I think I’ve dined alone in a “fine” restaurant only once in my life—and it did not begin well. It was a good 30 years ago while I was traveling solo in Brussels. As a foodie I was keen to “have what they’re having”: I figured my best food bet would be the place with the most patrons and chose thusly. I did feel a bit awkward asking for a table for one; it was about 9:00 p.m. and there were no other solo diners in sight.
I was waiting in the vestibule when the maître d’ swooped in and commandeered the small table being used to prettify the entrance area. He removed the flower vase and runner, hoisted the table over his head, and instructed me to follow him. We made our way across the room to a spot he decided would accommodate me just fine. He laid a tablecloth and pulled back my chair. Can I tell you: I felt as though everyone in the restaurant had their eyes trained on me, and I was mortified. I did dine, though I have no recollection of much else!
According to OpenTable, reservations on its site for parties of one, i.e., solo diners, have grown nationally by 62 percent over the past two years. Apparently those who comprise the fastest-growing table party size have shed their inhibitions because the desire for unique culinary experiences is great. In New York Aureole draws the most solo diners.
For people who need a little coaxing to take the solo fine-dining plunge, Kimberly Kohatsu of the Menuism Restaurant Blog advises to strategically pick the restaurant and hour; talk to the staff as a warm-up for an overture to the person next to you; bring a crutch (e.g., cell phone, book) but don’t use it to avoid telegraphing “do not approach”; and keep doing it and it will get easier.
On the other hand, some folks may just enjoy dining alone. In a new, entertaining video series with Anna Kendrick, Gloria Steinem teaches the art of dining alone and notes the significance of women dining alone in public restaurants (“it’s a civil right”). This week in her blog, Restaurant-ing Through History, Jan Whitaker takes us back to the 19th century for a peek at how the dining-alone experience has been different for men and women. (I just love the photos Jan manages to dig up to accompany her weekly posts.)
Finally, I really like Lauren Martin’s take on dining alone in a Wellness column on elitedaily.com. She concludes that many who do are stronger, bolder, and happier.