The Go Solo Project: How to Eat Out by Yourself Like a Boss

December 5, 2013

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The strangest thing happened to me this weekend.

Okay, so a few strange things happened to me.

First, I ended up on something called the Holly Jolly Trolley. (This is not the strange part of the story. This is the awesome part. Because HOLLY JOLLY TROLLEY, YOU GUYS! THAT EXISTS!)

Inside the Holly Jolly Trolley.

The Holly Jolly Trolley.

While I was sitting in the trolley watching the Christmas lights in downtown Kalamazoo go by, I got to listen to some teenaged guy hit on a blonde girl in front of me. He was telling her that he wanted to be a “doctor-scientist” when he grows up. Which, apparently, is a doctor who travels around the world, researching minerals “and stuff” and curing diseases like “cancer and herpes and genital warts.”

I was pretty certain this was the first time anyone had ever uttered the words “herpes and genital warts” on the Holly Jolly Trolley. And it was magical.

The second weird thing that happened to me this weekend was I met Matisyahu. Yes, that Matisyahu.

Okay, so we didn’t actually meet-meet. But I did go to a Menorah lighting in the park. And he happened to be there because he had a concert later that night in Kalamazoo. And I swear we exchanged meaningful glances. Like he KNEW I used to have the biggest crush on him.

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Matisyahu is over there hiding behind the Menorah shooting me meaningful glances. Can’t you see?

But definitely the strangest thing that happened was when I went out to dinner by myself on Saturday night, and I didn’t feel the teensiest bit awkward or uncomfortable.

Not that I don’t go out to dinner by myself all the time. I mean, a girl’s got to eat. And this girl likes to eat a lot. And often.

But usually when I go out to dinner on my own I stick to places like cafes or divey diners or some place I know I won’t feel awkward sitting by myself. Usually because there’s a whole bunch of other people sitting there by themselves. And we’re all like one big family. Except none of us know each other. Which makes things a little bit awkward, but not really that awkard.

My usual go-to dine alone venue. Notice the classy vinyl booths.

My usual dine alone venue. Notice the classy vinyl booths.

But this place I went to on Saturday was not my typical café or divey diner.

This place was fancy.

Not exactly five-course-meal fancy.

But they did serve drinks with cucumbers in them. That’s how you know things are classy — when your beverage starts to resemble a salad.

Faaaahhhhncy.

Faaaahhhhncy.

This restaurant was totally the kind of place that you would go to on a date. Not that I know a lot about going on dates seeing as I haven’t been on one of those in umm, well, lemmethink, okay, nevermind.

The lights were low and the music was romantic and I was surrounded by a whole bunch of people who appeared to be on dates. And all of these things would usually make me feel really uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel weird at all.

So, yes, the weirdest thing that happened to me this weekend was when I didn’t feel weird.

Welcome to my world.

And since I’m obviously now a total expert at eating out by myself and not feeling weird, I’ve decided to share some of my tips, so you too can eat by yourself at a restaurant, drinking classy salad-drinks and feeling totally not-weird.

You’re welcome.

How to Eat Out by Yourself Like a Boss

Start big and scary.
Remember when I decided to kick off the Go Solo Project by going to a male strip show by myself and you all thought I was crazy and many of you sent me concerned emails beginning with the words, “Umm, ARE YOU CRAZY?” And then ending with the words, “Also, you need friends.”
 
Remember this? Who could forget?

Remember this? Who could forget?

Whelp, who’s crazy now?

(Okay, I realize the answer to that question is still probably me, but I do have a point. Somewhere. I think.)

The thing is when you start out a big scary project by doing the biggest, scariest thing you can possibly imagine first, it makes all the other big scary things you do next not seem so big and scary.

Right?

I mean, fancy-pants dinner by myself? And I don’t have to worry about a sweaty, male, Australian stripper gyrating in my face? No problem!

Arrive uncomfortable
It helped that when I showed up to the restaurant I’d just spent two hours standing outside in the cold at a tree-lighting ceremony in a downtown park, trying to not be run over by small children and failing miserably at that.
 
My predinner activity. Sparkly but COLD.

My predinner activity. Sparkly but COLD and filled with children who wanted me to DIE.

I was cold. I was cranky. I was hungry. My feet hurt. And I needed to pee.

You can’t really get much more uncomfortable than that.

So sitting by myself didn’t make me feel any more uncomfortable than I already was. In fact, I was just happy to be sitting. And eating. And close to a restroom. And not being run over by children.

