That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight eating all alone
April 26th, 2012
06:00 PM ET
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Hi there. I'm Kat. You may know me from Daily Show writer Miles Kahn's popular screenshot above, or its subsequent appearance in countless blog posts such as Jim Romenesko's "Thank you, CNN!" or Videogum's "Tips for Solo Dining" or Jezebel's "We Just Really Want to Make Sure You’re Cool on the ‘Eating Alone’ Front." Oh, and now The Soup's "My Dinner With Entrée."

I'm sorry about ruining TV journalism for everyone while not looking anything like the world's most beautiful human, Beyonce, but I really do dig eating alone sometimes. On purpose, even. Not just because of my hideous deformities and "man face" (thank you, internet commenters!).

Not everyone enjoys solo dining, though, and that's such a shame to me. Plenty of people don't think twice about sitting alone in a restaurant, out of necessity or preference. Armed with a book, a phone, people watching or their own quiet thoughts, they're good to go.

For others, it's a source of intense embarrassment or anxiety, and that's what I went on CNN Newsroom to discuss in my weekly segment (previous installments of which addressed slavery in Ivory Coast cacao fields, antibiotics in beef and the impact of growing your own food). Earlier this week, my colleagues at CNN Travel had run a much-commented-upon piece about a site that pairs female business travelers with other women so they would not have to bear the discomfort of eating alone in a strange city. This story, frankly, depressed me - the politics and angst of the high school cafeteria writ large and a decade (or two or three) later.

The women interviewed admitted to skipping meals, hiding at dark tables in the back, or faking cell phone calls to avoid the scrutiny of other diners, who they felt perceived them as "sad, lonely spinster(s)" clearly out to ensnare unsuspecting gentlemen by sexily eating salad alone at the bar. The discomfort isn't gender-limited though; the Newsroom guest before me, a whip-smart, take no prisoners political analyst, flinched when I told him the topic. Though he travels the country extensively and alone for his job, he might brave a diner at lunchtime, but never a higher-end restaurant at night. The notion simply cowed him.

I'm lucky enough to have no qualms about walking into a restaurant anywhere on the shmanciness spectrum at any time of day and taking great pleasure in my meals. When I was 19 years old and trying to stitch myself back together after an excruciating breakup, a friend told me he thought that there was nothing in the world more intriguing than a woman eating on her own. Twenty years later, I still take that to heart . While I don't put a great deal of thought into how my fellow patrons are perceiving me, I do attribute other solo diners with a sense of self confidence, calm, and delight.

I have plenty of people I love in my life, but they may or may not share my food obsessions. That's okay; I don't need them to. My husband isn't keen on offal or intense spice, so I won't subject him to it. I could be working in a city where I don't know a soul. I may just wish to chill out with a nice Manhattan, a plate of oysters (that I don't have to share) and the comfort of my own company. I might just be hungry. I figured I could help empower someone who needed it.

My tips (in a less reductive form than one might guess from the screenshot):

Sit at the bar

This one is a slam dunk. You're not taking up a whole table and drawing a server's potential disdain with a lowered check total. A bartender can be a companion and ally if you'd like one, or a protective force if you're in need of such a thing. It's also a great way to chat with other patrons, or stare dreamily at the liquor collection, lost in your own thoughts.

Ask questions about the menu

Curious diners get great service. Per almost every front-of-house staffer I've known professionally or as a friend, they'll pay special attention to a person who seems genuinely curious about the food and drinks, and often bring them extra things to try. Bartenders and servers are humans, too - some of the best ones, even - and appreciate a friendly patron who actually values their opinion. If you do return to the place (and have tipped humanely), you'll be on the fast track to "regular" status.

Bring a book

As my friend Steven, a pro-level solo diner, says, a book is the universal symbol for "Please don't talk to me." If a woman is indeed concerned with being seen as a Dockers-chasing harlot, a book is a smashing defense (just no "Fifty Shades of Grey," please) - or an excellent distraction that can be easily be tucked aside if something entertaining arises. Or, if you are perhaps in search of a comely fellow Proust fan, that's a big ol' flag you can fly.

Use Twitter

This may not be for everyone, but as I wrote about a few months back after traveling for an uncle's funeral, if you're eating solo out of duty and not desire, there are worse things than having a social network in your pocket. While I'd sooner swallow a lobster pick than tweet at the table when there's company present or post pictures of my meal, if I'm alone, on occasion I'd like company. Because I write about food for a living, my online circles tend to be pretty dining-centric. I like to make the most of any meal opportunity I have while I'm in a new city, and chances are that one of my over 22,000 followers has a few recommendations that shouldn't be missed.

