Updated post: 08/02/2019 | February 2019
Eating alone in restaurants is one of the toughest things when you travel alone. Firstly, there’s your slightly apologetic request for a table for one. The maître d’ shows you to your table, which is invariably slap bang in the centre of the room or next to the toilets.
Then, as you take your seat, the waiter theatrically removes the place settings for your invisible dining companion. You can feel the eyes of your fellow diners burning into the back of your head and you can imagine them commenting, “Poor person. I wonder why he/she is dining alone.”
Does this sound familiar? Or perhaps you are yet to eat alone because this is what you imagine it will be like?
Well, I am not going to gloss over the truth; it can be exactly like this. However, over the years, I have found some ways to make it a more … ahem … palatable experience. Let me share these with you now.
Breaking the taboo of the table for one
Firstly, it is important to recognise that solo diners are no longer social pariahs. A recent report, based on focus group discussions and a survey of 2,000 people, claimed that 78% of people believe that eating alone is more socially acceptable than it was five years ago. Furthermore, over a quarter of Britons had done so in the last year, and 21% actively did this in pursuit of quality time alone.
Bookatable, the online reservation service used by thousands of restaurants, has reported that bookings for single tables have risen by 38 per cent since 2014.
Therefore, you need to ditch your perception that people are judging you. Eating alone does not signify that you are sad and lonely.
Choose your restaurant wisely
This is probably an obvious point but if you don’t want to be surrounded by couples staring into each other’s eyes, then avoid romantic, candlelit restaurants. Equally, if you are missing your children, avoid family-oriented places.
Think carefully about your restaurant table
Whilst you might feel conspicuous in the centre of a restaurant, sitting tucked away by the toilets isn’t great either. Aside from the occasional aromatic wafts, when you are seated outside of the main area of the restaurant it can be more difficult to get the attention of waiting staff. There are few things more frustrating as a solo diner then struggling to get the attention of your server.
Or take a seat at the bar or counter
If you are after a more sociable dining experience, then why not take a seat at the counter or bar? I have found that it is often easier to strike up conversations with other diners, or with the bartenders, and it’s also good for people watching.
Focus on others
Which brings me on to my next tip … look outside of yourself and instead do a spot of people watching. People can be fascinating; from your fellow diners, and how they interact with each other, to the waiting staff dashing around. Scan the room and guess which couples are on a first date or which are having an affair. Engage your waiter in conversation if you can. Or talk to those sitting on the adjacent table. They may have stories to tell and could give you some top tips for your trip. All of this could be fascinating stuff for your travel journal.
Bring a distraction
Initially, you are likely to feel uncomfortable dining alone and bringing a prop can be a lifesaver. Think of it as your armour. Your virtual companion could be any of the following:
- A book
- Some puzzles (e.g. crossword / Sudoku)
- Your travel journal or
- Your smartphone – dining is a good opportunity to check email, text, gather information, or to check what’s happening in the world
- Your digital camera – you can review your photos from the day
However, you will find that as you get more comfortable with eating alone, you will need to rely on these props less and less. In the early days, I used to be glued to my Kindle, barely looking up. Now, whilst I still carry it with me, I will barely get through a chapter.
It’s all about attitude. Order yourself that Margarita or a glass of fine wine. Sip it slowly whilst surveying the room. You can be that glamorous, mysterious individual watching the world go by, drink in hand.
Focus on the positives of dining alone
Always remember that you chose to travel alone. You chose that restaurant, that cuisine and to eat at that time. Setting the budget is entirely up to you. And no-one will judge you if you slob some sauce onto your top.
Enjoy going out to eat alone
This is ‘me time’. Relish the opportunity to go out to dinner alone. Take in your surroundings, reflect on your day, write in your travel journal and plan the day ahead, whilst feasting on delicious food and wine.
Like most things, the hardest part is doing it for the first time. If you are still unsure about eating alone why not start with baby steps? For instance, try a coffee shop for afternoon tea and cake and you will see others doing the same thing. Not such a big deal after all. Or go into a bar, order a G&T and lose yourself in a good book or in conversation with a stranger if you are very lucky.
I will leave you with a final thought. All too often these days, people dining together will be glued to their smartphones, only engaging in sporadic conversation. This just goes to show that you don’t have to be a solo diner to eat alone.
What are your solo dining experiences? Do you have any tips to help others conquer their fear of eating alone in public? Please do share your thoughts below. And if you are after other actionable ways to make travelling alone a reality, check out my five easy steps to solo travel.