I ask myself this question at least two to three times a week and usually end up alone…on the bar.
But please don’t imagine that I am sitting there with the shots lined up, sobbing into my glass, tossing back the booze and crooning along to the sad songs on the jukebox. Well, not all of the time anyway, but most of the time I just prefer eating alone on the bar.
My lifestyle as a bit of a gypsy usually means that I find myself quite often dining alone and if I have the chance I will always prefer to sit at the bar. Why? Well we all have to eat by ourselves sometimes and even a seasoned restaurant diner like me still finds the prospect of eating alone a little sad.
True, sitting at a table alone always has that pathetic connotation with the waiter clearing the other setting and for the most part restaurants, don’t like seating single diners. A two-top table occupied by one person is seen as a money-losing proposition. And of course there is always the smug couple at the next table giving you those sad “aw poor guy, he’s alone and I am glad it’s not me” looks….
So believe me eating at the bar is a lone diner’s own sanctuary of self respect. The bar stool is your space; you are protected from self pity. You can do what you want, eat what, and how, you want.
I eat great pub grub with baskets of greasy French fries and drink pints of Kilkenny in Irish pubs or a dozen oysters, a juicy steak and a couple of glasses of a fine red in trendy bistro/bars. If I am lucky to have a good rapport with the bar tender then inevitably I get little tastes of things for free and nearly always get the dessert on-the-house. I am having a better time than most of the other diners at their tables and feeling pretty dam cool doing it.
I seek out authentic ethnic eateries in cities I am working in or visiting, sitting at the counter slurping down a bowl of the best hand pulled noodles with the locals or plate of steaming dumplings washed down with an ice cold brew straight from the bottle.
Some countries have more of a bar eating culture than others. When I am home in Israel, like many other Mediterranean countries, eating alone or with company on the bar is the norm even the preferred method of dining, which brings me to the subject of bartenders. In a restaurant’s or bars’ hierarchy, bartenders are more like sovereign specialists. They don’t hurry you up in the same way as the wait staff, so I tend to trust their recommendations. They’re there right in front of me and seem genuinely interested in what I have to say, my eating and drinking preferences and they will be more inclined to be sociable in a way the wait staff out in the dining room rarely are. When a waiter reels off the daily specials, I wonder what’s so special about them, besides the price. Bartender tells me to order the schnitzel, I order the schnitzel!
OK you got this far and here you are, sitting alone at the bar. Now what? You’ve gotten your drink, you’ve staked your claim to your stool and now you feel a little awkward because you don’t know whether to stare into space, holding your head as if to say, man, I had a rough day, or pathetically play with your drink, feigning self pity as if to say, please feel sorry for me cos I’m such a loser!
Well take heart because there is no need for feeling and looking like a looser. Here are a few indispensable guidelines for eating alone and looking cool at the bar:
1) Choose your perch well. Don’t sit where the staff picks up orders or cashes up. They’re going to be brushing past you all night and you will be immediately tagged as a loser. Like wise don’t sit at the far end of the bar next to the toilet. Choose somewhere central, right in front of the booze shelves and settle in. Stake your claim to the place and your stool with confidence.
2) Now order a drink……. A real drink! Be decisive and know what you want before you sit. Sure, you can be a wimp and ask for the wine or cocktail list later, but if you sit down and immediately order something – a beer, a martini or a shot – the bartender knows they’re dealing with someone who knows what he wants.
3) Confidently talk to the bar tender, they appreciate the attention and they like to show it – Ask him/her about the drink options and their menu recommendations. You’ll probably get some good advice and you can expect a little more attention.
If there’s a wine on the list that you really want to try and it’s only by the bottle, but you just want a glass? Ask about it anyway; a little hinting won’t hurt and you might end up with a glass. And is there anything the chef recommends that isn’t on the menu?
4) Don’t be shy – engage the bar in conversation and don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors what they’re eating.
You would never go over to a stranger’s table at a restaurant and ask what they ordered, but at a bar? Absolutely OK! Chances are the guy or girl sitting next to you is thinking just the same.
5) Want to look like you eat alone all the time? Bring a book or magazine.
Reading is the collective symbol for “I do this all the time so f–k off and leave me alone.”
6) Don’t fiddle with your cell phone. You can always tell the insecure and lonely ones that immediately take out their phones and pretend to look for messages.
7) Be generous, buying a few shots for the bar man is always a good policy for getting that extra attention and tipping well also ensures that you’ll be remembered and looked after next time you eat there. Hey it’s your own private party right?
So now you are well on your way to be that certain type of person who likes eating at the bar alone. Cool, confident, knows what they want and are comfortable just being by themselves.
Now, just imagine you’re sitting at the lacquered-wood bar at your favorite bar / restaurant. As the bartender serves you a plate of warm garlic shrimps, marinated sardines and chevre cheese rolled in prosciutto, the attractive woman sitting next to you begins inquiring after the dishes you just ordered. Before you know it, she’s ordered and is sampling the dishes for herself and you have the perfect opening for a conversation.
This is the first time you’ve met her. You’ll probably never see her again after tonight. But the food, the wine, the ambience and the moment is par for the course that defines dining at the bar.
Above all, I adore the ceremony and special feeling of eating alone on the bar. That instance when the crisp white napkin and cutlery are laid out in front of me, marking my own personal space. The drink is poured and I wait in anticipation of what is to come.
Even at a crowded bar, it is intimate yet sociable. I belong.