Table for One: 6 Tips for the Solo Diner

Going on a solo date is probably one of the most daunting experiences for a lot of people, and a huge percentage would hurl at the idea of going out anywhere alone. More so than the feelings of ‘loneliness’ that are perceived to be synonymous with solo dates, it’s most probably the self-consciousness of dining somewhere in a public space, alone, that discourages many of us from doing so.

On my birthday this year, I took myself out for lunch to a really fancy Cucina, the type that only serves gourmet sandwiches and salads you can barely pronounce without stuttering. It’s a spot that had caught my eye one day when I was downtown, and I knew instantly that none of my meat-loving friends would ever entertain the idea of paying $40 for a ham and cheese sandwich (not even on my birthday). So I decided to go solo.

There were just two other tables occupied at the restaurant, each of them by four to six women. I sat down and ordered a cocktail while I tried to decide what I was going to eat (read: while I formed a million questions in my head about the menu to ask the waitress, before I decided what to eat lol). I found myself looking around the room a few times to see if anyone was watching me, or noticing that I was sitting alone. I was even hyper observant of the waitress, checking for any expressions of pity for my lone dining. But everyone was minding their own business and going about their day. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

When I’d been firmly convinced that no one was concerned with whatever it was that I was doing, I was finally able to relax into my meal and enjoy my own company. This wasn’t my first solo date, and it sure won’t be my last, but I feel like that routine procedure of getting in touch with my surroundings is always necessary for me to get comfortable at the beginning. Before I offer up some other tips on being comfortable dining alone, I want to emphasize the importance of taking yourself out. I was in high school when a Life Skills teacher of ours told us that, “We should all be dating. We should all be dating ourselves”. This phrase really stuck with me.

Ironically, several of us will find it an easier process to date someone else, to go out of our way to make them happy and fulfill their needs, than it would be to firstly even identify and enunciate what it is that makes ourselves happy. And yet, for you to really reach the point of self awareness and the emotional maturity required to commit to a healthy relationship, knowing how to identify your needs and how to clearly articulate them to your partner is paramount. Anything aside from that is a disappointing game of guessing. Solo dates really hit the mark for me because they set the standard for how I want to be treated by another human being. The bottom line is, I cannot expect from someone else what I’m not willing to give to myself.

I’m a big foodie, and I love receiving flowers. So I often reward myself with these items whenever I feel deserving. When my boyfriend has left my vase empty for a couple of weeks, rather than continue to whine about how much I want more flowers, I will simply buy some for myself and keep it moving.

That’s the thing about dating yourself; you stop waiting for someone else to fulfill your desires or to make you happy and you just do it yourself. A pro of this is that it relieves some of the pressure from your relationships, because there’s nothing worse than feeling like there are huge expectations for you to make someone else happy, and if you slip up once, their world will come crashing down. Child, you aren’t Jesus. So without further ado, here’s a couple of tips for getting you started with your solo dates!

1) Get comfortable with your surroundings. I mentioned this earlier and I’ll bring it up again because, well, we’re all human. A big part of you being comfortable is to dress confidently. When you are certain that you look good, you are sure to feel good. You won’t constantly wonder if people are looking at you because of your ill-fitted jeans or the slowly growing bulge in your stomach through your blouse.

Instead, wear something that looks and feels good, look around self-assuredly, gaze back at whomever stares at you, move your menu or seat around; just do whatever it is that you need to do to settle in properly in the first few minutes of your arrival. Once this is out of the way, your date will go a little more smoothly and you’ll resist the urge to keep looking up to see who’s watching you, and you won’t awkwardly invite more attention than necessary. And trust me, nobody’s even interested in you being alone in the restaurant. People are actually very self-absorbed and will forget you even exist within a couple of minutes of them noticing you.

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2) Start with breakfast or lunch. If you’re a beginner, the last thing you want to do is go to dinner alone for the first time. Dinner tends to be a little more intimate, takes up more time, and will most likely leave you feeling lonelier than ever before (with 1000 times the temptation to call up anyone, even your ex, to join you, yikes).

Save yourself the trouble by going to breakfast or lunch, at least at first. Better yet, try to time your date for non-peak hours when you know the restaurant/cafe won’t be too busy, i.e a few hours before lunch time, to avoid meeting with an overwhelming crowd of hungry people. The less people there are in the restaurant, the less anxious and self-conscious you are likely to feel.

3) Bring some entertainment with you. This is important. Your phone simply can’t be your main distraction. This is a date, and it would be just as disrespectful to show up to a date with someone else and continuously check your phone as it would be if you did it alone. You’re getting to know and spend time with yourself, and checking Instagram for all your friend’s updates isn’t going to help the process.

I like to download some blog posts or articles I’m interested in onto my iPad before I go out so that I have something to read while I wait for my meal. That, or I bring a novel. Before you know it, you’re so engaged in whatever you’re reading that you forget you are solo! You can also bring writing material with you, and write down some goals you’d like to achieve for the week or for the rest of the year. This is a good time to plan and create.

4) Get to know your server. If you’re someone who thrives in dialogues with others, this is a way to make sure your date doesn’t feel super lonely or lacking. Don’t be shy to strike up a conversation with your waiter while they refill your glass or bring over your food. They’re usually really nice and want to pass the time by talking to different guests, or they just want a really good tip.

Either way, you might as well try to find out a little bit about them while you’re at it. It turned out my server had contemplated transferring to my university a year ago, and we bonded by talking about our different varsity experiences and what we wish they could have been like. Friendly waiters definitely make solo dates more worthwhile.

5) Have a glass of something smooth. (Un)popular opinion, but alcohol does help a ton in situations like these. If you’re still a little anxious about dining alone, having a beer/cocktail/glass of wine can help to ease off some of those nerves. I love a good red sangria (they come with lots of yummy fruit) so this is my go to, particularly because it gets me in a great mood. So long as you’re not downing 6 tequila shots just to calm those nerves, I think you’re safe having a little alcoholic beverage to make your date more enjoyable ;).

6) Take in the moment. When your food comes, make sure to savour it. How often do we get to eat without either being in a hurry, chatting to someone between mouthfuls, being distracted by something on TV/ our cellphones, or all three at the same time? Not frequently enough. Try to really enjoy your meal and maybe even the background music wherever you are. Hopefully, whatever you choose to eat releases endorphins into your brain and you’ll want to do this whole experience over again.

I hope these tips help you to feel a little more confident on your journey through self love and solo dates. Please do let me know in the comments how it goes if you try it for the first time! And for my serial solo-daters, comment below any more tips you have or anything about your general experiences dining alone. I’d love to hear from you all 🙂

XO

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