I travel a lot for work. That travel lands me both big cities that I’ve always wanted to visit or come back to and in small towns that I probably would have never seen if I wasn’t heading there for work (Westlake, TX or Merrimack, NH anyone?). And, while so much of my time when I’m traveling is spent in a conference room or in front of my laptop working, I’ve tried hard to take full advantage of the cities that I’m in.
I’ll wake up early to take a long morning run as a way to explore neighborhoods. I’ll visit local bookstores and galleries. And I’ll eat out in some of the cities “famed” spots and try the local cuisine – alone.
This last one – dining alone – was the one that I had the most trouble fitting in. And it wasn’t because of time or lack of opportunity. It was because I had a hard time getting over the (ridiculous) notion that dining alone was for the dateless or the lonely. And, oh! the judgement from waiters and fellow diners that would look at me and think that I had no friends.
And to avoid that judgement, I would order room service, pick up a salad, order a burritto and sit alone in my hotel room and eat. After a few trips of these late nights in, I realized I was missing the barbeque in Raleigh, the lobster in Boston, the crabs in Baltimore, all because I had these ridiculous preconceived notions about what dining alone meant.
Getting Over It
And so I got over it. On my next trip, I walked into a popular restaurant in Texas and asked for a table for one. And the waiter looked up at me and said “Did you say 1?”. Yes, I said with my eyes confidently as my stomach was silently turning. “Wouldn’t you rather sit at the bar?” No, I said out loud, hoping not to appear as offended as I was.
I walked to my table, ordered a full rib rack (you have to go big in TX) and a glass of wine (can’t take the NYC out of me) and waited for the judgement and regret to set it. It never did. It was all in my mind. And, shockingly, it was the most peaceful moment I had all week. Sitting alone, smart phone intentionally tucked away, reading a book, eating a meal, and sipping a glass of wine with no one and nothing to interrupt my thoughts.
I was hooked. I’ve been addicted to dining alone ever since. And now I do it when I’m traveling and when I’m not. Sure, there are some waiters who look at me a little too sympathetically or are frustrated that their wasting a table on a single diner with a not-quite-big enough appetite. But, dining alone has now become such a treat — rather than simply a result of traveling sans dinner date — that I couldn’t be bothered with what the world thinks of it. It’s where I decompress from the week, it’s where my most productive thinking happens, it’s where I get to catch up on life.
Bringing it Home
And one of my favorite cities to dine alone in? New York City. My hometown, where I have plenty of folks that would happily (or at least willingly…) join me for a bite. But turns out dining alone in NYC is phenomenal. Some of the best food in the world. Endless people watching. And a way to get to explore new spot in a city that I know so well.
And that’s where I am right now. Dining alone from a small cafe in NYC, as I write this blog that I’ve been meaning to write for months but haven’t had the time and space until, finally, there was nothing to distract me but the waiter who is asking me if any one else will be joining me. And, with a relaxed smile, I shake my head.