While it's not been exceptionally pleasant having my worth as a journalist, appearance or potential social appeal assessed by strangers and other media professionals on the internet, it's all part of the cycle, and it's helped at least one person.

A good friend and fellow journalist, Adam Robb, has recently become the caregiver of his very ill grandmother, and it's taken a toll. As he told me yesterday, he opened his Facebook to write me a note and vent a little bit. The first thing in his newsfeed was that screen grab. "I'm taking it as a sign from God I should take myself out to dinner tonight," he told me.

He went to Daniel Humm and Will Guidara's NoMad - one of the hottest new restaurants in New York City. He thoroughly enjoyed his meal. He ate alone.

Previously - How to eat alone at the bar, Grazing the bar and Dining solo on the road

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soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. caitycatherine

    For ONCE the introverts can (silently) smile and feel like we are the ones who have it together about how to deal with a social situation (eating solo). When I (a major introvert) saw this whole thing about eating alone in restaurants, for a split second I thought it was a joke. Then I realized that yeah, I probably am in the minority of people who love eating alone. I've been loving it since college when I would go alone during the slowest times in the cafeteria and get the table closest to the tv and watch reruns of "Friends".

    I think if people would just relax and stop worrying about everyone thinking about them sitting alone (because honestly, no one there knows you, so no one cares if you are alone...really and truly...), they would find out how great it is to sit there and eat and think. Think about the day, about the food you're eating, about the sounds around you. It's great. :-)

    August 12, 2013 at 2:09 am |
  2. Sam

    Frankly, I think this is a great article. It's not your typical foodie buzz word fest. It's honest and helpful. Sure, the insights in here may not apply to all, but what article does? I travel a lot and enjoy dining out alone. Like a solo drive through the countryside, it's a chance to really soak in the surroundings. I find the gender perceptions interesting, not something I have thought of frankly, but will be more aware of this when I travel with colleagues. What is troubling, is the idea that Kat's discussion about this somehow opens her up to personal attacks from the media. What, you gotta be a beauty queen to be good journalist or be listened to? That dim-witted thinking is probably why so many are ashamed to eat alone and savor the moment. Go Kat.

    May 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  3. Tim from Albany

    This site has the worst articles. I am a foodie, and I am turned off by a lot of these news articles. Tips on dining alone. How about having some self esteem. Sure it's more fun to dine with others.You can't hold your head up and smile. You have a good life you make a good living, this article is embarrassing. How about these other eatocracy winners, "Pairing wine with hot dogs. stupid, stupid, stupid. Hot dogs go with beer Bland American beer. Or this article " why do restaurants neglect beer." As far as I can see they dont' restaurants have been pairing food with beer for like over twenty years now. What year does Nathan Berrong think it is? 1982? The reason wine gets preference is because it's always been pared with fine dining.

    May 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Howdy Tim. I'm the managing editor here. You've clearly got some opinions about what you don't want to see. What *would* you like to read more of? I'm listening.

      May 2, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  4. Charlotte

    I am not a fan of eating in restaurants at ALL, would much rather crunch on some carrots while window shopping or dine at home while working on my computer. But that haing been said, often I have no choice when I'm on business travel. In those instances, it doesn't bother me to eat alone. But if there's a grocery store near my hotel I will never darken the door of a restaurant.

    May 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  5. Sue

    I just find it really sad that this is still an issue for people....especially for women. Dining solo is great and if you have buddies who are not that adventurous with food, this is the perfect opportunity to experiment. It's not like you're in a dark alley by yourself ladies....IT'S JUST FOOD. It's women like this who push us back into the Victorian Era.

    April 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  6. Diane

    I don't have a problem with it if I'm at an airport or hotel restuarant. Single dining is to be expected. I also don't have a problem with eating alone in a fast food place. But with regular restaurants, yes, I don't think I could do it. I think the biggest problem is wondering where to focus my eyes. A solution would be to bring a book, but it's still not for me.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  7. shutuphippie

    I've never had a problem with dining alone. I've done it so often at certain restaurants that when I tell the hostess, "Two, please?" she gawks and goes, "Really?" lol

    April 30, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • shutuphippie

      I do enjoy how, when I do have a date, the wait staff at those places dote over us excessively. I've had a few dates joke that I'm a celebrity in those places. Giving repeat business, being polite and sociable, and tipping decently (20-30%, on average) when you're by yourself can help out when you do take someone out to that place. It shows that you're normally a good guy and not just acting that way on the date.

