Valentine's Day is tomorrow, and with it comes the crush of lovey-dovey #couplegoals news stories, Instagram posts, and general smarminess.
Yes I, someone in a long-term committed relationship, am not a huge fan of Valentine's Day. It's like the New Year's Eve of love, all hype with a high possibility for failure. Why spend one day out of the year trying to show your partner you love them? Valentine's Day should be a lifestyle, not a holiday. But I digress...
The real point of this post is this - I LOVE dining alone. I can go where I want, eat what I want, talk or not talk, and generally just bask in "me-ness". It's something I try to do regularly, and it really brings me joy.
I wondered if others felt that way so I commissioned a field poll from a highly respected polling firm to test my theories (aka I put a poll on my Facebook page.) Out of 26 votes, 62% responded "Love it!" to the idea of dining alone, while 38% said "Hate it!" Feelings were strong on either side of the coin.
Stacey Sprenz said "It's something I don't get the opportunity to do it often, but I enjoy that time. I tend to linger over and savor the meal more." Another friend, Gabby Kaasa, chimed in, "I'm an introvert and I adore good food, so dining alone is wonderful for me. Plus, I'm a stay at home mom who homeschools and whose partner works from home, so we all need some "me time" apart from each other now and then."
My friend Sterling Stokes, Jr. fell amongst the "Hate it!" camp, although with a cavet. "Hate is such a strong word but I'd prefer to have company if I can," he wrote.
I decided that I needed some professional guidance as well, so I turned to Brad Weddington, long time restaurant industry veteran and managing partner at NanaSteak here in Durham, NC. Brad's advice?
"I like to belly up to the bar when I'm dining solo. And my advice to people that like to dine solo is find a bar that makes you feel welcome. At a good bar, you're never alone."
Armed with unassailable poll results and an expert opinion, I set out to craft a simple, concise guide to eating out on your own. In the end I whittled it down to three key points, which have become what I call The Art of Dining Alone.
- Determine what you want your experience to be. Do you want some quiet time all to yourself? Do you want to meet new people? Do you want to try a new place or cuisine, or revisit something familiar? This is the key question to ask yourself before you head out the door, and it will determine how to respond to Point Number Two.
- Choose your venue, time, and seat location, accordingly. Like Brad said, you're never alone at a good bar. However, if you're looking to enjoy a sandwich and a good book, sitting at the bar might not be the best spot. Those corner tables for two that are right by the kitchen may seem like the worst seats in the house, but they can be gold for solo diners wishing to not be disturbed. Lunch time also can offer a little more privacy, as most other diners are on a time constraint and waitstaff usually know not to prolong the chitchat. Conversely if you're up for a little friendly banter and people watching, a perch at the bar during dinner can be your best friend. If you dine on the earlier side (or later, closer to, but not right up against, closing) chances are the bartender and wait staff will have more of a chance to chat. (Bonus - I've often ended up with "misfires", drinks a bartender mistakenly made or food a server mistakenly rung in, just because I spent a few minutes chatting with the bartender when I sat down.) Brad has this advice for anyone looking to occupy a barstool, "A good way to start is to take the time to ask your bartender his or her name. And then introduce yourself. Often people ask for their server or bartenders names, but fail to introduce themselves. After all, it's all about building relationships and relationships go both ways."
- Give zero fucks. I know its easier said than done, but the best way to avoid that awkward feeling of being a solo diner in a room full of couples is to just not care. You don't know them, they don't know you, you'll probably never see them again in your life (this is also where Point Two comes back into play - don't pick a table right smack dab in the middle of the dining room if you might feel uncomfortable.) Embrace the solitude. Crack open that book of yours, play your Candy Crush, order two entrees for yourself if you're hungry, and enjoy the fact that you are on your own time playing by your own rules.
So, if you find yourself dateless on Valentine's Day, or any other day really, or you're partnered with kids or retired living in Pensacola with your wife but you're just feeling like a treat yo'self day, go out. Go eat. Get a glass of wine. Chat with the bartender or your server if you feel like it. Do a crossword puzzle if you don't.
And do it all by yourself, because there is joy in being your own company. To riff off RuPaul, "If you can't dine with yourself, how the hell you gonna dine with someone else?"