Solo dining is up: Here’s how to do it well

Tables for one are on the rise—and it might have to do with an increase in work travel

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A few weeks ago, I went to lunch alone at Mary’s Fish Camp in New York City’s West Village, which has a beach-y vibe no matter what the weather, and a great bar for dining solo.

I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wrote notes in my phone, read a book, and interacted minimally (and obviously, kindly) with the server, who recommended the spicy sardine sandwich. It reminded me of one of my favorite reasons to dine solo—I can be alone, but I’m usually not lonely; surrounded by people but in my own bubble.

Turns out, solo dining is increasing—and it might have to do with an increase in work travel.

L’Artusi, also in New York’s West Village, has always entertained solo diners, but has noticed more people in town for a quick business trip alone. “The other day, there was a a musician in town from Chicago who sat next to a coder from San Francisco. They were both in town for a couple days of work,” says Jorie Morales, L’Artusi’s general manager.

Can you reserve a table for one? According to OpenTable, solo reservations (as a percent of total reservation volume) have increased steadily over the last five years. They even noted that Valentine’s Day solo reservations increased, though it still makes up less than 1% of total bookings on the holiday of love.

From choosing the best bar seats to not compromising, here is how to embrace dining alone.

Seek out hotel dining

If I’m in the mood to meet people, a hotel’s dining outlets often offer the best mix of locals and visitors.

Monique Thofte, a member at New York’s WeWork 85 Broad St, agrees and loves dining solo at a great hotel. One of her top recommendations? The 12-room boutique Ett Hemm in Stockholm, Sweden. “The name means ‘at home’ in Swedish, and it’s for good reason,” says Thofte. “There is never a formal menu—you sit with the chef and hear what’s super-fresh for that night. The space is absolutely gorgeous. It’s your choice whether you want a table in the orangerie overlooking the lantern-lit garden, or want to nosh and chat with the chef in the kitchen.”

The expanding, trendy Moxy hotels in New York have seen an increase in travelers dining solo throughout their hotels, from weekday business travelers dining with laptops to those landing late and closing out the bar for late-night bites.

“People want to find hotels and restaurants where they feel comfortable alone. Someone who is alone can fully enjoy all of our spaces,” says Mitchell Hochberg, president of Lightstone, the developer and owner of Moxy Times Square and Moxy Chelsea.

Among the design features, inspired by Hochberg’s personal travels alone: small nooks in the lobby lounge to sit by yourself, bars with outlets at each seat, and inviting communal tables.

Many hotel packages are priced for two people eating and drinking, and Moxy Times Square created what is one of their most booked packages—“Riding Solo,” which includes breakfast, drinks, and 20% off at Blind Barber (a speakeasy and barbershop).

Don’t compromise in any way

Research from YouGov shows that people who travel alone do so because they want the freedom to choose their own itinerary.

It’s the same with dining solo. No matter your reason for being alone, enjoy the chance to not compromise on what you want. My husband hates sushi and it’s what I crave, always. So I’ll choose sushi if I’m alone—plus, sushi bars are perfect for solo diners. Have kids at home? You can remember what it was like to have dinner out past 5:30 p.m.

Always sit at the bar

Always sit at the bar, especially if it is your first visit. The bar is a great indicator of service and hospitality at a restaurant. And pick your spot depending on who you want to meet, if anyone. “Sit at the end if you want to be left alone or people-watch, snag a seat in front of a bartender’s well [station] if you want company, and sit by the service well if you want to get a pulse on the town,” says L’Artusi’s Morales.

Be as indulgent as you want

“The best part of eating alone is that you can be as indulgent as you want, and we enjoy introducing people to new things like a wine or an amaro that they’ve never heard of,” says Morales. At L’Artusi, you might get special treatment, since the staff loves to engage with solo diners and make the experience a little more personal. You might find yourself with extra little treats, like a special pasta, or a gluttonous scoop of gelato.

Enjoy the show

It might feel lonely without fellow dining companions. But take travel writer Becca Hensley’s tip: “I enjoy it. I take a seat and pretend I’m watching a grand play, of which I’m one of the actors. Then, I enjoy the show.”

And finally, decompress

“Alone time is always healthy,” says Hochberg. “It allows you to decompress, and of course, daydream.”

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