How To Go To A Restaurant By Yourself–In Paris
I travel alone. I love to travel alone. Unshared cheese plates and museums covered at my own pace, this is living. One aspect of traveling alone that some would see as a consequence, I see as opportunity: dining alone. Cue the insensitive financial planning commercial making a joke of single women! Tune the violins! Draw the curtains! Garçon, I’ll have the special.
There are certain ground rules I’ve laid out before, such as absolutely always opting for bar seating and bringing a book or crutch of some kind, that will aid you in feeling less like this is a sad experience and more like it’s a fucking treat. If you’re skeptical, think for me on the last time you noticed someone dining alone in a restaurant. A) you can’t remember it, B) you didn’t care, C) you were a little bit jealous. Other people’s opinions of solo diners don’t mater, because they often don’t exist. Eat alone, no one is looking at you funny. Or, because this is Paris, you’re American, and the French look at all Americans funny, even if they’re in pairs.
I learned a great deal from my first experience dining alone in a country where I did not speak the language. . I also learned that all that romantic bullshit about Paris from the movies is about as real as holidays Hallmark makes up. You don’t need to be in love to love Paris. If you’re in Paris alone and find yourself feeling sad, I feel sad for you. It’s stunning. It’s delicious. And wine is really cheap.
I get it though, going to the capital of marriage proposals by yourself is a really intimidating mental leap. But think of it this way, staying home and saving yourself a fake notion of shame means you don’t get to see Paris. I’d rather do it alone than never do it at all.
Solo dining ground rules, as modified for the Parisian experience:
1 — Plan.
Getting lost meandering down a Parisian street is lovely and all, but a little advanced planning ensures that you won’t have a crappy dinner in Paris. (Yes, they exist, not every wicker chair cafè you stroll past is an outstanding culinary experience. A lot of them are tourist traps. Read The Infatuation every now and then, will you?)
The only meals I plan while traveling are dinners. I often eat breakfast and lunch in motion, or just stick to small snacks when I need to rest my feet. But dinner is a different story, and no less a travel experience than a museum or art gallery. I like to know that end the end of my day, no matter how successful or frustrating it was, there is an awesome end to it ahead of me, one that will not require endless wandering looking for a place to eat. I even save maps from my hotel to these restaurants in offline format so I literally can’t fuck my evening up.
I also have backups for planned dinners, as many restaurants, Paris and anywhere else, won’t let you reserve a seat at the bar. If my dinner plans involve a no-reservation, probably crowded restaurant, there will be one or two nearby alternates I can walk to, if for no other reason than to wait for the seat at my first choice. Here are the restaurants I went to on my last trip to Paris:
Brutos: Reservation. This is an Argentinian influenced restaurant run by what might be the world’s sweetest couple, and the only restaurant I went to last year that I’ll visit again this time. (Unless I get lucky again at Clown Bar, that was awesome.) A big, imposing grill across the bar counter takes on all manner of animal and vegetable, and the steak I had there was the stuff of dreams. I made the mistake of getting there at 8pm, about an hour before Parisians eat dinner. My reservation was later this time, so I’m French now.
Clamato: No reservation. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Clamato, among them the wait times. I hoped that one person requesting a bar seat wouldn’t be too tall of an order, and it wasn’t because I arrived early, but if it is, your backup is across the street: La Cave Du Septime.
Vantre: Reservation. This is a small neighborhood spot that I came across during one of my pre-travel rabbit holes on Instagram, which I highly encourage you to wander down. I emailed the restaurant for a reservation (using Google Translate), so easy. The brilliance of Instagram is that I get to stalk other people’s obnoxious dinner photos which create like a preview in photos the restaurant has been tagged in, so I’m essentially turning a Parisian dining experience into a point-and-order menu comprised of laminated pictures.
2 — Reserve.
If it takes reservations, make reservations. Remove as much stress and worry from solo travel as you can. I will admit that I strongly prefer reservations I can make via email or reservation service, rather than via phone only, which is common over there. I am hella intimidated by calling fucking Paris. Just find a friend from Canada or something and ask them to help you.
Menus in english are bullshit, but at the same time I’m not trying to order some nouveau shellfish dish I don’t know how to eat that costs my whole budget. Download Google Translate or another app that can translate text in real time via the camera. It’s some James Bond shit and it’ll help you learn a little, too. Sometimes the restaurant will send over their best english speaker to help you, when that happens, ask questions, get recommendations. French people are nicer than we’ve been led to believe.
Dessert at Clown Bar, best tarte au citron I have had or will ever have. The little guys on the side are a treat sent out by the kitchen because I offered to scoot down a seat so a famous chef dude and his friends could sit at the bar. The bartender also poured me tastes of all the wine he was giving the chef. I’m telling you, the perks of solo dining are legion.
On my last trip, I didn’t follow my own advice, and had no idea where to go to dinner on my last night in Paris. I ended up at a cozy neighborhood restaurant with 20 seats and a very hot bartender. He actually wouldn’t allow me to order creme brûlée, (note that it was on his own damn menu), and ordered dessert for me because he wanted me to “experience Paris.” The dessert was lovely, though he and I found out that flirting with people you don’t understand has its limitations. My point being, listen to the locals. If they say you should try something, you probably should.
5–Fucking wing it.
Sometimes you won’t know where you are, what you should order, or what items on the menu even are. You’ll be super intimidated by even trying to speak the language and you’ll be petrified of coming across like a dumbass American set to incur the disdain of a French server. That’s okay. These situations have equal potential to end in disaster or triumph, but both resolutions involve memories and good stories, at the very least. I once ordered cold clams in a broth that tasted like herbed vodka. Horrifying then, funny now.
I find that in my most frustrating moments, it helps to remember I’m on vacation. This is my time, my choice, and my money. I’m going to do what I want and then never see any of these people again. Order something else. Get up and leave. Connect to the wifi and live tweet. Your decisions, mistakes, and experiences are your own, you don’t have to clear them with anyone. But someday you might. So go–do, try, ask, enjoy. The world is your oyster, the oyster is your oyster, and everything, even being single, sounds better in French.