Tips for How to Get Better at Dining or Going Out Alone

 

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  • I’ve had a lot of solo meals over the past decade.
  • Looking back on it, I realize it’s a skill that requires lots of practice.
  • From where to sit to what you can bring, here are seven tips I think can help anyone get more comfortable dining alone.

I’ve eaten alone at restaurants a lot for my job over the past two years, but it’s also something I’ve done since college. Whenever I’m asked about a solo meal I had, I’m consistently met with the reaction of, “Oh my gosh, I could never,” or “I wish I could do that.” The reality is, if you want to, you totally can.

Thinking about it now, I’ve realized it certainly is a skill. But it’s a skill I believe anyone can sharpen if they’re willing to put in the work and feel uncomfortable along the way.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned that help me get to a place where I do enjoy going out by myself.

Solo dining isn’t just for single people who don’t have local friends

If you hold that idea in your head, pack its bags and kick it right out the door.

I’ve dined alone while single, in a relationship, and while being offered other plans with the friends I do very much have. Sometimes I just need to take myself out and be reminded that I can function — quite well! — as a single entity whenever I choose to do so.

And guess what? There’s also nothing wrong with dining or going out solo if you are in a situation where you don’t feel like you have people to socialize with. In fact, it’s a great way to meet people. Maybe you moved somewhere new or are in the process of making new friends. (If that’s you, congratulations!) But that’s a whole other set of tips for a different skill to learn.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

In a world where everything revolves around showing off what you’re doing and who you’re with, it can feel really taxing to do things on your own if you’re not already into it. But it’s OK to feel awkward, to push yourself, and to try taking tiny steps in the direction of being more independent.

Try to keep the negative self-talk to a minimum (direct wisdom from my therapist — you’re all welcome for relaying the advice I paid for). If you’re mid-meal and you’re self-conscious, that’s perfectly fine. Sit with the feeling, acknowledge it, and then do something to move on from it. Order your meal, go to the restroom, look at the menu even if you already ordered — sometimes just switching up my actions can change the way I’m feeling.

Remember to cut yourself as much slack during this process as you would if you were learning to play an instrument. You are teaching yourself a new skill by dining solo, it deserves the same amount of practice and self-forgiveness.

No one is looking at you as much as you feel like they are

When I first started going out alone, I remember thinking that people were staring at me or talking about me. Sorry to break it to you, but no one cares. Most people are too consumed by thinking about themselves, their meal, their conversation, or anything else that isn’t you.

If you find yourself feeling like you’re in a bad dream where you’re standing at the head of the class in your underwear, I’d recommend taking one sweeping look around. Do a full turn if that makes you comfortable, and notice how many people are actually looking back at you — it likely won’t be many, if any at all.

the village sandbar

 

Sitting at the bar can help ease the feeling of being alone.

Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Start small: Sit at the bar or even just in public

I think an important stepping stone here is generally being comfortable while alone in public. If you’re not already happy grabbing a coffee and a bagel and sitting on a bench eating it alone, I would recommend starting there.

But if you’ve got that down and you’re wanting to hit the restaurants, go for the bar. Most of the time, if I’m dining or grabbing a drink solo, sitting at the bar is where I feel most comfortable. I can chat with the bartender, people-watch from my typically elevated bar stool, and maybe even make a new friend with someone else dining solo.

Bar or counter seating eliminates the empty chair across from you and is a great way to avoid this often-asked question from a server: “Are you waiting for anyone?”

Feel free to bring a prop

I find it difficult to read in my home, so I treat going out alone as my time to settle into a piece of writing I’ve been saving. Bring the newspaper, a magazine, a book, or anything of the sort. Bring a notebook to sketch, doodle, or journal in. Whatever it is, bring something that helps you settle into that “me time” mode.

I personally don’t like to listen to music or a podcast while I’m taking myself out because I feel like it really closes me off to the rest of the space. At the end of the day, I’m usually going out because I want to be part of the action.

If you’re really in a bind, I’d venture a safe bet that you have your smartphone handy. Scrolling mindlessly through Instagram or Twitter works just as well at making you forget other people are around while you’re out as it does while you’re at home on your couch.

Woman reading at cafe

 

Bring a newspaper, book, or even a notebook.

Mark Edward Atkinson/Tracey Lee/Getty Images

Then, try ditching the prop once you’ve gotten comfortable

Once you’ve become secure with that book in your hand, leave it in your bag. Challenge yourself again and start to wean off of that safety blanket.

My favorite prop replacement is people-watching. I love grabbing a sidewalk table and watching people go by. Bill Cunningham, a photojournalist and columnist for The New York Times who died in 2016, said “the best fashion show is on the street.” And, in my experience, dining al fresco is like scoring that coveted front-row seat.

Like almost anything, it gets easier and more enjoyable with practice

It may feel really intimidating in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it can be a really liberating thing to do. In my experience, it’s allowed me the freedom to feed myself whenever and wherever I want. I know that sounds like a wild statement, but not everyone is comfortable just popping into a restaurant to curb their hunger when it strikes.

It’s also helped me in other situations where I find myself alone. When a friend or date goes to the restroom and I’m left at the table, I don’t feel the immediate urge to whip out my phone and look busy. It’s a tool I have available when I’m traveling somewhere new (though it’s important to include that safety is the first priority and I am well aware of where I am while in a new place alone). I’m also more willing to sit and enjoy my surroundings on a nice day than I was before I started practicing this ability to be alone.

Just because you’re by yourself, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself to the experience if you can. There are plenty of very logical, very fair reasons to not go out to eat — like cooking for the sake of health, or the sheer amount of money it costs to dine out. The fact that you’re solo shouldn’t be on that list.

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