Poor Reese Witherspoon. She was spotted recently dining solo at the trendy London eatery La Petite Maison. She's obviously dealing with the stress of dating other movie stars and being rich and not knowing what to do about it. Still, when a person has no other choice than to dine solo, it always elicits sympathy from the peanut gallery.
But dining solo doesn't solidify the typical presumptions made by surrounding diners and wait staff. First, everyone assumes that you don't have anyone else that wants to spend a few hours over dinner with you. That's not necessarily true. Dining alone can be cathartic: You realize that there's no agenda, no reason to rush and you can order whatever you want, when you want.
Second, many times people think you've been stood up. And maybe you were. But here's the thing: More often than not, the people that you see dining alone actually want to be alone. You know, right, that being comfortable by yourself in a socially crowded environment is an exercise in self-reliance?
Finally, there are several things that you can do when you dine alone that you can't do when you're sharing your space at the table:
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1) Order big. It's fun to order whatever you think looks good on the menu and not have someone raise an eyebrow about the calorie or fat content of your choice. If the fried bone marrow is calling your name, you can just get it.
2) Gaze off into the distance. I tend to do this in the presence of others anyway, so when I eat solo, I don't feel rude for simply staring at nothing in particular and thinking random thoughts (like what's the name of the actor who was the fat kid in Goonies?)
3) Take your time. Fact is, restaurants don't really mind lone diners. They clear more quickly than a table of two, and the kitchen doesn't feel pressured to time the plates as they do for seatings greater than one. You can savor your food (hell, you can even caress it), sip your wine, and if you're polite, most places won't hassle you at all.
4) Get to know the restaurant. When you're alone, there isn't a conflict of interest in the amount of time you spend engaging your guests vs the wait staff. If you eat alone at one of your favorite restaurants, it can be the perfect time to learn a little more about the place and how it's run. Plus you can banter with the staff. But don't go into details about your messy divorce or how you just learned how much it hurts when you pee. Fly solo, but don't cross the line.