Being a single Gen-Yer with no concept of work/life balance, I go out to eat alone pretty often. It wasn’t until I started traveling for work a few years ago that I first battled that awkward “table for one” feeling. I had issues because I didn’t know how to act when I was seated by myself. Not like there’s a protocol, but I hadn’t really learned the tricks of the trade. I didn’t even like sitting by myself in the cafeteria in school.
Sure, I could take away some of that anxiety by sitting at the bar. People are always talking to you there, and it’s practically the bartender’s job to make you happy. And yet I didn’t actually like this option any better. So here are some tricks of the trade that I’ve learned to make life a little easier when flying solo.
1. 1. Bring something to make it look like you’re busy. I say “look like” because many times, what you originally thought would keep you busy isn’t really going to work. For example, if you’re lugging your laptop around with you, unless it’s a hotel restaurant, you may not be able to connect to the internet. That good idea of catching up on Family Guy on Hulu.com kind of went out the window. Some good ideas include:
· Reading Material. Because reading makes you look smart, in addition to being busy. Little lesson: a lot easier to read something that lays flat (like a magazine or Kindle), than a 300-page romance…and do you really want to bring a romance for everyone to see? If you’re looking to pick up the intellectual type, bring an intellectual book/newspaper/magazine.
· Laptop. Even if you can’t get internet, you could play some games. Everyone loves solitaire. Or you could be like me and get some blogging done while you wait for food. If you dine on your own frequently, you may want to download some entertainment (you can get PDFs of books from Gutenburg.com) and be prepared.
· Phone. This can be a life-saver if you don’t have time to prepare. You can text, tweet, email, blog, facebook, plus more on most phones. And there’s always that calling people thing, but some restaurants don’t allow it, so be careful.
2. 2. Sit where you feel comfortable. If you don’t like random guys picking you up, then don’t sit at the bar. Just save yourself the misery. The same goes for guys, but I usually get the impression they don’t mind when girls try to pick them up. If I’m not feeling super social, I’m a big fan of getting a table in the dining room. Many servers even spend a little extra time on you, making sure you’re doing great while you’re on your own.
3. 3. Go to the places with the mood you want. Sushi bars give you that nice calm atmosphere, and you even get to watch the sushi chefs rock the knives. A hibachi grill allows you to join a large group at the grill and become part of the party. After-work hotspots let you mix and mingle. Sports bars give you a chance to yell at the tv with the best of them, and martini bars allow for a sophisticated crowd. If you’re craving that Oriental Chicken Wrap from Applebee’s, go with it and follow rules 1 and 2.
4. 4. Make friends. If you are into talking to strangers, this is a great time to make friends. I was once stuck in Newark airport with a broken flipflop and a bag filled with a broken bottle of wine. I didn’t care about anything other than a beer at that point. And you know what? The engineers on their way to Houston thought I had a funny (but sad) tale and bought my beer for me. We had a great time while I waited for my flight, and I personally think they’re the reason I didn’t have a meltdown in the airport.
5. 5. People watch. It’s the best thing ever. You can even disguise it with rule 1. The best is when it’s nice outside and you can sit on the restaurant patio. There’s all the people walking up and down the street, and well, it’s practically a show. I’ll leave the judging up to you, but it can be pretty entertaining.
So now you know some of the ropes. Whether you’re starving after a late night in the office, stuck in an airport, or just following that craving, you don’t have to fear flying solo anymore.
The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.
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