How to Dine Out on New Year’s Eve and Actually Enjoy Yourself

The occasion might feel momentous, but it doesn’t have to be.

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New Year’s Eve. Just writing those 3 words, in that order, evokes emotions that are different for everyone.

The stroke of midnight on January 1 is one of the rare occasions when we stop and notice how, in one second, we go from the past to the present—a present that feels like the future—and it seems like the ideal moment not only to celebrate, but recalibrate. And what marks the occasion better than a good meal?

Going out after being “in,” physically and emotionally, for the past few years has spurred us all to make plans, reconnecting with the celebrations we enjoyed in the beforetimes. As we do so, there are three things to remember in order to have the best holiday: be realistic, manage expectations, and don’t try to force your own idea of fun onto everyone.

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I have a long and dear friendship with a chef who adores two things: the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish and the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, both of which he eats exactly once a year. On New Year’s Eve, he and his lady love head to the McD’s drive-thru, place an order with extra fries so they can eat them while waiting in the drive-thru at Chick’s, and then they have themselves a feast. This annual tradition is the perfect NYE for them—expectations managed and met, setting the perfect tone for the year to come.

Is it your dream to ring in the new year with a 10-course tasting menu? Great! But find a group of loved ones who genuinely want that experience, too; no one should attend such an event unless they’re all-in. Otherwise, you’ll all leave disappointed. These types of meals require diners’ patience, plus a willingness to listen and learn about the courses and wine pairings. Without enthusiasm, it just feels like work.

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By the same token, if your favorite burger from the shack down the street hits the mark every time, then the burger at a big steakhouse with a dress code probably won’t do it for you. It will be good. But great? Worth kicking off the year with? Consider ringing in 2023 with the food that matters most to you. It’s the same logic as choosing which people you want by your side as the countdown to midnight begins.

Or perhaps you aren’t thinking about heading out for a meal at all—maybe your ultimate plan is to get loaded. In that case, save your money and stay home to celebrate. You’ll have a great time.

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You’ll have the best New Year’s Eve by being thoughtful about where you’re going out, but also why. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure sort of holiday. Call friends with whom you share memories, pick a small local restaurant that needs your love and money, go early, eat a lot, hug everyone, and get home in time to see the ball drop in Times Square. There’s a lot to be said for starting the year exactly how you choose to.