I was recently at a dinner party surrounded by strangers, feeling miserably out of my depth and unsure of who to latch on to for conversation. In an effort to drum up some small talk (not my forte), I asked the woman across from me about her favorite thing to do in New York City. "Take myself out to dinner," she responded. "Like...a date?" I asked. "Exactly." I let out a subtle sigh of relief—a lifeline out of small talk land that I could grab onto. This sounded like an interesting story.
The woman explained to me how she unexpectedly came into a small but noteworthy sum of money about a year ago, and instead of mindlessly spending it all at once, she decided to take a more proactive approach. Every Thursday night, without exception, she takes herself out to a nice meal at a new restaurant every week. As someone who rarely eats out, much less eats out alone, I was intrigued. Was it scary? Intimidating? Kind of embarrassing? "Yes, yes, and yes," she responded. "But you quickly learn to get over all of that."
She said it was the single greatest tradition she's ever started. It teaches you how to be alone with yourself without distraction, company, or any other outside form of validation—just you, your plate of pasta, and the empty chair across from you. So, I decided I would give it a go, and as someone who can't last the five minutes alone at a table while my friend is in the bathroom without fidgeting in discomfort, I knew this would be no easy feat.
I tried dining out alone, and here's what I learned.
Tip No. 1: Table Placement Is Key
Don't underestimate the importance of location when it comes to your solo dining experience. People-watching may become your main form of entertainment for the evening, so make sure you're at a table that gives you a great view of the other patrons so you can fully admire that lady's gold sequin jacket as you sip your glass of Chardonnay.
Tip No. 2: Distractions, Away!
Don't undermine this courageous, bold act by hiding behind your phone. (This is coming from someone who can't even wait for their friend to show up without needing to scroll through Instagram for the fifth time in 10 minutes just to look busy.) The whole point of this is to get to know yourself, so put the phone away for the entire meal so you can focus on the food, the ambience, and the experience.
Tip No. 3: It's All in Your Head
Don't rush through your main course because you feel like everyone is looking at you and wondering if you got stood up by a date. They aren't. And even if they are thinking that, they'll think it for a split second and then move on with their lives. So take a deep breath, ignore the voices in your head, and be confident in your decision to dine alone.
Tip No. 4: Don't Close Yourself Off
Just because you have this big solo night out doesn't mean you have to shut out the rest of the world. Be open! Who knows—the universe could take this opportunity to introduce you to the perfect stranger. Or, if you still find the idea of an empty chair at your table intimidating, sit at the bar. You'll also be excellently placed to start up a conversation with customers seated next to you, or even the bartender, if inspiration strikes.
Tip No. 5: Make It Productive
Try it once and like it? Make it a recurring habit! You may find the time alone gives you some time to reflect on your day and prepare for the week ahead. And as you add each new restaurant to your list, keep track of what you ordered, what you liked (or didn't like), and you could quickly become your friends' go-to for advice on which new restaurants to try.
Follow me on Instagram and Snapchat @chantagold for my next solo adventure!