To some people, eating alone is the easiest thing in the world, and even their preferred meal setting, but to others, it conjures up feelings of anxiety, dread and judgement. If you’re in the latter category, then you’ll need these tips on how to enjoy eating alone.
Many of us are used to sharing meals with family, friends or work colleagues and rarely eat alone in our own city. With a solo trip coming up, the worries start to creep in. We see this in our Solo Female Travelers community often.
What will people think? What will they say? What will I do? And so many more doubts and concerns. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
In this article, you’ll understand why you feel like this and get some suggestions to manage the anxiety and discomfort when eating alone, plus many ideas for things to do while eating alone.
So the next time you walk into a restaurant and the server asks, “Table for one?”, you’ll be able to answer in the affirmative, with glowing confidence, because you’ll have mastered the art of eating alone.
Why people worry about eating alone
Eating alone worries a lot of our members. While the majority (approximately 65%) told us that they enjoy dining solo, many still worry or get anxious about eating on their own.
The most common worry with regards to eating alone is the Fear of Other People’s Opinions (FOPO), a rising concern among all of us according to Harvard Business Review.
The piece highlights our craving for social approval is the result of our “ancient brain” which relied on societal acceptance for survival.
Worrying about other people’s opinions is also a way for us to keep our manners and be more considerate towards others, thus helping us maintain social harmony.
However, studies prove that we consistently overestimate other people’s negative opinions of ourselves and that when we think we are doing something embarrassing, we exaggerate our perception of what others think.
Perhaps you are slurping some spaghetti and end up with tomato sauce on your shirt. You will immediately feel embarrassed and feel others must be watching and laughing when, in reality, the vast majority haven’t even noticed and if they did, they may smile and carry on with their day, not thinking less of you.
In the following sections, we will be discussing tips on how to enjoy eating alone, but keep the above in mind when reading so you don’t lose perspective. Others care less about a stranger in a restaurant or bar than we think and when / if they do, their opinion is less negative than we anticipate.
Understand why eating alone is challenging
So now that you understand a bit more about the rational behind other people’s opinions, we need to get down to your own personal experience, as everyone’s is different.
Let’s start off by understanding why you feel discomfort, worry, concern or fear about eating alone in the first place. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll have all the tools you need to conquer your fear.
The first step to enjoy eating alone is to really take a deeper look at yourself and figure out why the idea of walking into a restaurant solo is so daunting.
Do you fear onlookers’ judging eyes? Are you worried about what people will think? Or do you think you’ll just get bored? Why does eating alone concern you and cause you so much anxiety?
Here’s a task for you. Go get a pen and paper or just open a new document on your laptop. Write the title, “Fears of eating alone” and then jot down anything that comes into your head in a list format.
Now look over what you’ve written. Maybe some points are pretty similar and can be combined.
Then, place the list in descending order with your biggest fear right at the top. For each point, think about what the worst case scenario would be and then consider some ideas about how you could successfully combat that negative situation.
For example, if you are worried about being bored, you could bring a book or have downloaded a few shows you can watch. If you worry about feeling lonely, you could make a virtual lunch date with your loved one or a friend and chat over Messenger while you eat. If you worry about what others will think, you could remind yourself that you will never see them again.
Many of our fears and worries have no base, yet they cause major anxiety because of the uncertainty around the things we don’t know or have never done before.
It might be enlightening to chat to a friend, family member, or even a professional about these concerns. In your head, they can only grow. Once they’ve escaped the clutches of your mind and are out in the open, you can get real opinions about them which is one step to overcoming them.
Posting in the group will also be useful. Our community members give some great tips based on their personal experience: “I ask for my check when my entree is delivered, and if I want dessert and don’t want to hang out there for an extra hour, then I order dessert when I ask for my check when they bring the entree. That way, I don’t have to wait and say goodbye after I’m done eating, I just get up and go. If I want an after-meal drink, I order that also, like a hot coffee or tea with my dessert and check, before I start with the entree. Not always, but it does help!” shared Leah.
