By Robin Garr
Years ago, after I left the newly corporate Courier-Journal, I went to work for a national non-profit based in New York City. It was a fascinating job that took me all around the country, visiting and reporting on creative grassroots organizations in all 50 states.
It was fun, stressful at times, and at the end of just about every day filled with meeting, chatting with, and interviewing grassroots heroes, I was ready for some quiet time alone … and a good dinner with only my thoughts or a good book for company.
Back in those days – we’re talking the ‘90s here – a lot of my friends thought I was brave, or maybe a bit addled, to do this thing, especially since I always asked for a table for one and declined any suggestion that I eat at the bar. After a day of constant interaction with people, though, I went into full introvert mode and really didn’t want to chat with the bartender or the guy on the next stool.
Recently, sparked by a random recollection, I wondered if many food loving types are still perturbed by the idea of dining out alone, so I put out a call for opinions on social media.
A generational change?
What did I learn? To some extent, it appears that there’s been a generational change. Only a handful of friends remain averse to the very idea. Most feel – as I do – that one has a complete right to dine alone, entitled to treatment just as welcoming as anyone else.
This seems particularly true of younger friends, who find the very idea of feeling shy about dining alone a bit laughable. Or pitiful, maybe. All of a sudden, Gen Z babies born at the dawn of the new millennium are old enough to go out to dine, pull up to the bar, and order dinner and a cocktail, a beer, or a glass of wine. Legally. Without a moment of self-doubt. See them and learn.
Mostly. though, I was getting answers to s question I didn’t ask. People spoke of the joy of sitting down at a restaurant bar and enjoying a sociable evening with the bartender and new friends. That’s the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.
So I asked the question again, this time specifically asking how people felt about dining alone at a table in an upscale restaurant, perhaps with a sommelier and maitre-d’. Now a bit of aversion started to show up. Quite a few friends repeated their preference for bar seating. Yeah, but that’s not what I asked, folks! A few said that, like me, they’d gladly enjoy solitude and a good book at a table. Others, though, finally acknowledged that this would feel uncomfortable and they’d prefer not to do it.
That might have been me, before I learned better. Let’s talk about solo dining today, and how we can make it easy.
Feeling wary …
First, let’s review a few reasons why people might feel wary about eating solo in a high-end establishment.
Some might feel awkward about being surrounded by couples and groups who are drinking, sharing bites, and chatting happily. Are they having a better time than you are? I’m not so sure of that.
Others might worry that they’ll be judged or looked down upon for dining alone, as if it’s a sign of being undesirable or unpopular. To those folks I offer one of the best pieces of life advice I ever got: People are almost never thinking about you as much as you fear they are.
Would-be solo diners might fear of being seated in an undesirable location. An out-out-of-the-way corner, maybe. Or next to a noisy server station or kitchen door. Or, gasp, adjacent to the restrooms. Pro tip: Ask to be moved!
Finally, you may worry that servers and staff will look down on you, ignore you, make your table last priority in getting service and food. If you start by feeling guilty about dining solo, I get why you might feel that way. But I urge you to push through it.
Here’s my advice: Keep in mind that the restaurant industry is also known as the hospitality business. Every restaurant I can think of, and this certainly includes the high-end niche, seeks to provide quality service and hospitality to every customer, whether it’s a party of 20 or your party of one.
Dining alone is becoming increasingly common, and restaurateurs understand that it’s good hospitality and good business to ensure that every guest feels comfortable and even pampered. Yes, even if they are dining alone.
So here’s my advice: Dine with confidence. There’s nothing wrong with your party of two being you and your book. There’s nothing wrong with dining alone, and it doesn’t make you a weirdo or loser. Hold your head high, smile, and enjoy your meal.
Need a little more reassurance? Here’s a random half-dozen of Louisville’s fancier restaurants where – without even having to ask the management – I am confident that you will be welcomed and well served during your solo visit, at a table for one or at the bar. Take your choice, or add your own favorite.
Anoosh Bistro (4864 Brownsboro Center, 690-6585, anooshbistro.com)
Barn 8 Restaurant (10500 W. US Highway 42, Goshen, Ky., 398-9289, hermitagefarm.com/food-bourbon/barn8-restaurant)
Fat Lamb (2011 Grinstead Drive, 409-7499, fatlamblouisville.com)
Seviche (1538 Bardstown Road, 473-8560, sevicherestaurant.com)
211 Clover Lane (The Colony Center, 211 Clover Lane, 896-9570, 211clover.com)
Volare Italian Ristorante (2300 Frankfort Ave., 894-4446, volare-restaurant.com)
Still uneasy after all that? A couple of final tips:
Reassure yourself by calling ahead. Reserve a table for one and seek their assurance that you’ll be welcome.
Forget the fancy and enjoy an affordable meal at favorite taqueria, pizzeria, soul food or down home eatery or, well, pick a place that you love.