Have a story
One fun thing I like to do when I’m out by myself is to come up with a story for why I’m out by myself. You know, in case someone asks. Not that anyone asks, but still.

For example, maybe I’m a high-powered business executive in town on some kind of high-powered business trip, and I’m tired of sitting in my really expensive hotel room eating really expensive room service, so I just decided to hit the town and hang out with the riff-raff.

Or maybe I’m a Russian spy sent to Michigan to study the ways of the mysterious Michigander.

Or maybe I used to go to this restaurant all the time with my boyfriend, Billy. That was before he died in a freak roller coaster accident. As he died, he grabbed my hand and whispered, “I love you. Also, you should go back to that restaurant we liked. The one with the good pizza.” So each year I come back to this restaurant by myself and order his favorite pizza.

It's what Billy would have wanted.

It’s what Billy would have wanted.

Of course, the more elaborate the story is, the better. As thinking up all the complicated details tends to take your mind off the fact that you’re sitting by yourself making up an elaborate story about why you’re sitting by yourself.

Entertain yourself.
Worried about being bored?

No problem.

Of course, cell phones are a great way to banish boredom. Because… WHAT’S THAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS REALLY IMPORTANT FACEBOOK MESSAGE THAT I’M GETTING ON MY CELL PHONE RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE! SEE! I HAVE FRIENDS! ON FACEBOOK!

Just me, my cell phone & a drink. Who needs live company?

Just me, my cell phone & a drink. Who needs live company?

As fascinating as Facebook is, it really can’t compare to my most favoritest form of entertainment: eavesdropping.

Sure, your mom probably told you it was rude to eavesdrop. But it’s definitely ruder to sit there clutching your ears and humming show tunes so you don’t accidentally overhear someone’s conversation.

Besides, some conversations are impossible to not hear. Like the one between the future-herpes-healing-doctor-scientist and the blonde girl on the trolley.

Sadly, none of the conversations at the restaurant were nearly as entertaining as that. There was an awkward-sounding first-date going on to my right and two guys getting really drunk on my left.  But all of it still made for a fun Facebook-break.

Yes, everyone IS looking at you and judging you. Their judgment? YOU’RE AWESOME!
We all worry a little bit about what people might think when they see us sitting all alone at our table for one, right?

It’s annoying that we even have to think about what other people think. But it’s human. And let’s agree that it happens, okay?

Now, you have two choices.

You can either believe people are looking at you sitting by yourself and feeling sorry for you.

Or you can believe people are looking at you and feeling totally jealous of you.

So, when I sat down at my table by myself this Saturday, and I noticed a few people glancing my way, I decided these people weren’t feeling sorry for me.

They were obviously all just jealous.

I mean, there I was not having to have a single awkward first date conversation.

I could order whatever the heck I wanted without having to worry about gross gorgonzola breath.

Yes, that's blue cheese on my salad. What's it to ya?

Yes, that’s blue cheese on my salad. What’s it to ya?

And I didn’t have to share a single slice of pizza with anyone.

Come on, who wouldn’t want that life?

Do you dine alone? How do you avoid feeling awkward? Please share!

 

42

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On December 5, 2013 at 7:52 am Jo (The Blond) said:

    I’m traveling by myself now for the first time. At the beginning I didn’t even go out to eat. I either went hungry or bought something in a supermarket and consumed it in my room. Now I feel a little braver and the longer I’m alone, the better I feel eating by myself – although the food doesn’t taste as nice when you are with someone else.
    Jo (The Blond) recently posted..Reflections on my first month on the road

    • On December 5, 2013 at 8:51 pm Sally said:

      I find that when I’m with other people, I tend to focus more on conversation than food. I sometimes even forget to eat which is HORRIBLE. But when I’m alone I can focus more on the food.
      Although, I do miss being able to share meals with people. In Asia, it’s really popular to order family-style and have everyone share dishes. I loved this because it was a great way to try new things and have a really varied meal. But it was kind of impossible to do by myself… unless I wanted to be swimming in plates of food.

  2. On December 5, 2013 at 11:36 am Montecristo Travels (Sonja) said:

    Food critic … that is a good story to go with right? Jot down notes … look around like your casing the place … that’s what I do. What?

    • On December 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm Sally said:

      I was taking lots of pictures of my food in hopes that management might notice, suspect I’m some hotshot food blogger and offer me a free drink. Sadly, that didn’t happen. I had to pay for all my fancy salad-drinks by myself. Boooo!

