Posted: May 16, 2013
Party of one: A five-step plan for going solo
The art of dining out alone, demystifiedLaura Cook Newman
When asked about fears, public speaking ranks pretty high.There’s another fear, similar in its vulnerability, but far more damaging in my industry. It not only affects a restaurant’s ability to make money, but also your personal enjoyment.
It’s the awkward fear of dining out alone.
“Solotrogophobia” is my best attempt at butchering Greek to neatly fit my own story-telling benefit. Don’t bother Googling it – just trust me on this. Yasou!
As an independent business traveler, I’ve had to summon up my courage to request “Table for one please?” To salt my wounds, the hostess would sit me at a deuce, and not have the good sense to clear the additional place setting. Then comes the dreaded follow up question from my server “Will anyone be joining you this evening?” I’d quietly reply “No (gulp) I’m by myself”.
In my mind, sitting alone screamed to the rest of the dining room: “That lady has no friends,” or worse, “Poor thing - chick’s being stood up.” How could I silently scream back “You’re right, I don’t have any friends in Lubbock, Texas, y’all!”
The cowardly business traveler has two options: fast food (on an expense account? Nope!) or room service. I know the thought of room service seems really highfalutin, but it’s usually a letdown – like a Nickelback album or the sequel to Weekend at Bernie’s. The tray of lukewarm food is incredibly average, the salad is smothered in the ubiquitous Ranch dressing, and how can you spontaneously order another glass of Merlot? You can’t.
Besides, when city-hopping, I like to get out of my beige hotel room and search for hidden culinary jewels. Using my digital treasure map (the TVFoodMaps app), I head out like a red plastic cup…SOLO. My days of being anxious about dining avec moi are happily over.
Here’s my five-step program for overcoming Solotrogophobia :
Star Treatment – Headed to a fine dining place? Make a rezzie. It’s a stealthy power play to the Maitre d’ who inevitably spreads word to the Chef. “Who is this woman? A food critic perhaps?” Voila! Commence with the star treatment.
Sit on a Stool – Those uber trendy restaurants du jour are always impossible to get into except when you are flying solo. Slip right under the radar by sitting at the bar. Restaurants are amazingly well-equipped to serve you a fabulous meal bar-side, sometimes even offering a secret handshake “bar guests only” menu.
Be Present – Enjoy your food. Smell it. Savor it. Remember it. Pick up on subtle nuances in the “vibe” that sets this meal apart from last week’s business trip. Otherwise, your travels blend together and you’re starring in your own version of Groundhog Day.
“Pardon me, could you please pass the Cholula” – Strike up a conversation with another bar mate. No, this doesn’t mean you’re flirting with the person next to you, unless that’s your intention, then bravo for you!
Decompress – You’ve had a long day. That TSA pat down was a little too aggressive and you lost your favorite red Swingline stapler. Now all you want to do is eat a tasty meal and mentally check out; you’re allowed. “We are not human doings, we are human beings.” So just be.
And now, what NOT to do:
This ain’t a library – Some food blogs will instruct you to bring reading material while dining alone – like some kind of intellectual security blanket. Chef Laura says “no” to all props; they are crutches for the timid. Plus, you look ridiculous.
Mr. Bluetooth – The occasional check-in on FB is allowed, or the quick “I miss you” text is acceptable. But no drawn out calls with your kidddos “Mommy wuvs you Schmoopie” or lengthy voicemails to your underlings “Um, Peter, um, yeah, did you get the memo about the new cover sheet for the TPS reports?”
The bartender is not your new BFF – Sure, they will chat you up accordingly, but they are not obligated to entertain you by juggling tiny plastic swords.
The only rule you really should adhere to is: confidence. You’re parting with your, or your company’s, hard-earned money. You’re a valued customer – there’s no need to apologize for being a “single” (incidentally, that’s what restaurants call solo diners, regardless of their relationship status). Instead of saying “I’m by myself”, how about “I’m with myself”?
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde
Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net