      I still go to a spot where the wait staff will actually try to set me up with each other and other familiar patrons. lol

      April 30, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  8. koderken

    These are only good for easing you into the water. Basically, they are tactics for hiding your shame. Don't be ashamed, be proud to be who you are and where you are. Don't allow yourself to be relegated to the bar, unless there's a long wait for a table. Don't read or text, unless you would normally do so at home. Allow yourself to enjoy your meal fully, just like everyone else. You don't need to hide, there is no shame, and the house should treat you the same as everyone else. But they won't respect you until you respect yourself first. So, don't follow these tips, at least not for very long.

    April 30, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  9. scott

    I am in contact with people all day in my work. I enjoy it but I like some solitude at quitting time. Nothing better for me than taking the newspaper to a favorite restaurant and reading it over dinner.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  10. GenericMan

    I dine alone, love it, get great service, make love to my food. I don't feel rushed ever when I am alone. It is most relaxing.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  11. reikimaven

    I don't mind eating alone, but I do mind crappy service because I'm a woman dining alone. I don't know about other parts of the country, but in Kansas City, wait staff treat you like dirt. Surprise folks, I happen to be a very good tipper when it's warranted. Your loss.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Lorraine

      Amen. Me, too.

      April 30, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Solo

      The food service industry is lousy to begin with since they have terrible hiring standards. (Ex-cons are the usual for most lower kitchen prep jobs.) Don't expect much and don't say anything – that's the wishes of anyone who waits tables, it seems. Chain restaurants are the worst. The "manager" might have two years of community college to show for.

      April 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  12. Sonia

    I don't mind eating alone,but I have to say I do like when I have someone to talk to. I'm the kind of person who always feels like I have to have some kind of mental stimulation. So to sit there without a book or a person to talk to I think I'd rather just stay at home.

    April 28, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  13. mtlhd

    Amen. I never had a problem dining alone. I've never been treated poorly by waitstaff, nor have I been approached by sympathetic strangers, male or female, perhaps because I usually bring a book or magazine with me. The new website that pairs women up with other women for dining purposes may be a godsend for some, but I shudder at the thought of having to make conversation wtih a complete stranger. Now, going the movies is another thing altogether...alone, nope!

    April 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  14. Thinking things through

    I have no problem eating breakfast, brunch or lunch alone in any restaurant. I have no issues eating dinner in a place far from home (on a business or pleasure trip). I do find it hard to eat alone for dinner anywhere near a reasonable radius of my own home. I do like good food, prepared well, and that's an advantage, dining out, alone or with others.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  15. Ellen

    I was fine dining alone for a long time but lately I opt for takeout in the evening. Why? Some guy comes over and says I cant stand to see any one eating alone. Some waitress says Treating yourself, honey? Some host/ess says Don't tell me your're dining all by yourself And then wants to sit me in the broom closet. I am just tired of being patronized.

    April 27, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • KLM

      Oh, but the fun you could have!

      Guy: "I can't stand to see any one eating alone."
      You: "Have you tried turning your chair around?"

      Waitress: "Treating yourself, honey?"
      You: "Why, are you offering?"

      Host/Hostess: "Don't tell me you're dining all by yourself."
      You: "It's the only way I can guarantee an intelligent dinner conversation."

      April 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        I wish we had a "like" button for comments.

        April 27, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
      • Thinking things through

        Laughing, great comments!

        April 27, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
      • jnpa

        LOL –Love those comments!

        April 29, 2012 at 8:28 am |
      • emma

        Thank you for these: as a sinlge female traveller, I also dine alone and like it if I am left alone and treated decently. WHen I'm not, I will remember these lines.

        April 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
      • Solo

        I just love it when waitresses call me "honey" and think it's fine. Is this because I'm dining alone or is this just stupidity on their part? I really don't need someone to talk to me as if I don't have the mental capacity to enjoy a meal by myself. I guess I just smile and realize that they are making $2.50 an hour plus tips.

        April 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  16. Su

    I really don't understand what the big deal is about dining alone. If I really want to go out for a meal, or go to a museum or to a movie, and can't find anyone to go with, I just go! I've been this way all my life and it doesn't phase me. Decades ago -I'm talking about the turn of the last century, around the 1900s and beyond-it wasn't "suitable" for a single woman to dine alone or even go out alone without a man accompanying her. But this is 2012, folks, and you're going to miss out on alot if you sit at home because you have no one to go out with once in a while.........

    April 27, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  17. jjdecor

    I prefer dining alone better than listening to a companion ramble on and on, I enjoy my meals best in silence.

    April 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  18. leelaurino

    No longer do you have to go through the pain of eating alone.
    a wonderful woman just created a web site to fix that problem:!
    take a look. CNN and NBC just did stories on it.