Change your mindset
Now that you know why eating alone concerns you, it’s time to cut yourself some slack and change how you see dining solo.
If you have spent any time in our Solo Female Travelers community you’ll have noticed that feeling lonely, weird or anxious about eating alone is a common concern raised by members almost on a weekly basis, you saw the poll above with some figures.
Now you also know why you feel this way, so it’s time to cut yourself some slack, remember that this is normal and change the way you see this feeling.
One of the best ways to bring back perspective and tame the exaggeration of our fears is to try to remove negativity and judgement from your vocabulary.
Go from “I shouldn’t feel lonely right now. Feeling lonely is the worst” to “Feeling lonely is a normal human emotion. I feel what I feel in this moment, and I’m sure I’ll feel different in no time. Feeling any feeling, even loneliness, is healthy.”
This article gives a lot of tips on how to change the way we perceive these stressful situations so you can move from being worried about eating solo to enjoying eating alone.
You will also find solace in this thread by reading other women’s perspectives on why and how they also feel uncomfortable solo dining, and be reminded that feelings of fear, worry and concern are human and there is nothing wrong with them.
Now that we’ve conquered our mindset, continue reading for techniques on how to enjoy eating alone.
Remember you will never see them again
As we saw, the biggest concern on most people’s list of worries with regards to eating alone is what others will think about you.
Perhaps you worry that the wait staff or other customers will think, “Shame, that girl is so hopeless and lonely”, “Wow, she doesn’t have friends?”, “How sad that she has nobody to eat with”, or “What a weirdo, eating alone”.
Now you know that we exaggerate our perception of what others think of us, couple this with the fact that everyone leads a busy life and you’ll soon realise that nobody has time to think about strangers and speculate about their situations, especially when it is something that does not concern them in any way.
Consider this. Next time you walk past a restaurant or you’re eating out with friends, take a look around. How many people are there eating alone? How often have you noticed these people before and said to yourself, “Poor thing, dining alone”?
Our guess is that this has happened closer to zero times than a hundred. And then try to remember the last time you ate out, do you remember any of the other customers who were eating on their own? We bet you don’t.
Why is this?
In general, people are more concentrated on themselves than others, and we all get busy with conversation, our thoughts our books or our phones.
Take another look at your fellow diners, you’ll see romantic couples infatuated with one another, married couples fighting over what to eat, kids making a mess and various other fun things to watch. Whether you’re alone or with people, chances are no one is really looking at you.
And if they are staring at you, it may not be out of pity, but respect or even jealousy. Maybe they’re thinking – “Wow what a brave, adventurous, independent woman out exploring the world and having an amazing time!!!” or they wish they could do the same.
And if it is out of pity, so what? It’s their right to think what they want and it is your choice to take it in a positive or negative way.
Remind yourself what a strong and independent person you are and that you do not need anyone to keep you company to feel complete. You also don’t need anyone’s validation, let alone that of a stranger.
And remember one more time that whatever they may think, you’ll never never see them again when your meal is done, and they are very unlikely to tell you what they think anyway, so chances are you’ll never know.
No point arguing over spilled milk right?
Channel your inner diva
Think about how many people in this world have to eat alone. One that comes to mind is the jetsetting, confident business woman who has to constantly travel from city to city for work. Yes there are plenty of meals joined by colleagues and clients, but think about how many are eaten solo.
When I traveled for work every week (and I did that for 9 years every single week), I used to LOOOVE sitting at the hotel’s lobby with a glass of wine and my laptop, relaxing and maybe reviewing some work. I suspect those looking at me never felt pity but envy at how much I was enjoying myself without the need for anyone.
Who else eats alone by choice? A food critic, food blogger or influencer who is very much enjoying that scrumptious meal, with or without company. Whenever I eat at a fine dining restaurant alone I notice that the staff seem to pay extra attention and they may well think I am a food critic or a reviewer from the Michelin guide.
