We've all seen him: the bar barracuda.
He sits alone at the restaurant bar, scanning the room, looking to snare unsuspecting passersby into one-sided conversation. Once someone makes eye contact he doesn't waste a second, he says something harmless like, "Great bread here, huh?" and before his victim can even finish saying, "Actually, I don't eat gluten," he's telling them about dislocating his knee during the 1974 Notre Dame vs. Villanova game. He ignores all polite attempts at disengagement while the bartender looks on with sympathy but relief: she's glad the bar barracuda has turned his attention elsewhere. His prey undoubtedly feels bad for this man and his off-puttingly eager conversation, and they want to be the kind of person who can listen to a lonely stranger's animated story about his sister's-ex-husband's lawsuit over his neighbor's dog's barking, but they just aren't. Eventually, the victim's dinner companion arrives, and they break away from the bar barracuda with a clear expression of relief and guilt.
This is an example of what not to do when dining alone. If you're desperate for someone, anyone, to listen to you talk, go to a therapist or get a cat and stop being weird to strangers at Olive Garden. But if you just like to go out to eat, don't always have someone to go with, and promise you're not so desperate for human interaction you'll hold the waiter hostage with uncomfortably intimate anecdotes, then dining alone is an option for you. Whether you're dreading a snide, "just you?" from the hostess, or you think you'll be bored, this list of tips for eating out alone will give you the confidence to say, "table for one, please" with the brash abandonment of a bar barracuda.
No one's actually judging you.
Maybe you think that solo dining will get you looks of pity from other diners, but the truth is people are going to be too busy chatting and Instagramming their well-garnished pasta to even notice you. The waiter is probably thinking more about the annoying table of tweens who want 15 separate bills than they are about you. On the off chance that they do ask you why you're alone, don't go on a long rant about your asshole ex, burst into tears, or explain how lonely you are; just smile and lie that your oven's broken and your girlfriend is away in Cancun modeling for a Victoria's Secret catalog.
You don't have to try to look occupied.
Don't worry that other diners will think it's weird if you aren't on your phone or reading the whole time, it's perfectly fine to savor your meal and watch the world go by. You might feel like people are looking at you, but once again, it's most likely that no one is noticing you at all or cares that you're in the restaurant or even that you're alive! You can even use the time to quietly weep, or scribble down a list of all the people who have wronged you. No matter what you do, don't weirdly force strangers into a conversation in an attempt to ignore the gaping maw of loneliness staring you in the face.
Eat at the bar.
Sidling up to the bar may feel a little less lonely, since you don't have to face a sea of people who are on dates, enjoying family time, and generally strengthening human connections that you'll never get to experience. Instead, you can chat with the bartender--as long as you don't ask her if she wants to hang out later, tell her that she looks like your granddaughter, or make puns about the names of drinks. Also, try to avoid excessive eye contact that forces her to repeatedly ask if you need anything, only for you to take the opportunity to launch into another story about your softball league. On second thought, maybe don't chat with the bartender.
Take risks with your order.
When you're eating out alone, no one is going to judge your order or insist on sharing bites, so why not order something adventurous? Get that lavender flan for two, tried the steak tartare with quail egg, smear wasabi in your eyes, order that side of bacon fried mac-and-cheese, or try the chef's veal special!
Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.