Spending more than 12 years as a travel writer has taken me all over the world, often alone. And while it was tempting at first to hole up with room service, a girl can eat only so many club sandwiches and Caesar salads.
I soon came to be so comfortable dining solo (I even enjoy it now) that I’ll take myself out to eat in when I’m home in Brooklyn. Some nights I don’t want to go to the trouble of making plans with anyone or commit to a whole evening of socializing, but I do want to get out of my kitchen, eat something good, and be around other people.
Here are a couple of tips I’ve learned along the way:
Own it. Don’t apologize to the maître‘d and don’t accept a lousy table. If you want a spot with better light for reading, ask for it. Walk confidently to your seat and return eye contact. Dining alone doesn’t mean you’re a loser with no friends. It means you’re comfortable enough with your own company to enjoy being your own date.
If it’s an eat-at-the-bar culture, then eat at the bar. New York excels at this, but it exists across the U.S. and sometimes abroad, especially in hotel restaurants. You don’t have to order off the bar menu; ask for the dining room menu and order you want, whether it’s just a salad or a tasting menu. It’s easy here to chat with the bartender or other solo diners.
Bring something to read in print. I find that a book or magazine works better than my iPad. It’s less distracting to anyone around you, and you come off as smart rather than addicted to your email.
Practice “mindful eating.” Whatever you read, put it down when your food arrives and pay attention to it.
Be open to conversation. There’s a reason you didn’t get delivery. On some level, you want other people around. And I’m going to get hateful comments for this, but I don’t mind being hit on. It’s a compliment. And as long as they accept a gentle turn-down gracefully, it’s harmless. (And if they don’t accept it, a discreet word with the bartender or waiter usually ends the situation.)
Order something messy. Now is your chance to eat ramen, ribs or a porchetta sandwich—anything that would be awkward to navigate on a first date or business lunch.
Explore the wine list. Adam Morganstern, the editor of the Organic Wine Journal, points out that when you go out with someone, the tendency is to share a bottle that kind of goes with what you’re both having. But what really goes with steamed sea bass and braised oxtail? When you’re dining solo, you can ask for a suggestion (or suggestions, as many restaurants will do half glasses) that pairs perfectly with your food and your tastes.
Ann Abel has written about 66 countries on six continents and counting. Her work has appeared in Afar, Departures, Robb Report, National Geographic Traveler, and ForbesLife, and she writes a luxury travel column for Forbes.com.