    April 27, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Juuuuuuust noting for the record that this is also CNN right'chere and that's exactly the site I was talking about in the piece. Eating alone can in fact be delightful - no need for a companion at all.

      April 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • truefax

      dude you got pwnd

      April 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
      • saxophone31

        It's more likely they were just trolling... and getting a response was their victory...

        April 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  19. greenbird

    one of the best meals I've ever had was a solo lunch at Jean-Georges, NYC. Summer of 2009, I was 22, sat almost dead center in the middle of the restaurant...but I was in Heaven :)

    April 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  20. Don

    I couldn't help but notice that Beyonce was named the worlds most beautiful woman. Does the rest of the world know about this? Did someone lose their eye sight? I know without question, that Penelope Cruz is the worlds most beautiful woman.

    April 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • amandapalmer

      Actually IMO penelope cruz looks like a tranny most of the time. Everyone's idea of beauty is different. I do find it funny that the magazine named Beyonce the most beautiful, and then photoshopped the hell out of her and digitally lightened her skin. Oh well.

      April 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
      • emma

        She also dyes her hair blonde: sorry but if you cannot deal with your own identity and ethnicity I think you forfeit being beautiful. She just looks like a cheap wanna-be.

        April 29, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  21. Meghan

    I eat alone every Friday night – my one splurge in an otherwise thrifty eat at home / brown bag dining style. Once I'm past the hostess questioning "just one???", there is nothing bad about dining out alone. I bring my pocket-sized Sudoku book, people watch, and enjoy my food.

    My experience, the judgemental comments reflect more about the person saying them & their fears / hang-ups than they ever do about the person being judged.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Solo

      I dine alone often, mostly while on business travel. As a solo female diner, I am treated terribly by waitstaff that does not perceive my business being "worth it" to give good service. They all want the large parties and expect big tips for average level service no matter what. It's the industry, not me.

      April 27, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  22. Shelley

    Geez, Kat, I cannot believe that you got slammed so personally over a subject that is such a non-issue. I can understand that people may feel uncomfortable eating alone, but really, the rest of us (and I'm a happy solo diner) are not spending any time thinking about them and why they're dining alone. Get over yourselves, folks, and enjoy your meal!

    April 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  23. erica1112

    When traveling alone, I look forward to a good meal by myself. Its typically the highlight of me trip. I find a restaurant, grab a good book, and head out the door. Its so much fun to people watch, eaves drop, or just relax with a nice glass of wine. I've never had bad service or have been rushed through a meal at a better establishment. Its a great way to end a busy day.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  24. Brett

    This is just ridiculous.........eating alone? Pitiful

    April 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  25. CCM

    The only thing I find weird about eating alone in when another single diner, man or woman, sits in the adjoining booth and they face you. Then it seems both people are killing themselves to not have the other person think he or she is being stared at. There's the initial no-big-whoop smile but inevitably you end up with those awkwards moments of just a touch too much eye contact.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  26. intelliwoman

    The reason you get better faster service is because they want to get rid of you quicker so they can turn the table around for a twosome or more with a bigger check/tip, and because many restaurants simply don't like single diners.

    April 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ann

      A single diner at a table for two is no more of a loss of revenue than three people eating at a 4-top. It's still just one empty seat at the table.

      April 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Solo

      Exactly. I've seen restaurants close because they cannot provide decent service. I smile and move on with a bit of a quicker step of satisfaction. My dollars do count. As a solo diner, I do matter. It's that most of the kitchen staff are ex-cons and the waitstaff are chain-smoking kids with lousy credit who know nothing of manners.

      April 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
      • Scott

        After reading a couple of your comments, it is clear your "issues" with restaurants and waitstaff run far deeper than discrimination from dining as a party of one. The negativity here reverberates off the computer screen. It's not hard to believe that the waitstaff would pick up on it as well.

        April 28, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
        • Kelly

          Bravo, Scott. I was thinking the same thing.

          April 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  27. Dandemain

    Some restaurants treat single diners like lepers. No, I don't want to sit at the bar, don't make me. I want a table. Don't put me in between two families or worse, two big groups of people. I was at a restaurant in San Antonio where they said they really didn't want to seat a single diner. Too bad, I was scoping out restaurants to bring a group of 30 to the next month. Failure on their part.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  28. amandapalmer

    I'm surprised this subject was deemed worthy enough for yet another article. If you don't like eating alone, then either gain some self confidence and do it, or stay at home and order in. It really shouldn't be so complicated. By the time you reach adulthood, you should be strong enough to be able to brush off what complete strangers may or may not be thinking about you. Grow up. As for the idiot who chose to skip meals completely instead of eating alone, I personally prefer eating alone to starving alone, but that's just me.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  29. mary shannon

    I'm ok with eating out alone, mostly on vacations. I usually bring a book or Kindle and am all set. I won't choose to sit alone at the bar, though.

    April 27, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • bob

      Going on vacation alone–now that is a little embarrasing. Eating alone, not so much.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:26 am |
      • Philip

        Intimidated much Bob?
        I actually see it from the complete opposite perspective, that vacationing alone is an adventure. To do so takes courage and the willingness to try something new and break off from the herd.

        Let me guess, you are the type who cannot think of leaving your little support network. Now there's the real embarrasment.

        April 27, 2012 at 11:29 am |
        • bob

          Nah–just fun to experience new things with someone else. Loner.

          April 27, 2012 at 11:31 am |
        • Smartest man in the room@bob

          He travels the fastest who travels alone.
          Rudyard Kipling

          April 27, 2012 at 11:58 am |
      • FiveLiters

        I've done both,and they each have their merits. It's cool to vacation with friends,cause when you do dine out,you can share different things at the same time,have a person or people to snap pics,go to an exhibit and get differing views,etc. On the other hand,I've done small vacations here and there,and I like that I can visit friends in those states while there,but I'm not on a timetable or schedule,or have to take into account others needs/sleep habits/sharing a rental car/etc. Why limit yourself to one or the other?

        April 27, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
      • mary shannon

        So if people are single or their significant other can't oR won't travel they should just stay home? Nope.

        April 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
        • Ann

          Of course not. I've travelled alone, both for business and pleasure, and both before and after I was with my husband. Sometimes our interests and schedules just don't work out for us to go together. Hey, absence makes the heart grow fonder! When I was single, I'd either go alone or, a couple of times, went with a group, like the Sierra Club.

          As for restaurants, sometimes I'll bring a book, but usually not. I take my time, enjoy the ambience – but it's a restaurant, not a library. I'm not trying to hog a table, especially if things are busy. I've never been treated rudely by servers for being alone – probably because I don't come in looking like I'm apologizing for it.

          April 27, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  30. A

    I'm not a huge fan of eating out and prefer a home-cooked meal. For me, the whole point of going out for a meal is to interact with my friends and family in a different environment. I eat out alone if I have to on travel, but not having my friends with takes the enjoyment out of it because I'm not there to enjoy the restaurant's food, I'm there for the company.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • JeramieH

      I eat out because I'm paying for a convenience service. Somebody else to cook, somebody else to clean.

      April 27, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  31. Ann

    I can't understand why a woman eating alone would assume others think she's some pitiable "spinster." My assumption would be that she's travelling on business. That's when I generally eat out alone, and I've never felt uncomfortable about it. Can we please get into the new century?

    April 27, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  32. Noel Hollis

    Being a single female, with all of my friends paired off and married, this is a fairly common occurance for me, and it's spectacular. I don't have to fight over the check, I don't have to worry if I look insane eating my sushi, and I have a good book ready for if I'm bored.
    I also usually get better and faster service if I'm alone.

    April 27, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  33. VladT

    Though it may not be the ultimate culinary mecha, I like bringing a sunday paper to a breakfast buffet, and just taking my time. The staff is used to me, as I probably frequent that buffett twice or more a month. Buffets I have no problem with, other restaurants, I will admit, I feel self conscious

    April 27, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  34. ChloeM.M.

    I really enjoy eating out alone, even at a fancy restaurant during the busiest hours. I work nearly 15 hrs/day and am on call all the time. Being alone, just sitting in blessed silence without work bothering me? Like heaven. I leave fantastic tips, about 30%, and the wait staff has no problems with me. A great way to unwind. The chef usually comes out to talk to me ... just a great experience usually.

    April 27, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  35. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    No one bothers you when you eat of the dumpster. You're normally by yourself within several hundred feet anyway. Uh, so I hear.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • RichardHead

      You gotz a Trader Joe's in Wisconsin?

      April 26, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  36. RichardHead

    Kat, I feel your pain as I too am away from home for extended periods of time. My Book consists of lines,mileage and rest areas, it's called a Log Book. Sometimes my pen is fast...sometimes slow,depends on what State I'm in. The good thing is I have my Pal or BFF with me at all times,WD. She looks good with a linen napkin wrapped around her neck,sitting upright and waiting on the appetizers. There is only 1 State I run through that allows this to happen,and for that I tip extra. It doesn't matter if I'm stuck in the corner or near the kitchen door,as long as the food is REAL and topnotch..

    April 26, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
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