Rumour has it that they usually order a half wine bottle, so take a look at the wine list and see if you find any that tickles your fancy, you may just get that bit of extra great service!
Creating an alter-eating ego can really boost your confidence. Channel this confidence and create your own badass business woman or food critic persona when dining out.
Dress up and play the part, try on different “fits” and see what works best for you. Stand tall and confident, make it a little game, it’ll also give you something to focus on and more than one giggle.
Others see us the same way we see ourselves. If you are slouching, making yourself as small as possible by bending your elbows and shoulders and trying to disappear, others may feel pity, if you stand up tall, look busy, make eye contact with anyone who may be staring, enjoy every morsel and even converse with the waiter and ask for recommendations or the specials, you will ooze confidence.
Go back to the previous point and remind yourself once again how cool, exciting and liberating it is to spend time with yourself, do you know anyone as interesting?
Practice enjoying your own company
We’ve heard it a million times before, “Practice makes perfect”. We prefer a line from poet Sarah Kay’s, No Matter the Wreckage – “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Repeat the same mistakes over and over, and you don’t get any closer to Carnegie Hall.”
Learning how to enjoy your own company starts from within and may take a while to get used to. But when you keep pushing, day after day, you will soon realize how great it is to spend time with yourself.
Start small with meals in your own home without any distractions. Turn your phone off and unplug the Wifi for 30 minutes or longer for one meal a day. Spend some time with yourself in the comfort of your own home, even if you live with roommates.
Continue with a meal at a fast food chain where everyone is in a rush and come in just to eat a meal and continue with their day. Or go to a mall where meals are more functional, or even a hotel lobby where you are more likely to find business travelers on their own.
Once you feel confident in that, graduate to a restaurant down the street or if you are concerned about a friend or acquaintance seeing you eating alone, try a restaurant in another part of town or even a different state or province. Start with lunch that is less social and more functional than dinner.
Alyson, our group member, gave this great advice: “Ask to be seated near a window. Enjoy the scenery. Savor the food, try to identify the different seasonings you taste. Look around you. Make up a story about the group at another table… Is it a first date? Or married for ages?”
Build up your confidence over time. Unless you’re going on a solo adventure very soon, you have a lot of time to get used to your own company. Go on walks, go see a movie alone (when the lights go out nobody knows you are by yourself), drive somewhere. If you can do other things solo, eating will be no problem at all.
When in doubt, consider this… doesn’t the average person eat alone more often than not in their daily life? Is there a difference between eating alone in your house or at a café in another country?
Travel will make you build up your confidence and grow as a person, among many other benefits.
Look for alternative eating establishments
Just because you don’t have company doesn’t mean you have to eat by yourself. There are plenty of restaurants that offer communal dining experiences. If you shudder at the thought of how to enjoy eating alone, well, don’t!
Look for restaurants that have communal tables. Use apps like Yelp and type “communal table” in the search bar with your destination. If you’re abroad, this could be a great way to meet locals.
Some coffee shops have terrific menus too and being alone in a coffee shop is the norm, not the exception. This way you aren’t sitting alone in the corner of a really social restaurant where everyone is with friends.
Street food at markets and food trucks are other places that cater to solo eaters. You can eat standing at the cart or choose a picnic table and strike up a conversation with other foodies.
Solo travelers who want to dine with company could always try eating at hostels. There are always open-minded people at these types of establishments who are willing to chat to strangers and they make for great places to meet people when traveling solo.
Open up to possibilities
In my experience traveling solo extensively in more than 50 countries over 20 years, it is logistically harder to eat solo than it is to eat with others. The moment you walk into a bar or restaurant alone chances are someone else will invite you over or start making conversation.
