It’s 7 p.m. and you just plopped down on the bed in your hotel room after a long day of meetings.
You’re starving, but now you have a decision to make. You can order room service. You can fish that crushed protein bar out of your carry-on and go mostly hungry. Or…. You can go downstairs to the hotel white-tablecloth restaurant and have a lovely meal alone. Cue horror music.
I’m over-dramatizing, but many business travelers wish they felt more comfortable about eating by themselves in restaurants. You want to escape from the boredom of your hotel room, enjoy better food than room service and maybe even strike up a conversation with another road warrior. But it’s awkward. (My theory: This is a hold-over from social dynamics in the high school cafeteria.)
Eating alone is something I’ve only recently gotten more relaxed about, but I now that I’ve had a taste, I want more. So I looked into some tips and tactics.
Perhaps the most important advice is to consider location, location, location. Choose your restaurant carefully, and then choose your table carefully. The discomfort in dining solo comes primarily from not knowing where to rest your eyes when there’s no one across the table from you. (That is, if you make the conscious decision not to spend the evening with your head in your smartphone or tablet.)
The hands-down easiest solution is to eat at a counter or bar, where you face no one. Most hotel bars serve food, and many restaurants have counter seating, often looking into an open kitchen. Or if you like sushi, you can hang out comfortably at the counter and—if you want—converse a little as the chef slices fish.
For communal tables, proceed with caution. On one hand, parties of one can easily slip in. On the other hand, you’re likely to be seated with small groups who may be engrossed in their own conversations. If you enter a restaurant with a communal table, scope it out first, before telling the host whether you’d like to be seated there.
Lingering is for couples, not singles. No matter how relaxed you get with dining alone, a prolonged meal will be painful. I’ve found it helps to order quickly and to be judicious in your choices: The 30-minute risotto is a great choice on a date, but not when you’re alone. Or go for a surgical strike: If you’re eating in your hotel restaurant, call down to pre-order your meal and it’ll be ready when you sit down.
Check that you’re sending the right signals. Do you want to chat it up or be left alone? If you are open to engaging, have some questions at the ready for the server or bartender. No need to be scintillating. Something simple like, “Is it always this crowded?” will get things rolling. Conversely, if you want some time to yourself, don’t make eye contact and answer any parlays by being to-the-point (but polite).
The decision to bring reading material when dining alone is a personal one, and a case could be made for either way. Personally, I like the challenge of dining naked. (Well, you know what I mean—without hiding behind a book or device–which can almost feel like you’re naked.) It gives me the chance to really focus on the food and the restaurant, and to perhaps have an interesting conversation. But the case can also be made for the luxury of a quiet evening, engrossed in a book or surfing the web.
Perhaps the safest option, is to have something along to read as a Plan B if you become uncomfortable. Reading material can come in handy, too, as a polite retreat from an unwanted conversation. “Excuse me, I have some reading I need to finish up this evening,” will douse cold water on any unwelcome new friend.
How do you feel about dining alone? Please share any tips in the comments.
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