When I tell people I like dining out alone, they usually wrinkle their nose, give me a funny (or, in some cases, almost offended) look, and ask "why?"
Judging by the number of bewildered, shame-inducing stares I've experienced in my life, it seems that most people don't go out of their way to go to a restaurant by themselves.
But things are changing, says a scientific study!
Scenes from excellent restaurants for solo dining from across the country
Recent research reported by CNBC shows that solo dining among Americans is on the rise, but in the fast food sector and at higher-end restaurants. The story points to hospitality changes as restaurants like Gramercy Tavern owned by Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, which trains its staff to interact with business travelers who may be dining alone.
Hell, even the corporate overlords at The Cheesecake Factory are training staff to stop announcing solo diners as a "party of one" when calling their names.
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Welcome to this brave new world, where dining alone is fashionable.
Part of the reason I've grown to like eating at restaurants alone is because of the simple fact that I have to do it pretty regularly for my work here at Epicurious. On a recent trip to Europe, I flew solo to almost every breakfast, lunch, double dinner, coffee shop, pastry shop, chocolate shop, and outdoor market--by my count I ate alone 67 times over the course of two weeks.
That's a lot of me time.
And, again, I'm totally okay with it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of human contact, but visiting a restaurant as a party of one has its own advantages--solo seats are more easily available at hot restaurants during prime times, there's more time to focus clearly on what I'm eating, and I don't have to share that bottle of wine with anyone (kidding?).
I've also made mistakes along the way. That's right: there's an art to dining alone. Here are my tips for how to do it properly:
MAKE SURE THE AMBIANCE IS RIGHT
Of course you can eat alone at whichever restaurant you please, but some restaurants are better suited to those rolling without an entourage. Generally, I'm looking for a place with a pleasant hum in the dining room, not some quiet temple to high gastronomy. The type of joint where I'm likely to strike up a conversation with the group to me.
For guidance, I put together a list of 15 of my favorite restaurants around the country that practically seem made for the solo diner.
SKIP THE SMALL PLATES JOINT
There's no shortage of the "small plates" menus at restaurants these days. People love small plates! Which makes sense: smaller portions are a great way to try a large number of dishes if you're with a big group. But these menus tend to be a bit longer than your typical appetizer-entree-dessert structure which means that, while you may get to try three or four dishes (if you're ambitious), the solo diner ends up missing out on a larger percentage of the menu.
When I'm alone, I prefer committing to an appetizer and an entree. Typically, they're portioned perfectly for a single diner, where small plates are a bit more all over the map.
DON'T MAKE A RESERVATION
Unless you absolutely must, avoid being the person eating alone at a table in the general dining room. Most restaurants don't take reservations for bar seats, which means you'll get sat at a table meant for two in the dining room. The waiter may or may not get the memo and ask you if you're "expecting anyone" only to have to awkwardly remove the second place-setting across from you that the busboy forgot to clear.
But some restaurants know how to cater to solo diners who do end up sitting in the dining room, either because they prefer it or because there's no bar seating. At The Wolseley in London, I was offered my choice paper as complimentary reading material during afternoon tea. There's just something more dignified about reading the paper than staring at my iPhone screen.
DITCH THE BAR SNACKS, ORDER OFF THE FULL MENU
I love deviled eggs and warm olives as much as the next guy, but the pro solo diner doesn't put up with limited bar menus. Though it's almost standard practice these days, make sure to call ahead and check that the restaurant offers the full menu to diners eating at the bar.
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