  3. On December 5, 2013 at 11:41 am Amanda @amandaelsewhere said:

    As a perpetually scared solo-diner (I’m a frequent business traveler even! I have the excuse!) I salute you. I love this post.
    That said, I have earnestly tried to feel more comfortable with this. I think what happens to us when we are alone is that we focus so much on what we don’t have, the company of others. The perception that we must be friendless, unloveable losers, other people are totally thinking that about us, right? Wrong.
    The other people in the restaurant aren’t judging you. They’re TOTALLY judging the ones on the awkward first date.
    Amanda @amandaelsewhere recently posted..Please stop using this awful travel writing cliché. Sincerely, a reader.

    • On December 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm Sally said:

      I agree! It’s easy to look around at all the couples and groups of friends and think, “Gah! Why don’t I have that! I’m so lonely!” But, I’ve also totally been on those awkward first dates and thought, “Gah! Why am I with this person!” So channel that the next time you’re by yourself at dinner — it could be worse. You could be with a guy whose “hobby” is blowing up papier mache models of things. (Yes, this WAS an awkward first date conversation I’ve had… luckily, it was also our last date.)

  4. On December 5, 2013 at 11:42 am Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    Your cover story about being a high-powered business executive reminded me of Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion:

    Romy: Do you have some sort of business woman special?
    Truck Stop Waitress: Come again?
    Romy: Well, were business women.
    Michele: From LA.
    Romy: And you know how some places have like a lunch special?
    Michele: For business women…
    Truck Stop Waitress: We don’t have anything like that.
    Romy: Ok we’ll take 2 burgers, fries, and medium cokes cause were in a hurry.
    Michele: We’re due in Tucson later… some business thing, you know.
    Truck Stop Waitress: What kind of business you all in?
    [Romy and Michele give a long pause]

    Figure out what business you’re in, though. Romy and Michele forgot to do that.

    Also, you ARE awesome.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Scripturiency And Inspiration: A Reassurance From Edinburgh

  5. On December 5, 2013 at 11:58 am Heather said:

    You go, girl! As an only child, I grew up learning how to entertain myself. After college, I moved to NYC without knowing a soul and often dined alone because the city was too exciting to just stay home and eat take out. When I started traveling a lot for work, eating out alone was the perfect way for me to explore whatever city I happened to be in. Those were in the days before smart phones so I always took along a book or magazine to help me relax. In Asia it was easy because everyone was already staring at my blonde hair and fair skin. The culmination was my solo trip to Hong Kong where I ate out with glee! At one crowded restaurant, I even convinced the manager to let me sit at a small table – totally alone – on the sidewalk out front. I wanted some fish and chips!
    Heather recently posted..Say What? The Best Chinglish from Two Years in China

    • On December 5, 2013 at 7:49 pm Sally said:

      I so agree with you about not staying home and eating take out. I love eating out and exploring new restaurants — why should the fact that I don’t have anyone to go with me stop me from doing that.

  6. On December 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm Priya said:

    SO the next time you have a pretend boyfriend who died who really loves a certain restaurant, maybe not name him Billy? Seriously, Sally. I mean you could have named him anything, why Billy? ( No offense to Billys of you’re reading this).

    A few weeks ago when I was out to dinner with a friend, I almost told the lady who asked for my name for reservations that my name was Princess Leia. But then I chickened out and just said Leia.

    Anyway, I don’t eat out by myself all the time, but I have done it. I find that I eat faster because I’m not talking to anyone. I also take pictures of the food. But then again, I always take pictures of the food.
    Priya recently posted..Traveler-Wannabe: That Time I Drank With A Lady Twice My Age (Mostly Because She Paid For The Drinks)

    • On December 5, 2013 at 7:48 pm Sally said:

      WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM WITH BILLY! HE’S DEAD! DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF MY DEAD BOYFRIEND!
      Ahem.
      And, yes, taking pictures of the food (as you can tell from this post) is a dining solo MUST. It adds to your street cred as a possible Russian spy. Except a Russian spy would probably use some kind of nifty Russian spy camera. Guess I need to work on that.

