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Does the prospect of solo dining bring you out in a cold sweat?
If so, you are not alone. Eating alone in restaurants is one of the toughest challenges a solo traveller faces, especially if it is your first time travelling alone.
Firstly, there’s your slightly apologetic request for a table for one. The restaurant host 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 almost hear them commenting, “Poor person. I wonder why he/she is dining alone.”
Does this sound familiar? Or perhaps you are yet to eat out 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 palatable (!) experience.
To help you rock solo dining, I’ll share my tips for eating out alone with you and argue that being a solo diner can be a positive thing.
Why solo dining can be an ordeal
Let’s face it. Most of us will merrily go to the cinema or theatre by ourselves. Spending a solo afternoon pottering around a museum isn’t a problem.
But dining alone? That’s a completely different ball game.
I have a theory on why this is.
Eating out is intrinsically entwined with social events. There’s the romantic table for two, the catch-up meals with a few friends, the pre-theatre bite to eat, the celebratory meal with a group of friends, the family Sunday lunch out. You get the picture.
Therefore, by eating alone, somehow you feel like you are deviating from these intangible social ‘rules,’ and will be judged by others for doing so. Hence the perceived pitying looks, the unspoken questions over your inability to rustle up a dining companion.
By and large, this is rubbish. Your fellow diners are likely to be far too self-absorbed to notice a solo traveller sitting at their table for one. And as for the waiters … they are too busy trying to get the job done.
Video: What it’s like to eat alone at a restaurant
This video sums up the pitfalls of eating alone in a restaurant beautifully, courtesy of the wonderful Frasier.
Just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely
Tips for solo dining
Do you want to walk into a restaurant alone with your head held high?
To help you do this, here are the coping mechanisms that have made me feel more comfortable about eating out alone. Like me, you may eventually learn to embrace being the occupant of a table for one..
1. Recognise that solo dining is not a taboo
Solo diners are no longer social pariahs. Shout it from the rooftops.
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.
Open Table, the online restaurant reservation service, reported that ‘table for one’ bookings jumped 160% between 2014 and 2018.
In some parts of the world, solo dining has become – whisper it – trendy.
South Koreans have come up with a special name for it, Honbap .
On Instagram, there are more than 17,000 posts with the #solodining hashtag.
In other words, all the cool people are eating out alone.
Therefore, the first step is to ditch your pre-conception that, as a solo diner, people will judge you negatively. Eating alone does not signify that you are sad and lonely.
2. Plan your dining experience in advance
As a solo traveller, wandering around unfamiliar city streets at night in search of a good meal is not usually the best strategy, from a safety or a culinary point of view.
Do your research. Check restaurants on Google Maps, TripAdvisor or your old-fashioned guide book. Ask your hotel or other travellers for recommendations.
If possible, I like to walk by potential places to eat earlier in the day to check them out, but also to map a route from my accommodation. I also make sure that I have a few options up my sleeve if my first choice doesn’t pan out.
3. Check menu prices in advance
No-one likes a nasty shock when the waiter presents your bill at the end of the meal. Make sure you know how much your meal is likely to cost and if this will fall within your budget.
The last thing that you need is an unwelcome financial surprise to add to your discomfort as a solo diner.
4. Make a table reservation for popular places
Reserving a table at popular restaurants is sensible, regardless of the size of your dining party.
With your reservation secure, you won’t need to revert to Plan B on that evening.
Also, some people, including me, find that asking the host for a table for one is one of the most daunting aspects of solo dining. If you have a booking, the restaurant will only be expecting one person, saving you the discomfort of declaring that you are a solo diner at the door.
5. Eat early in the evening …
Restaurants are less busy and more informal in the early hours. Outside of peak restaurant hours, the welcome can be warmer and service more attentive.
6 … Or make lunch your main meal of the day
Solo dining at lunchtime can be good practice for eating out alone at night.
Not only is lunch more casual, but as there are likely to be more solo diners you won’t feel like such an oddity.
One of the great culinary bargains is the set menu of the day that you find in some European countries, offering a limited two or three-course menu at a great price. These are certainly on offer over the lunchtime but can extend until late afternoon.
This can work really well. During a recent trip to Tenerife, I took advantage of the menu of the day a few times, occupying the remainder of the day with sightseeing and relaxing in my Airbnb.
7. Choose your restaurant wisely
This is probably an obvious point but if you don’t want to be surrounded by couples staring longingly into each other’s eyes, avoid romantic, candlelit restaurants.
Equally, I would give avoid family-oriented places, complete with boisterous children, a wide berth.
8. Choose an outdoor eatery
Pavement cafés tend to be less formal than indoor restaurants and are good spots for people-watching. Therefore, if you have a choice, and if the weather is favourable, sit outside.
9. Choose your restaurant table carefully …
Make sure that you are happy with where you are seated.
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.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a table in a better location. The same as any other diner in that restaurant, you are paying for your meal, and are entitled to choose a table to your liking, as long as it’s not one displaying a ‘reserved’ sign.
Window tables are great for watching the world go by.
10 … 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. Sushi restaurants are particularly good in this respect.
11. Treat yourself …
Keep reminding yourself that you are on your holiday.
And by way of giving yourself a pat on the back for entering that restaurant and requesting a table for one, order that steak, a fancy cocktail and a dessert that makes your coronary artery cry out for mercy.
12 … But go easy on the booze
Don’t get me wrong, I love a glass or two of wine with dinner and maybe a cheeky cocktail or digestif. But as a solo female traveller, I am responsible for my own safety and for getting myself back to my hotel or Airbnb.
Therefore, I don’t take any chances and limit the amount that I drink when away. For me, this is not the right time to go out on the lash.
13. Focus on others
You are not the centre of attention.
Leave self-absorption at the restaurant door. Look outside of yourself and, instead, indulge 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.
14. Bring a prop or two
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 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.
15. Keep your belongings safe
After a few friends had their bags and purses stolen in busy London bars and restaurants, I am super careful about where I leave my bag.
Either keep you bag on your lap or secure it to the leg of your chair. Whatever you do, never hang your bag on the back of your chair or leave it on the floor. You’re just asking to be robbed.
Equally, in busy restaurants, and particularly when sitting at outside tables, don’t invite passing thieves to pinch your mobile phone by having it on display.
16. Carry some cash with you
This is what I call a belts-and-braces solo dining tip.
When you are travelling alone, you have no-one to fall back on if things go wrong. So what would happen if you finished a splendid meal only to find that the restaurant does not, or cannot, accept cards, and you have no cash on you? Or what would you do if they did accept card payment and your card was declined?
Always be prepared.
17. Savour every morsel
Don’t yield to the temptation to rush your meal.
Dining alone is not about throwing the food down your throat and getting out of there as quickly as possible.
You have carefully selected your meal from the menu and now is the time to enjoy every mouthful,
18. Exude confidence
It’s all about attitude. Transform yourself into the most interesting person in the room
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.
19. Focus on the positives of eating out 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.
20. 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.
21. Tip well
In countries where tips are customary, and if the service that you have receives warrants it, tip well.
Simply because you’re eating alone doesn’t mean you have to go overboard, but a fair tip shows your appreciation and result in a warmer welcome for the next solo female diner.
Solo dining: final thoughts
Like most things in life, 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 seven easy steps to solo travel.
GET MORE TIPS ON SOLO TRAVEL!
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