I enjoy sharing food with other people in an extreme way, but I’m also an enthusiastic and unapologetic solo diner. If the many articles written about the subject are to be believed, the main challenge facing the solo diner is social anxiety, embarrassment, and shame. As someone who has never felt that last emotion, I feel uniquely qualified to tell you that no one is judging you for eating alone and the staff does not feel bad for you, so banish all that from your headspace. Restaurants are businesses that want your money, and single person money is still legal tender. There are, however, some strategies I have developed for the best possible solo dining experience.
Don’t take a book
Many articles on this subject would recommend you take a book to keep you company, and frankly it’s a little bit insulting. It implies you are not great company for yourself, but it’s even more flawed than that. Reading is not compatible with eating, structurally or spiritually. Beyond the physicality of trying to do both at once—Just try cutting a pork chop while holding a book! Can’t be done!—books and meals are two things you should immerse yourself in, and combining them results in two mediocre experiences instead of one great one. Plus, getting food on a book that is not a cookbook is gross.
Get the tasting menu
A common impulse when dining alone is to make oneself smaller and less obtrusive. This usually means taking up less space (which you are already doing because it’s just you), but it can also translate into ordering small, meek menu items that won’t call attention to you or—heaven forbid—the fact that you are by yourself. Fuck that, I say. Get the tasting menu.
A tasting menu is a fun group activity; it’s nice to dissect each dish and rank your favorite courses, but just enjoying the food on a visceral level without commentary is even better. (There is a reason I will never go into restaurant criticism; forced critical thinking sucks the fun out of any activity.) Tasting menus are art—often very expensive art—and art is sometimes best consumed with distracting chatter.
If your restaurant of choice does not have a tasting menu, that’s fine—simply order an appetizer with your meal, along with whatever soup or salad that strikes your fancy. Appetizers are clearly not designed for harmonious sharing, otherwise restaurants would make sure they came with an even number of edible items on the plate. Do not worry about ordering “too much food.” The worst thing that will happen is that you will have leftovers.
Sit at the bar
The bar is a great place to enjoy your meal for one. It’s easy to get your server’s attention, your drink will always be full, and you can avail yourself of paring recommendations with ease. Sometimes—and I can’t promise this will happen—the bartender might give you a taste of something interesting, a drink they made by mistake, or the last bit of a bottle that’s not quite enough for a full glass. Sometimes they will talk to you, but never too much, because they are at work.
Do not, however, expect the bartender to be your date. A little conversation here and there is fine, but let them control the amount of chitchat, as—say it with me now—they are at work. Also, if they seem like they are flirting and you feel compelled to make a move, consider that being nice is part of their job, and then do not make said move.
Enjoy not sharing
Even if sharing food is one of your love languages, it is sometimes nice to have something that is yours and only yours. With more and more restaurants pivoting to “family style” and “shared plates,” being able to eat an entire serving of food without interruption or—ugh—portioning is exhilarating. This is particularly true of dessert. Sharing a dessert is a deeply overrated activity.