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Solo Dining
Carrie Neal Walden

In truth, I consider myself an expert at this. Whether I’m in a relationship or not, I love to eat out by myself, and I do it on average four nights a week. And we aren't talking McDonald's here. No, no, I am a woman of style, not nuggets. Here's the thing: I believe that people—women in particular—ought to be able to do the things they truly enjoy whether or not they have company with whom to do them. Don’t let your lack of entourage slow you down! And while I know how to cook—and can do it fairly well—I prefer dining out. Call it my sybaritic side. I like my food to come to me. Over my nine-year sales career, I've developed the ability to eat alone when traveling; while going through my divorce, bam! A star at solo dining was born.

Here’s my quick and dirty how-to guide:

1. Act comfortable, even if you aren’t. Translation: smile, and behave like you've done this a million times before. Most people waiting on you won't be able to tell that you haven't! And the more you practice, the more you’ll come to incorporate the confidence you’re projecting.

2. Go to places that have bars meant for dining. Lots of restaurants—chains and otherwise—fall into this category; the nicer, national chains are known for this. From big restaurants attached to malls (super easy to find in most cities) to the cozy treasures you stumble across on the road, these are great spots to "not stand out" and/or meet a bartender who loves to chat. And . . . you're almost guaranteed to meet other solo diners.

3. Take a prop. A book, magazine, small dog, whatever will let you pretend to be busy or actually keep you occupied. That way, if you're self-conscious, you have something to do. And if you meet someone fun to talk to, you won't need it.

4. Go with the attitude that you'll meet someone interesting. You never know who might sit down next to, across from or in some physical contortion close to you. Especially if you decide to sit in the "bar" area. You could make a business contact, meet a new friend, or even possibly a date.

5. If you prefer the restaurant area, get a feel for the places in your city that don't mind solo diners. And if you're one who likes to linger with a book (I love this! I could kill an afternoon reading over a few glasses of wine!), then get a feel for the restaurants that will let you do so without any grumbling servers hovering over your shoulder. But, and this is very important, make sure that you tell them you want to spend a little time and even more importantly—tip them well! That means at least twenty percent, if you're taking up a chunk of their economic real estate.

6. If you're a single woman dining solo, get to know places where you have what I call "back up." It might be the bartender, the general manager of the restaurant, or the cop that keeps an eye on the place. The restaurant might be an upscale establishment, the local burrito joint you frequent on Saturday afternoons after Pilates or it could be a French-Moroccan hookah bar in the basement of a former truck station. The key is to make friends, so that when you're there, especially if you're alone, there's always someone who's got your back . . . just in case.

7. Become a regular. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to be remembered, to become a "regular" at even your local bagel place. The people who wait tables, bus them, or work at the counters and behind the bar—they want you to come back, and often. Smile, be friendly, and ask them how their day is! If you find a place you like, if you prefer, want or just have to eat out alone, then find a place that feels comfortable to you, and go back as often as you want to. My guess is that the establishment’s employees will be glad you did, and take care of you pretty well.

Those are my tips and thoughts. Happy solitude!

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