Vermont Restaurant Week starts today. From today until May 5, foodies around Vermont can take advantage of prix-fixe menus at special prices in restaurants around the region. This is only Vermont’s second year doing this, but it’s a phenomenon that’s been hosted in a number of cities around the US for years now. Restaurant Week is a great opportunity to take yourself out to eat. That’s right, I’m talking about solo dining.
I know, nothing has the potential to strike fear in the hearts of otherwise confident human beings more than the prospect of having to dine alone. But if you’re going to travel solo, you will eventually need to learn to eat alone in restaurants. To me, Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity to practice. Why? Two reasons:
- Restaurant Week is an event that benefits a worthy cause. (In Vermont, it’s the Vermont Food Bank.) So here’s your opportunity to do good while also practicing your solo dining skills. If you feel at all awkward and uncomfortable during your meal, just remind yourself you’re doing it for charity.
- The prices represent a discount over what you would normally pay. You’re saving money on the experience!
If you’ve never “done” a Restaurant Week before, here’s how it works:
- Go to the Restaurant Week website to see the listing of participating restaurants and review their menus. Prix-fixe menus generally include an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert, and most restaurants will offer you two to three choices in each category. The total cost is less than what it would normally cost you to purchase those dishes separately at the restaurant.
- Choose the one(s) that look good to you. Make a reservation for the appropriate mealtime (lunch or dinner) sometime during Restaurant Week.
- Show up at the restaurant at the preappointed time and enjoy your meal.
- Don’t forget to tip your server well.
Because Restaurant Week is a fundraiser, restaurants really want people to turn out. You shouldn’t feel shy about making a reservation for one. Sometimes we solo diners psych ourselves out of dining alone because we assume the restaurants aren’t interested in our business. Usually, this is not true.
Sue Bette, owner of Burlington’s Bluebird Tavern, used to be a frequent solo diner herself. “When I was a college coach I was on the road quite a bit and had to dine solo quite often, and I have to say it did take some time getting used to! What really made my solo dining experience fun was finding little gems on the road, small independent restaurants that provided a great experience and regional foods to enjoy.”
“At Bluebird Tavern we are always excited to serve solo diners, folks who have joined us either because they are looking for a great experience and to take some time for themselves or may be in the area for business travel.”
She recommends the tavern bar for solo diners, for the personal attention and the TVs playing regional sports, but adds that the dining room also has “cozy nooks for solo-diners to relax and enjoy a beautifully prepared, locally sourced meal.”
Jed Davis, co-owner of the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, says his restaurant sees a fair amount of solo diners, too–“generally people here on business from out of town. Most solo diners seem to enjoy dining at our bar, although we are certainly happy to accommodate single diners at tables.”
Per Davis, communal dining is “something we flirt with on occasion at the Farmhouse,” with communal tables in the outdoor beer garden, and a long communal table in the downstairs parlor space. He credits the “social dining” trend for this. “People go out to dinner to socialize, whether by themselves or with others.”
Still not sure you’d be comfortable dining alone? Here are some tips that might help make it easier:
- If you’re feeling social, sit at a bar or counter or try a communal table if the restaurant has one. This way you can interact with others, including the bartender/server and other customers. At the very least, there is usually a TV behind the bar you can watch while you eat.
- Secure a table in a prime people-watching location, like next to a window or at an outdoor table.
- Try dining in a restaurant with live entertainment, like a jazz trio.
- Bring something to keep yourself occupied while waiting for your food. I usually bring a journal to write in, but some people read a book or magazine. You can use your cell phone for texting or surfing the web (but not for calls; no one wants to hear you talking on your cell phone in the restaurant). No matter which distraction I use, I give my servers my full attention whenever they come around.
So check your nearest city–or a city you hope to visit in the future–to see if it has a Restaurant Week. If you’re lucky, in addition to prix-fixe menus, there will be other fun food-related events you can attend (a good way to meet locals). Vermont has several, including a week-long screening of the classic 1996 Stanley Tucci-Tony Shalhoub restaurant movie, Big Night, at the Palace 9. The event that looks like the most fun to me? The Sangria Smackdown at Red Square, where you can sample and judge five different sangria recipes by local mixologists. Yum!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go peruse menus and figure out where I would like to take myself out to eat this coming week.