One of my biggest fears moving to New York for the summer was learning what to do for meals. Growing up, the only meals I ate alone were at home or in my car after my afterschool In-n-Out runs. Going to college in a small college town, the few times I ate alone featured overly stressed prefinals studying and/or multiple spontaneous encounters with friends. While in New York, I make my workweek meals myself (because your girl’s not trying to get broke). But once the weekend meals come around, I try to leave the security of being a hermit and cooking for myself or always waiting to meet up with friends so that I can enjoy all the good eats New York has to offer! And as I write this post while sitting at a table for two in a cafe, surrounded by super cute hipster couples and tourist families trying to agree on an appetizer, here is my guide for unawkward solo dining.
Be selfish! (in a good way)
Everyone knows this predicament: You’ve been hanging out with a group of friends, but now you’re hungry… you’re so hungry you could star in your own Snickers commercial. At this point, you would eat anything with calories in it. But your friends are taking FOREVER to agree on a place. And nearly two hours later, you find yourself with level 5 of exhaustion spending $17 at Burger King, and you don’t even like Burger King.
With eating alone, enjoy deciding on a place to eat by yourself! No more compensating for others’ allergy complications, traveling an hour to “meet in the middle,” or dealing with that one friend who doesn’t like chocolate (you know the kind… be wary of said friend).
Chat with strangers
I know this breaks probably one of the first rules my parents taught me, but making light conversation with the wait staff and guests around me has added so much depth to my New York dining experiences. I’m awful at making decisions (it takes me 15 minutes to decide what perfume I’m going to wear for the day, and I only have two kinds). So asking my server their recommendation makes picking a good dish so much easier. Chatting up the staff is particularly great for places near you because being a regular has amazing perks, like getting free baklava at my local pastry shop. Plus, talking with guests has been an easy way to get every picture to satisfy all of my foodie and Instagram junkie needs, even when I’m eating alone.
Bring something to do
But if the idea of continuously talking to strangers makes your palms sweat or second guess every word you say (@me), balance your time with an introverted approach! Passing the time on your phone isn’t embarrassing, it’s taking a well-deserved time for TLC, while savoring some lovely crepes. And if that’s not the best of both worlds, I don’t know what is (outside of Hannah Montana). Thanks to my internship, I always have a book with me. Right now I’m reading Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, a thrilling mystery novel to fit New York’s rainy weather, and it’s been a great companion for bistro lunches and late night diners. You can check out my book review here!
If you find yourself stepping into a restaurant, without something to occupy your time or the desire for human interaction, taking the chance to sit back and look at the people around you is always a treat. Humans are interesting and weird creatures! I’m a writer so I find myself constantly looking at people’s mannerisms (causing a fair amount of untended eye contact). But you won’t be able to see the overeager kids on child leashes, some guy tripping on nothing and almost biting the dust, or the precious doggos passing by unless you’re taking the time to look for them.
Fake it til you make it
Let me be honest… I’ve been here for 10 days. I still make plenty mistakes and blunders. The other day I asked for directions to Katz’s Deli on Houston Street, pronouncing it like the Space Center in Texas instead of the right way: “House ton.” A New York no-no. And I make sure to visit friends in other neighborhoods to enjoy their amazing company and get their dining expertise.
But there’s something special about having the chance to explore a food capital of the world by myself, to form my own opinions at my own pace. Because, at the end of the day, no one can judge my table for one if I’m having a good time.