Eating alone at restaurants can be intimidating to the solo traveler. Here are 5 practical tips for dining solo that will help you master your fear.
When I tell people I travel solo on most of my trips, they’re usually surprised. After the initial, “Don’t you get scared?!”, they’ll make a comment about how they could never travel alone because they’d get bored by themselves or they find planning a trip too overwhelming. But one of the most common questions I get when I explain that I like traveling alone is how I can stand to eat alone at restaurants. I’ll admit, when I was first asked this I was taken aback. I mean, is eating alone really that intimidating? After chatting with a few friends about this, I’ve come to realize that, yes, for many people—women in particular—eating alone in a legit restaurant is scary.
Why is that? Why do women in particular feel uncomfortable with the notion of eating alone at a restaurant? To be perfectly honest, I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I do have some tips that I’ve found useful when dining alone. Looking back on my solo dining journey, I can’t say I ever felt weird about eating by myself. But the following practical tips are things I often do when eating alone to save myself time and money, plus they keep me from being bored.
Tip #1: Bring entertainment with you
After five years of dining solo, I still can’t stand to just sit there waiting for my food to be brought out to me. I always have some form of entertainment tucked into my backpack (usually a light paperback). Although I prefer squeezing in some reading time, I’ve also been known to journal or plan the next part of my day while waiting for my meal to arrive. Whipping out a huge map will instantly label you as a tourist, but I’ve met so many nice people while figuring out where I want to go next after my meal. In my experience, locals love sharing what makes their city so fantastic, and I’ve had lots of people offer up advice on things to do and see when they notice me glued to my map.
Tip #2: Sit at the bar
If you’re of age, snag a seat at the bar whenever possible. Not only will you blend in better with the crowd, but it’s also easier to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. And no, you don’t have to chat up the cute guy at the end of the bar if you don’t feel like it (does that even happen in real life?); some of my most memorable conversations have happened with elderly couples and other solo female travelers who were also at the bar! Bartenders also tend to be quite chatty, so don’t be afraid to ask for their recommendations on things to eat and see in the area.
Tip #3: Avoid peak dining hours
Personally, I don’t mind eating by myself during rush hour, but as a rule of thumb I’d recommend eating during off-peak hours if you’re new to the world of solo dining. Eating out during peak hours means you’ll have to deal with a longer wait time, and it’ll be harder for you to score a smaller table. If you don’t mind eating at really off-peak hours, you might be able to score better deals on your food and drinks (call ahead and ask about happy hour deals or see if the restaurant has discounted lunch combos you can cash in on).
Tip #4: Eat slowly
When eating by myself, I like to think of my meal as a form of self-care. Even if I don’t order a particularly fancy dish, I try to really take my time and enjoy the meal slowly. When traveling solo, I have a bad habit of go-go-going until I’m absolutely whipped. So for me, eating out alone is my scheduled me-time when I can read my book and slow down for a bit.
Tip #5: Begin with breakfast or lunch
If you’re nervous about dining solo, start by eating breakfast or lunch by yourself. Restaurants typically aren’t as busy during these times, and you can likely dress more casually. Plus, breakfast and lunch is often a quicker meal, so you won’t have to entertain yourself for long.
Kudos to you for treating yourself to a meal! If you’re still unsure about the whole dining alone thing, just remember that no one cares if you’re eating by yourself. Think about it this way: when you go out to eat with your friends, do you take the time to scan the restaurant and pick out specific people who are dining near you? I didn’t think so. And if you get the feeling that someone is judging you for eating by yourself, ignore them! If they lack your courage and independence to eat alone, it’s their loss.
Tell me: Have you dined solo before? If not, what’s holding you back?
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