Dinner for one
I recently found myself in a foreign city with an evening to myself. I was thirsty and starving. It would have been easier to stay in and order room service and a movie. When I say foreign city I do not mean Paris or London, where there are endless options for a wonderful dinner for one and no one bats an eye at a woman dining solo. I was in Victoria, B.C., the city said to be a perfect spot for "newlyweds and nearly deads".
I have stayed in hotels all over the world and have had dinner with myself at hotel bars and trendy restaurants from L.A. to New York to Toronto to Rome to Hong Kong, London (many times), Miami, Amsterdam and points in between, and I’ve never thought twice about the matter. But in a small place like Victoria, I did.
When I say “dining”, I don’t mean grabbing a quick sandwich at a cafe. I mean white tablecloths and a wine list. Dinner for one. I must say, it’s a satisfying experience I highly recommend and if you follow a few simple rules you’ll have a wonderful time with yourself.
First, plan for it.
Talk to friends who’ve been to the city before, check your favourite travel guide or talk to the concierge about where might be an appropriate place. And plan your day around it. For me that meant eating light earlier on so I was excited about the meal. I also called an old boyfriend for the name of “that great little French place we went to once.” There was something especially satisfying about that.
Sit at the bar.
You’re more likely to chat with people around you here, including the bartender, if that’s of interest. Plus the bar at a nice restaurant has a casual yet festive feel to it. Whether on my own or not, this is always my preferred spot.
You can’t always reserve a spot there so be prepared to wait. I waited for half an hour near the front door with a glass of wine and chatted with the two other couples who were also waiting. If I wasn’t alone I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have started up a conversation with me. Did I look like I needed friends?
Don’t be cheap just because you’re on your own! Order exactly what you want, including nice wine. A little known fact in some cities (like those in B.C.) is that restaurants will allow you to take home whatever wine you don’t drink at dinner. So if you’re into wine, as I am, look beyond the “wines by the glass” list. I had steak frites and a beautiful bottle of Bordeaux. All to myself!
Put away the phone.
Madly texting or, worse, talking on the phone, does not count as having dinner alone in my books. This is a great time to disconnect from that security blanket obsession (which I admit I share). Don’t even put the thing on the table.
Reading a paper or a book is a good option and tells people around you you’re happy on your own. But I like the time to just sit and focus on my thoughts, the food and the wine. How often do we eat without thinking about flavours. That won’t happen when the food is your focus, and not your friends or the tv.
My steak was done to a little less than medium rare perfection, and I finished the entire serving of truffle fries, which I never seem to do when I’m with others. The green salad that followed was the perfect, clean finish.
As a woman, be prepared for people to be curious.
The elderly couple from the front invited me to join them for dinner. Ask me how many times that’s happened with I’m with friends. NEVER. (Groups of men trying to pick up groups of women isn’t what I’m talking about.)
It was a nice invitation, which I politely declined. I said I was looking forward to dinner with myself. Whether you want to join other diners or not, be ready for the invitation.
Finally, plan your getaway.
Get the bartender to call you a taxi or inquire about whether it’s safe to walk. I had a lovely stroll home along the dark streets of Victoria, with my paper bag of leftover wine in hand.
Coincidentally, we’re currently testing a book called “Cooking for One“. Honouring yourself with a wonderful meal, whether at home in your own kitchen or out, is a rewarding habit to get into.
If you find yourself in Victoria, B.C., I recommend Brasserie l’école on Government Street. The Steak Frites is to die for, the bartender is charming, you might get invited to join another table, and the walk back to the main hotels is easy.
I slept like a log.