  7. On December 6, 2013 at 12:34 am Ross said:

    Reminds me of Greg Brown’s song “By Myself.” In one verse he sings about being in a cafe listening to other couples.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCCY5n2KhhI

    I often think of this song when I am doing things alone, especially eating out. “Hahahaha, happy, happy, happy by myself.”
    Ross recently posted..Hitchhiker

  8. On December 6, 2013 at 12:52 am Beth said:

    I always hated dining alone and would go to crazy measures to avoid it. Since moving to Asia, where dining alone is totally a thing.. I’ve finally gotten used to it and dare say– enjoy it!
    Beth recently posted..Savoring Paradise at Kuramathi Resort

    • On December 7, 2013 at 11:01 am Sally said:

      That’s one thing I definitely miss about Asia — especially Japan. It was so common to see people — especially businessmen — eating on their own. I loved being able to sit down at some ramen shop and slurp my noodles solo and not feel the least bit awkward about it.

  9. On December 6, 2013 at 6:00 am Kerry said:

    MATISYAHU!!!! I AM SO ENVIOUS.

    I basically love eating out by myself, because I love reading and eating and combining the two is delightful and means I can focus on both of them without having to make this “small talk” (w/e w/e)! Also, I can finish my food in peace without my young man hovering over it trying to swipe the best parts, but that’s kind of me-specific.

    Basically TEAM EATING OUT ALONE 4EVARRRRR
    Kerry recently posted..Charlton House: Welp, maybe south London’s not so bad after all

  10. On December 6, 2013 at 10:05 am Sine said:

    Love this! I, too, am guilty of feeling awkward sitting somewhere alone. Which is weird, because I LOVE being alone. Just not in public. Because that’s when that “what are people thinking” thing gets into your brain. So grateful for your advice to just assume they are all jealous. Because honestly, when the kids were little and we’d go out to eat and I was busy cutting people’s meat and splitting up fights and taking kids to the bathroom, I SO was jealous of anybody I’d see sitting all by themselves.
    Sine recently posted..Nelson Mandela

  11. On December 6, 2013 at 10:10 am Colleen Brynn said:

    Big fan of eavesdropping. Don’t care what anyone says.
    And yes, I love to eat alone. I find it liberating and relaxing. The only time I might feel awkward is if there is someone I might know or know but don’t really want to see sitting within sight. THEN it’s awkward.
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..Sola In Anguilla

  12. On December 6, 2013 at 11:26 am Briona said:

    Because I mostly (make that always!) travel alone, I tend to eat alone as well. How sad do I sound?! Moving swiftly on…

    When I get tired of eating sandwiches in cafes or skipping meals altogether, I brave a restaurant. For me the hardest part is walking in, so I hang around outside, phone in hand to make it look like I’m waiting for someone, and then sneak in on the coat-tails of the next would-be diners. That’s usually pretty successful, although occasionally the waiter assumes we are now a party of three, which leads to the couple saying, “Ummmm… we’re not with her”. Awkward.

    After that, you can deal with anything, even the waiters raising an eyebrow and doing the whole ‘table for one, madam?’ bit. Which then gives them licence to blatantly remove the second wine glass, plate and set of cutlery just to really hammer home the fact I am dining alone. Why not take the chair while you’re at it?!

    Still, once you are seated (albeit very obviously alone) you can focus on the menu. Until they come and take that away too. This is where having brought a book or, if you’re feeling especially pretentious, a notebook and pen, comes in handy. The other diners will never know you are just practising your signature or writing a to-do list!

    Of course, I always have my mobile phone as well. Just in case my book is dull or I can’t think of anything to put on my to-do list. Looking at a phone gives you the perfect excuse to eavesdrop. And I quite like eavesdropping, which I suppose is why the waiters always sit me near the couples who are giving each other the silent treatment. Foiled again! At least it validates the fact that in some situations dining alone is preferable to dining with others!

    • On December 7, 2013 at 10:54 am Sally said:

      I hate the conspicuous sweeping away of the second wine glass, cutlery and plate. HOW RUDE. What if my imaginary friend (or, err, boyfriend) wanted to have a drink?

  13. On December 6, 2013 at 6:41 pm elizabeth said:

    I used to be terrified of the idea of eating alone, but now hitting up a restaurant with a book in tow is one of my FAVORITE things to do. I don’t even care if it’s a fancy place where books seem strange, because I’m getting to spend time doing 3 of my favorite things: 1. eating, 2. reading, and 3. being left alone.
    Bringing books, all the way.
    elizabeth recently posted..All Things Nice in Market Square

    • On December 7, 2013 at 10:51 am Sally said:

      I’ve tried the book thing before, but my problem with the books at fancy pants restaurants is that the restaurant is usually too dark in to read (or at least too dark for me and my weak ass eyes). Do you use an iPad or Kindle Paperwhite to read? Or bring your own reading lamp?

