A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Out Alone
I love eating out alone — not because I hate people, but because I love food. When I travel solo (which is often), I go where my stomach takes me. This doesn’t necessarily make me the most sociable person, but my stomach doesn’t tolerate bad meals — it resents them. Good company is nice, but great food is what I came for.
Admittedly, not everyone follows this logic. “[There’s a] tragic aspect to even a good meal,” claims Anthony Bourdain in an early episode of The Layover. “The tastier the meal the somehow sadder, because you’ve got no one to share it with.” To this I say: Geez, Bourdain, lighten up. Meals can be memorable even when they’re not a shared experience. Here’s how.
1. Listen to your gut.
Maybe I’m megalomaniacal, but I love having a great meal all to myself. My taste buds and I get along swimmingly, and I wouldn’t trade anything for my (happy, sated) memories of coq au vin in Paris, spicy Szechuan duck in Hangzhou, or shamelessly hauling an entire pizza to the steps of Florence’s Santo Spirito to people-watch. The point is: Don’t listen to Anthony Bourdain — listen to your gut.
2. Bring a book.
It’s easy and it’s pretty much failsafe. Like putting your ear buds in when you don’t want to talk to someone next to you on an airplane, taking out your book signals you’re not looking to strike up conversation with the solo diner one table over. (P.S. Wondering what to pair with your pre-dinner martini? Try this matchup.)
3. Go ahead, pull out your iPhone.
I see nothing wrong with sharing a good meal via social media. Snapping away courses still feels taboo for many people, but there’s no one to judge when you’re traveling solo. And your best friend who lives across the country and is constantly Instagramming their culinary adventures will appreciate your efforts.
4. But don’t completely close yourself off.
Just don’t let an app become the crutch that prevents you from connecting with the brave new world for which you left home. When you’re ready for it, you can use a solo dining experience to plan something more communal. If you’re open to meeting new people, bar seating is your best friend.
5. Consider virtual companions.
You could also give mukbang a try. The popular videos (all the rage in Korea) show regular people live-streaming their most mundane eating experiences, effectively creating a virtual dinner party. (I don’t know that thousands of YouTube commenters would make my dream guest list, but there you have it.)
6. Enjoy yourself.
The most important step in eating alone is learning to let yourself enjoy the experience. If I really love a meal, I find that I’ll ignore my reading material and simply sit contemplating the flavors. Like stopping in Washington Square Park one late-summer evening to listen to jazz, it’s a pleasant experience to share, but can be a revelatory moment to have to yourself.
When you dine solo, do you bring protection (i.e., book, magazine, phone) or do you go without?