others like myself was so novel that I ended up people-watching (read: staring) the entire time. While people-watching is fun and fine for brief periods of time, doing so excessively can make others uncomfortable and lead to feelings of embarrassment later on.
Here is how I dine alone now:
I go to the city center. (For me, otherwise, I may as well get takeaway.) I ask for a table outside. I bring a book to read while my food is prepared. Once my food arrives, I eat slowly and mindfully, and use that as an acceptable opportunity to watch people, both the staff, clientele and the random folks walking the streets.
I tip a minimum of 20%, often 25%. And this may seem excessive, but consider a) A single person taking up an entire table often means less money for the person waiting the table. And b) The struggle is real. I’ve been a service provider before, and I know how it is. Plus, if I can’t afford to tip well, I don’t think I should be eating out to begin with.
The most valuable lesson I have learned about dining out alone is that it is about giving myself permission. I belong wherever I go. I do not need to feel badly for patronizing restaurants as a single woman who presents alone. Rather, dining out alone demonstrates that I’m confident, chic and independent.
So what do you think, will you give solo dining a try?
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Photo: R. Coker; Unsplash