The maitre d's eyes practically rolled to the back of his skull.
"Table for one," I mumbled.
"You won't be waiting for someone?" he asked, glaring at me, as if his stare would scare me off. Ultimately, those evil eyes slid down to a dining room map where his finger glided to a small dot right next to the... you guessed it... kitchen.
"Follow me," he ordered.
I slunk to the back of the room.
Forget Hell's Kitchen. This was hell's dining room. If the chef's shouting from inside the kitchen a few feet away wasn't going to disrupt my meal, the swinging doors surely would.
I've felt that glare from a maitre d many times before. Simply put, there are some restaurant managers who think that a solitary diner is a waste of space. Where a couple could comfortably ring up a hefty bill at a table for two, a single diner is looked upon as some kind of awkward inconvenience.
Years later, a restaurateur even admitted to me that watching someone eat alone had made some of his other diners uncomfortable, and he had gone as far as refusing to seat single diners on busy Friday and Saturday nights.
I spent the better part of my early professional years traveling, and I dreaded eating out. It took me a year just to muster enough courage to refuse a table near the kitchen door. But that still didn't make eating solo a lot easier.
Like many travelers, I would skip meals, pick up fast food or, worse yet, pay ridiculous sums for room service.
Indeed, there is an art to eating alone. As a public service, here is what I've learned over the years:
Do not bring a book. Too many singles use a book (or newspaper or magazine or iPhone) as a crutch so that they won't have to experience the awkwardness of watching others watching them. For goodness sakes, look around; make some eye contact. When a waiter or waitress sees someone with a book in hand, they sense blood in the water and will get you in and out of that restaurant before you know it.
Choose a small restaurant; the smaller the better.It allows you to spend some time talking to the waitstaff and asking lots of questions. In smaller restaurants, waiters and waitresses are less distracted.
Always tell your waitstaff what you want to eat and when you want to eat it.I've seen, time and again, salads, soups and appetizers come out all at once, followed by a entree a few minutes later. It's perfectly acceptable to tell your waiter that you would prefer that your courses come out in succession.
Almost always order the special. You're sending a message to chefs that you trust their judgment for a full dining experience.
Make a reservation. This one has never failed me. Let them know you're coming. It portends an air of confidence even before you enter the room.
Relax.Take your time. Soak it all in. Order some dessert and a cup of coffee or tea (even if it's to go).
Trust me, you can do this.