Stock up on reading material. I carry a small clip-on book light in case the lighting is too low. As for that empty seat across the way, it makes a good footrest.
Go as early as possible, when the restaurant is less crowded. I speak to the hostess or maitre d' and confide that I'm dining alone and am new to the area/restaurant/country, and ask advice about what to order. In this way, at Drei Husaren in Vienna, I had one of the most memorable meals of my life.
Betty Lawson Walters
When I'm on the road alone and don't feel like room service, I dine at the bar. If it's busy, I'll likely be sitting next to someone who will want to talk; if it's not, the bartender is usually available for chit-chat.
John H. Lockwood
Sometimes I pull out a notebook and take notes. I tell the maitre d' I'm writing an article on the city and its restaurants. Taking notes focuses the attention and makes the dining experience better. And the deception isn't total. I'm keeping these notebooks, and some day, when I have time . . . .
Just as in Washington's Galileo or Citronelle, premier restaurants in other cities have a kitchen where you eat communally with fellow gourmands. You won't know the menu or wines in advance, but you'll enjoy the show in the company of other foodies.
Tell the maitre d' you are dining alone and wouldn't mind sharing a table with someone else dining alone. This is especially easy at a hotel restaurant and can be quite enjoyable.
I seek out sports bars. You avoid facing an empty seat at a table for two, and you can enjoy the grill cuisine and a beer or three with no waiting.
I enjoy restaurants with group tables, like the Durgin-Park in Boston, which seats 10 to a table. One evening I dined with the president's security team. Another time it was three Barbie look-alike models in town for a toy manufacturers' convention.
Treat the evening as a progressive dinner and sit at the bar. At the first place, order a drink and an appetizer. At a second, order a glass of wine and an entree. At the last, coffee and dessert. Your evening will include delicious food, interesting conversation and absolutely no concerns about being a "table for one."
Strike up a conversation with your waiter. In Miami Beach recently, I asked my server if he was Cuban. No, he was Italian, so we chatted about places around Milan. When I returned the next time, he came up to me and shook my hand.
Some restaurants are generally more conducive for solo dining . . . and some are not.
Perfect: Sushi bars.
Good: Fairly large, busy restaurants with varying numbers of people at the tables, or fairly large, quiet restaurants with enough people there so I don't draw too much attention.
Bad: Cozy, couple-oriented restaurants, or restaurants where everybody goes in big groups.
My husband died more than five years ago and I am still refining my approach. Here's what I have learned: Intend to enjoy yourself. Always make a reservation. Be certain to get a nice table. Don't take reading material. Look around, notice the decorations, the other diners, the flowers. Take your time. Have whatever you want. Tip well. Sleep well.
North Garden, Va.
I make sure my Palm Pilot has several articles downloaded from the Internet to read. It's discreet, and I can play games when I run out of articles without looking like a teenager with a Game Boy.
Several years ago I discovered brewpubs. They almost always have good food and wine; it's not unusual for someone to sit at the bar alone and eat; there's always a TV behind the bar to catch a game; and bartenders are more adept than the wait staff at conversation.
Warren J. Saccente
My favorite approach was to ask colleagues in the town I was visiting for the best new restaurant, which tends to be more welcoming to first-time guests. Then I'd call for a reservation, explaining that I was traveling by myself on business, looking for a great dinner, and that people at the local office had been enthusiastic about this restaurant. I was always greeted warmly and served graciously.
I have been a flight attendant for 30 years, and my advice to women business travelers is to ask a flight attendant for suggestions. Some of my favorites include Bistro Bis and B. Smith's (Washington), Giacomo's (Boston), Tommy Toys (San Francisco) and the Capital Grill (Providence).
Satellite Beach, Fla.
I occasionally am alone in New York City and dine at a Benihana of Tokyo.The hibachi table for 10 or 12 soon fills up with other singles or couples and I am no longer alone. By the end of the meal, people are friendly and talking.
Here are some rules for dining alone in Paris: Dress up. Have the concierge at your hotel make your reservation. Ask for a window seat. Take advantage of the half-bottles of wine. Do not take a book -- allow yourself to be completely immersed in the enjoyment of eating. Don't hurry.
Shirley B. Fein