Your Guide to Eating Alone: Why dining solo isn’t as scary as you think
I remember the first time I ate alone at a restaurant. My armour was the latest issue of a fashion magazine. I bravely stormed the sushi restaurant and awkwardly raised a single finger as I said, ‘one, please’.
It took a lot for me to eat alone that first time. Since then, I’ve relished in the solitude of dining out solo, but it was not an easy path to get here.
Why does eating out alone cause so much internal struggle for people? Is it the fear that fellow diners will glare judgingly at you? Or the waiters will look upon you with pity? Is it the vulnerability of eating combined with the awkwardness of being single that causes discomfort?
Or the most likely answer - all of the above?
Whether you’re a solo traveler, a newly-arrived expat, or just on your own for the night, we’ve all been in the uncomfortable position of having to dine out solo. To help you ease into it, we’ve put together this guide to eating alone.
So take a deep breath and remember - if you know what you bring to the table, you won’t be afraid to eat alone!
Bring your armour
If you’re feeling a little uneasy about the idea of having to just entertain yourself during dinner, bring a book, Kindle, or magazine to keep you occupied. Listen to music, scroll through IG, or watch a little Netflix for some uninterrupted binging. It’s also a good opportunity to catch up on emails or other work, so bring a tablet or laptop with you.
If you’re feeling a little braver, forgo the social armour and instead, enjoy the moment and take part in some people-watching. Or jump on the opportunity to practice mindful eating. Eating mindfully means you are fully focused on your food and all the smells, tastes, flavors and textures that it has. Use your solo dining experience as a way to fully experience the pleasure of your food, the way it was actually meant to be enjoyed.
Make a foodie friend
So you’re brand new in town, or maybe you’re traveling on your own, or perhaps none of your friends are down to feast - guess what, that’s totally cool! Most people have been in this situation before and there’s nothing wrong with using this to your advantage. See your solo status as an opportunity to make some new friends!
If you’re feeling brave (maybe have a glass of liquid courage first), strike up a conversation with the table next to you. If you see another solo diner, say hello! Ask for sightseeing recommendations in the city, or ask where you should dine next. After all, locals know the best spots so why not get some good ideas while chatting with interesting folks?
If you don’t feel comfortable approaching someone in public, find a new friend in advance. Ask around to see if anyone you know already has a connection in the area - a friend blind date if you will! Or, use technology to aid in your foodie friend search. Opt to join Facebook groups to find fellow travelers or locals up for dinner. Download Panion and find friends in proximity to you, with similar interests so that your dinner conversation is never boring. With Panion you have the option of seeking out friends (like me, who are always down to feast), but who also share your other interests. Into yoga and wine? Same here - and I’m an excellent dinner guest.
Sit at the bar
One of my favorite tricks when I eat alone at a restaurant is to ask to be seated at the bar or the chef’s table. To be fair, I also love dining at a table for two or four (it honestly feels very luxurious to spread out) but sitting at the bar or the chef’s table and can help you feel a little less awkward about not having a companion for dinner. Bartenders and chefs are usually up for some light small talk if you want to chit chat or you can partake in some free entertainment and watch the chef’s busily prep meals or expert bartenders shake up cocktails!
Choosing the right type of restaurant
I firmly believe that there is no type of restaurant that is off-limits when it comes to eating alone. I’ve eaten hot pot, izakaya, tapas, fine dining tasting menus - all alone. Nevertheless, even as a seasoned pro, eating all-you-can-eat hot pot on my own was a little embarrassing (I admit it), and just inconvenient as well. If I’m not feeling my most confident or I don’t have the time to indulge in a feast (though that’s rare), I have a few specific restaurant types that I go for.
Ramen and pho in particular are great options for solo diners. In Japan, some ramen restaurants are even made specifically for those eating alone! It’s not uncommon to see people in suits and ties stopping for a solo bowl on their way home from work. Sushi, sandwiches and wraps, and sit down restaurants (with full entrees, not made for sharing) also work well for dining on your own.
Enjoying a cocktail during your travels can be a wonderful break from a hectic schedule. But if you’re traveling alone, grabbing a drink can feel intimidating. To combat this, I carefully choose the right type of bar. Chill lounges, patios, or restaurants that also have a bar are an alternative to the boisterous watering holes packed with large groups. I particularly recommend trying out a restaurant that has a bar (or just well-known for their cocktails) for a drink and ordering a snack along with it. Be sure to check out happy hours as well as they usually aren’t as busy and have a more low key atmosphere.
Enjoy your own company
There’s a lot of talk around ‘self-care’ and what that means to different people. Personally, eating alone is part of my self-care routine. Last weekend, I took myself out for a plate of dumplings and a trip to the movies. It was a treat just for me.
Maybe treating yourself isn’t what self-care means to you, maybe it means having time to yourself to reflect on your week, or maybe it means confronting fears and pushing boundaries, or perhaps it means meeting new people and delighting in your time with them. In any case, eating alone in a restaurant can provide these opportunities.
It’s easy to stay in our comfort zones, but when we step outside them we can be rewarded with new friends, a better sense of self, and even good food.
— Rosie, ‘People-Watcher’ Extraordinaire
Rachel ‘Rosie’ Young is a writer and yoga teacher who explores the globe as a digital nomad. She encourages her readers and students to blast through personal limitations and live life to their fullest. Rosie can be found on www.swellwomen.com and www.therachellaurenyoung.com with her prose and articles.