Table for One: “Critical” Advice for Dining Out Alone

By Gretchen Kelly

pic1As a travel journalist and food and wine writer, I often find myself dining out alone – one of the biggest challenges for many single women travelers. Women travelers still expect to get the table by the restroom, less than stellar service and “isn’t she pitiful eating alone” looks from other diners.

The situation was worse in the 1940’s when the classic food writer, M.F.K. Fisher was dining alone in France and around the world.

One of her lovers, berating her half in jest and half in earnest said on parting, “Go on eating. Go on sitting there with your food and your wine. I saw you first that way, alone, so God-damned sure of yourself. Do this last thing and stay as you are, here at the table with the wine in your hand.”

M.F.K. Fisher did just that and became one of the world’s greatest writers on food. You don’t have to be a writer to feel comfortable dining by yourself, but it does help to adopt some of the food writer’s tools when setting out on a solo culinary adventure.

Here are some tips from our trade:

Always call and make a reservation, even if it’s not a five-star restaurant. This means you mean business. State clearly, table for one and ask for a seating with a view of the room. Be prepared to book for a second seating (later in the evening) if that’s available.

Don’t bring a book with you. That means, “I am uncomfortable dining alone.” Instead, bring a small reporter’s notebook. That means, “I may be writing about this restaurant for a newspaper or a magazine. I may be a food critic.” Take your own tasting notes. It will get you better service and maybe even a drink on the house.

Ask for a chef’s tasting menu even if you don’t see it listed. This means, “I am a dedicated foodie and care about how the chef presents his or her work and what s/he wants to feature.” Chefs tasting menus often come with the chef, meaning someone who orders it gets a short visit from the chef to explain the ideas behind the food.

Ask for tastings of wine you’re interested in. It’s not hard for the staff or sommelier to pour you a small tasting of a few wines on the menu. If you are going to have more than one glass, consider ordering a carafe or a half bottle. Treat yourself like company. And if you don’t like the wine (for any reason) send it back. A wine doesn’t have to be corked (rare) for you to turn it down. Unless it’s a very expensive vintage, most restaurants are happy to absorb a glass or two of wine in exchange for a happy customer.

Don’t talk on your cell. Enjoy your own company without telegraphing to the world that you need to be entertained by someone else. Do some people watching. Really look at what you’re eating. Dining out is a total sensory experience. This means use your all your senses, not just your tastebuds.

Do not be a slave to the menu. If you want three appetizers, order three appetizers. If you don’t see something that you like, ask if it can be made for you.

Dress up. Put on your nicest cocktail dress and your best blush—”Orgasm” from Nars is my favorite. You’ll glow with pleasure and anticipation and everyone will say (like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally), “I’ll have what she’s having!”

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