      • On December 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm Elizabeth said:

        I read on a Kindle Fire. It’s backlit, so lighting isn’t a problem.
        I do like the idea of plopping a camping kerosene lamp on the table and setting up shop LIKE A BOSS.
        I realized that due to my poor planning I am actually ending up with my husband away and my kid at her grandparents almost all day tomorrow. I decided to hit up brunch by myself at a place I’ve been wanting to go to, but can’t seem to find someone else who is interested in it. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  14. On December 6, 2013 at 11:09 pm Sarah Somewhere said:

    Loved this, you are so funny. “Arrive uncomfortable” – hilarious. By the way, this made me drool. Fries, pizza, SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE AND BREAD IN IT, come ON! I’m on a low everything-good diet, and yes, concerned that I will be judged ‘a boring eater’ because I am not overweight (but a carb/sugar addict all the same and supporting my slightly overweight partner drop his isn’t such a bad idea…), and certainly not a boring eater, ordinarily. So yes, I’m jealous of you, solo cheese and pizza eater!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Taking time for me and for him

  15. On December 7, 2013 at 12:33 am Rebecca said:

    Hilarious post!! I am actually sitting here eating alone but that’s only because my boyfriend’s in the next room sick… so I guess that doesn’t count 🙂 BUT I will make more of an effort not to feel so uncomfortable when I do dine alone.
    Rebecca recently posted..The Kokoda Track, day two: Ioribaiwa Village to Nauro

  16. On December 7, 2013 at 11:59 am Suzanne Fluhr said:

    How did you manage to take a selfie of your cell phone—or did you take out a real camera (but not a Soviet era spy camera) to take photos in the restaurant? Did they sit you near the restroom because you were alone? I wonder if waitstaff are ever less than solicitous of solo diners because their tip for that table is cut in half. I would probably bring a little notebook to write and maybe live tweet/Facebook the meal. Is that lamer than live tweeting one’s reactions to the Sound of Music on live TV?
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted..Passports with Purpose 2013 – Donate to Help Build Schools in Mali (And You Might Win Cool Prizes Too!)

    • On December 11, 2013 at 8:35 am Sally said:

      I did in fact use a real camera. That’s my other boredom-fighting trick. To take lots of photos with my camera and then check them obsessively while I’m waiting for my food to arrive.
      As for where I sat, I actually had a pretty good seat by the bar. My big problem is when they try to seat me at a high table or a counter. This especially happens in diners or other places where they try to put all the solo diners at a counter. I have really short legs and no sense of balance so it’s hard for me to sit on a high chair or stool without falling off. Plus I don’t like sitting so close to people I don’t know. They might see that I’m not actually doing anything interesting on my phone.

  17. On December 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm Susan said:

    First off, I am so happy I found your blog this morning, this is so great. Second, I’ve only really traveled alone a couple of times and completelyy relate to the eating out alone and being awesome. For one, people are more curious about you and two, you get this sweep of confidence by being alone because you have to be on guard (in my opinion) so you come off as this really cool, put together(maybe) confident solo traveler! 🙂 great post! plus, i also lovee matisyahu!

    • On December 11, 2013 at 8:31 am Sally said:

      I love your perspective on this! I’m totally going to channel your attitude the next time I eat out alone. And I might wear a motorcycle jacket while I’m at it, too.

  18. On December 11, 2013 at 3:40 am becky hutner said:

    Girl, this post is per-usual hilarious. I say the more salad in your drink, the better. Just ask these mixology wizards:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_id6i7OBj0
    becky hutner recently posted..VIETNAM HIGHLIGHTS: Part 2

  19. On December 18, 2013 at 9:27 am Ceri said:

    I LOVE dining alone. 😀 I don’t care if people stare – I don’t judge others for dining alone so I assume they’re not doing the same to me. (Us lone diners are awesome!)
    Ceri recently posted..In Defense of Vanilla Sex

  20. On December 27, 2013 at 3:46 pm Silvia said:

    These are all amazing tips! Especially love the bit about coming up with a story – I totally do that to! I’ll pretend I’m someone with a super cool reason for being alone, and somehow that erases an awkwardness I feel (bc obviously if I’m pretending to be a Russian spy everyone else will think I am one, right? ha)
    Silvia recently posted..Our 13 Best, Worst, and Strange Travel Moments of 2013

    • On December 28, 2013 at 11:31 am Sally said:

      It’s kind of “If you build it, they will come.” Except instead of building a baseball field, you’re building a self-delusion. Much better than baseball if you ask me!

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