Tips For Eating Alone at a Restaurant
“Juice for you and…?” says the waitress, glancing at the seat opposite me on my table for two. There's an awkward pause before I have to state the obvious.
“It’s just me,” I say, feeling slightly uncomfortable at her presumption that I had company.
Oh, that awkward feeling of dining alone that never seems to go away.
When you go on a solo trip, the likelihood is that you are going to be dining out and eating alone at a restaurant. Trying the local cuisine is part of the culture and although you can go to the local markets and buy local produce to cook, it's a treat going out and being waited on for the evening.
If you aren't keen on the awkward dining-for-one experience, then maybe book yourself into a self-catering apartment or a hostel with a shared kitchen. But if you want to try being solo at a restaurant and avoid that awkward feeling, here are my tips for dining alone.
N.b. If you're ready to plan your solo trip but are unsure how to do it, read my how to plan a solo trip article.
1. Eat dinner early so you can avoid the busy times
You don't have to eat out when the couples do. Avoid the peak times for eating out so you don't have to feel alone in a busy restaurant of couples.
2. Plan the rest of your trip
As you're already on your trip, make use of the time and plan the rest of your trip. The longest period can sometimes be waiting for your meal to be cooked or slow service if (in the Mediterranean for example). Take your guidebook with you and research what you want to do tomorrow. Plan your route and things to do for the remainder of your trip.
3. Sit at the bar
Look for less formal restaurants. If there is a bar area, sit at a bar instead of a dining table or sit outside on a terrace and people watch to while away the time.
4. Join a tour
See if there are any food tours you can join, or join a walking tour that ends before dinner. You may even meet others on these tours and be invited to have a drink or bite to eat together.
5. Find a social impact project to dine at
Help the local community by finding a restaurant that gives back. Restaurants such as Scott & Binh's in Vietnam donate a portion of their profits to a local non-profit and employ boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. Check for any you can dine at in your chosen country.
6. Read or journal
Take a good book to read and lose yourself within its story. Whether it's a fiction book or an educational book based on the country you are travelling in, it provides a welcome escape from your dining surroundings. If you're not an avid reader, take a pen and a journal and write down your thoughts and reflections (or even start your very own blog).
7. Go Canteen style
Go to places which are more canteen and buffet-style where you serve yourself then sit down and eat. There are usually food courts at the top of shopping centres with a choice of eateries (and those well-known fast-food chains). These places have a high turnover of people and aren’t a long dining experience which may make you feel uncomfortable about being alone.
8. Organise your photos
If you're anything like me, you take lots of photos! Whilst you have a break from sightseeing, dining out is a good opportunity to flick through your photos, edit them and delete the ones you no longer need. You can do it in-between courses and you may even want to take more in the restaurant too.
9. Learn a language when you're dining
Restaurants offer the perfect place to brush up on your language skills. Take your phrasebook or language app and learn what's written on the menu. It's helpful for your dinner too!
10. Avoid restaurants
If you're exploring the streets of Italy, stop for a slice of pizza. In France, pop into a bakery, in Germany stop at a food truck for a german sausage. In Thailand buy a Pad Thai from street vendors. No matter where you are in the world there will either be food trucks, or street food vendors. Buy your food and find somewhere with a great view to take in the scenery.
11. Find a supermarket
Local supermarkets sometimes have a cold or hot counter where you can buy salads or pre-packed hot food. You can then either take it back to your room or find a spot outside to eat it. This is a good way of avoiding restaurants and getting cheap food too.
12. Eat with the locals
Sign up to Eatwith where you can have a local dining experience with locals. This is such a brilliant idea for solo dining. Eatwith is a social dining platform that gives you the chance to dine with locals. They offer authentic meals in-home with a local host in 60 countries.
I hope these ideas help to avoid those awkward nights eating alone at a restaurant whether you choose a vegan restaurant or one serving traditional cuisine. Worst-case scenario, if you really can't face dining out – order some room service and enjoy a night in. You deserve it!