Table for One: The Art of Dining Alone #hackdining

Our recent revelations about solo dining continue to captivate media and diners alike. To continue the conversation, we’ve asked contributor Nevin Martell, a frequent solo diner to share his insights and tips for a terrific dining experience for those who do so with a bit of trepidation. Here are his insights on the art of dining alone. 

“Table for one, sir?”

I get this question a lot. As a food writer, I dine out constantly to try new places and revisit familiar favorites. Though I love breaking bread with family, friends, and colleagues, it’s oftentimes not often possible to line up our schedules with my ever-present deadlines. And so I’ll find myself alone at the host stand.

While many restaurants, especially those recently highlighted on OpenTable’s Top 25 Restaurants for Solo Diners list, are thrilled to welcome solo diners, not every host makes it easy. Perhaps you sense they’re giving you a look of pity as they pick up a lone menu and lead you off to a table tucked away in a dark corner, which they think is what you want since they incorrectly assume you’re ashamed by your singleton status.

Despite any minor speed bumps that can come with solo supping, I enjoy it. The solitary time allows me to slow down for a little while, concentrate on the food, and maybe catch up on some email or make progress on my reading. It sounds oxymoronic, but it’s nice to get away from people in a room full of people. It’s the same reason why I go to bustling coffee shops packed with chattering hordes to get away from distractions when I’m writing.

However, for a long time, I didn’t like sitting across from an empty chair. I would spend most of the meal looking around nervously to see if people were staring at me, eat as quickly as possible, and oftentimes invent stories for the servers as to why I was dining alone. “My friend had to unexpectedly work late. He’s a surgeon. He’s probably saving someone’s life right now.”

It took me years to realize it, but there is an art to eating alone. Here are six ways you can maximize your experience as a solo diner.

Don’t let people make you feel like you’re a social outcast.

You’re choosing to dine by yourself, so be proud of it. Own it. Think of the meal as some quality me time. If the host asks you the most judgmental of questions – “So, it’ll just be you?” – smile widely and respond, “I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with.”

Sit where you want, not where they want you to sit.

All too often, single diners are relegated to an end seat at the bar by the service station or the most undesirable table in the restaurant. If you see the host is leading you to one of these desolate hellholes, politely ask for another seat. This is the perfect time to enjoy the view, so ask for somewhere you can admire your surroundings or do some serious people watching.

Be as talkative or as quiet as you like.

Many servers see a single diner as either someone to pity or a potential conversationalist. In either case, this means they will talk incessantly. You might welcome the virtual company, but sometimes you’d rather spend your time with your thoughts, a good novel, or your Instagram account. In that case, simply tell them, “I’ve been looking forward to having a quiet moment. I’ll let you know if I need anything else.”

Don’t use it as a time to return voicemails.

There’s nothing more annoying that someone carrying on a boisterous phone conversation in a restaurant, so don’t be that person. Most people will talk in a louder-than-necessary voice and over share, ruining the atmosphere and serving as an unwanted distraction. Texting is fine – please, turn your ringer off – but wait for the trip home to make your calls.

Bring a distraction.

Whether that’s simply your phone – Aren’t you way behind in your Words With Friends games? – or something more substantial, such as a magazine or a book, it’s okay to arm yourself with an amusement. I draw the line at plugging in headphones and watching a movie on my Kindle Fire or whipping out a deck of cards to play a few rounds of Solitaire.

Go out on a limb.

When you’re alone and a stranger, no one is expecting you to act a certain way, so feel free to be adventurous. Order a cocktail you’ve never tried, sample a dish outside your comfort zone, treat yourself to the tasting menu and savor every bite. Or splurge on a dessert you might normally eschew. And if you’re in the mood to chat, leave yourself open to conversations with your tablemates. I’ve met some wonderful people while dining alone, which never would have happened if I had a guest with me.

How do you roll when you dine alone? Do you take your surroundings in, distract yourself a bit with technology, or bond with your fellow diners? Let us know here or over on FacebookG+InstagramPinterest, or Twitter.

Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell