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.
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.
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.
« Previous entryDread solo dining on the road? Site serves up safe company