A Solo Diner's Guide To Eating Out
6.7 min read
For some, booking a table for one may seem like social suicide but if you travel alone a lot for work, you sometimes don’t have a choice but to dine on your own.
During a market research trip to the Big Apple in the early 2000s, I dined alone at all these amazing restaurants, had a notebook, took notes, drank the best wine and ate the most amazing food. It was incredible to observe with no distractions how restaurateurs and staff in the US run their establishments.
I’ve been eating on my own at all kinds of restaurants around the world for years now and have had some of the best experiences of my life but there’s one that stuck with me forever… the table for one at 2pm I got at David Bouley’s Bouley Bakery in New York.
The 20-odd seater was full, quaint, welcoming and buzzed with energy and confidence. Waiters were polite and attentive to me from the minute I walked in to the minute I left the restaurant (at 6:30pm by the way! Probably a record for a single diner).
It was the most complete restaurant experience I’d ever had. The food was the best I’d ever had but it wasn’t just about that. The whole time I never felt awkward, never felt out of place or like an inconvenience, which unfortunately I think happens to a lot of single diners. By the end I’d spoken to every waiter, met the chefs, it felt like I was at home.
I think eating by yourself is a lost art form. It’s sad that many would rather order room service from their hotel room than explore the city and try all the amazing local food on offer.
I don’t deny dining alone can be uncomfortable but there’s really nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it’s a really rewarding experience and I hope this blog converts you to try it if you’ve never ventured out solo before.
With more people travelling on their own, restaurants have become a lot more accommodating of single diners. You can order wines by the glass, entrée sized mains and take a seat at the bar counter, which is where I always sit if I’m dining alone.
I recommend doing your restaurant research before heading out. Always go for restaurants with counter seating and book in advance, it makes walking into the restaurant and saying, “reservation for Luke” much less daunting than asking the waiter for “a table for one.”
Being in a hotel at glass brasserie, we get a lot of single diners who sit at the glass wine bar. We serve small tapas dishes and there’s a two-page selection of wines by the glass.
While at Luke’s Kitchen, we have the main bar and window bar overlooking Danks Street. If you’re looking for a good place to start dining solo in Sydney, I can assure you our team will look after you.
First time dining on your own probably isn’t the best time to start learning how to use chopsticks but if you know how to, then great because Japanese restaurants are a safe bet if you’re eating for one.
In Sydney, I love sitting at the sushi counter at Chase Kojima’s Sokyo at The Star or Saké Restaurant & Bar in Double Bay.
When I’m in Los Angeles, I religiously go to Cecconis in West Hollywood, sit at their trendy bar and indulge in their famous squash blossom, black truffle, goat cheese pizza.
During my last trip to LA, I hit up Rosaliné, a fantastic little Ceviche Bar and Wally’s Wine Bar in Santa Monica, perfect for a late-night feed.
In New York, try Balthazar or perch yourself at the bar at Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern and order a dry martini.
If you’re flying solo at the bar, you won’t really ever be alone because you get to interact with the barmen and waitstaff a lot more than you would if you were dining as a couple or in a group.
Most good restaurants do well at looking after single diners, in my experience anyway. Smart waitstaff will realise that a solo diner today is a group tomorrow and will usually go above and beyond to make them feel comfortable and welcome.
Staff are also more likely to offer a single diner different wines and special dishes to try. And if you’re lucky, maybe even give you something on the house.
The thing I also like about dining alone is that you don’t have anyone nagging you saying, “I don’t want to try that…” You get to try a few different things of whatever you want and better yet, don’t have to share any of it! All of which adds to the extra special experience of dining alone.
Sure, I sometimes worry about people looking at me dining by myself but after a few sips of wine, this feeling usually washes away. Most restaurants have free wi-fi so I might take work and some distraction devices with me like my iPad and iPhone.
If you prefer, take a Kindle or a notebook with you. You might feel fine without them or better yet meet another single diner that you strike up some interesting conversation with.