On my 2 months sabbatical across 8 Pacific countries I actually struggled to eat solo, despite my often best efforts! I very much looked forward to dinner every night so I could take my journal out and write my thoughts and reflections from the day but more often than not, someone would strike up a conversation or invite me to join them. And I am not talking about men trying to flirt but about couples, families, groups of friends, groups of locals, etc.
Humans are social by nature and when we see someone alone we feel one of two sentiments: sorry or curiosity. Most travelers and foreigners were inviting me out of curiosity since solo travelers were not that common, while locals invited me to be hospitable and make sure I was not feeling lonely.
I noticed parents wanted me to join their table to show their kids to be friendly and generous and so they could hear why I was traveling solo and what adventures I had got into. Older couples wanted me over for a bit of excitement, to meet someone new and hear new stories.
Either way, I learned to avoid eye contact with anyone and ignore everyone around me when I truly wanted to be alone so that I could avoid any invitations. If you worry about being lonely or bored, all you need to do is open your eyes, make eye contact and look around, you too will be invited to join others.
Bring a distraction
One of the common concerns of solo travelers when it comes to eating alone is that or boredom. While that is increasingly hard with internet and Netflix, it may still happen that you phone runs out of battery and you are left with nothing to do.
There are lots of things to do while eating alone. I highly recommend carrying a journal and a pen with you everywhere. Writing your thoughts is not only therapeutic but also a great distraction during meals. The time spent savoring a meal makes for the perfect moment to reflect on the experiences of the day, on what you have learned, what you have felt, what you have gone through, good and bad.
An unexpected bonus from this will be years down the line when you will be able to read your thoughts again, trust us when we say that your journals will become prized possessions that will take you back to those special and unique moments you spent in your own company.
Beyond carrying a journal, it is a good idea to have a good book, a battery pack so you never run out of battery on your phone and a local SIM card. If you feel genuinely bored, you can always watch a show or read a book or even go on social media, share some photos from the day or reach out to loved ones or friends on Messenger.
I personally prefer to people watch at bars and restaurants, it makes for an incredibly valuable and enriching experience and one through which you can learn a lot. For example, who else is at the same dining spot and what may they be thinking or talking about? How does the place look like? What is that couple talking about? Are they on their first date?
Take a table at a terrace to expand your people watching to the street, pick a seat at the bar and you may also be entertained by the staff or in fine dining restaurants, you may be able to look at the kitchen and marvel at what a well oiled machine it is.
We also promise that if you worried about what others will think, staying occupied and focusing your attention elsewhere (journal, phone, etc.) will immediately remove the fear of what others think because you will have shifted your attention away from it.
Join a food tour
Another way to eat with people when you’re alone is to join a food tour. Food tours are more than just eating. They take you on a culinary and cultural journey of a specific area. You not only get to taste the best local options, but also explore hidden gems and meet people from all over the world, including some of the locals.
Join a walking tour of a popular market, take a cooking class with a local chef, or find a foodie meet up in your destination. Sites like Klook, Getyourguide and Meetup.com are amazing for these as they provide in-depth information as well as star ratings so you can really understand what you’re getting into. Many food tours are also part of extended tours around an area, so you can also learn more about the place you’re visiting.
Eat with the locals
Alternatives to food tours are chef’s table or platforms that allow you to eat with a local. Chef’s tables are intimate gatherings in a separate space of a restaurant, like the kitchen, where guests of the chef eat together.
It is usually a small group of people like 5 to 8 guests where some know the chef personally and others do not. So you get to eat with others and get a specialised meal. Sometimes, chef’s tables are at the chef’s homes.
Having dinner with a local is a personal meetup, usually at a person’s home, where you get to share in the local culture while eating authentic or traditional meals.
Eatwith a great app to find the best local food experiences on your trip. It connects you with locals and gives you lots of authentic activities to join like dinner parties, food tours or cooking classes. It’s a great way to immerse in the local gastronomy by joining hosts who are passionate about sharing their gastronomy with you.
Through the app, you’ll be able to book a seat at a table with other guests, which is a cool way to meet other people when traveling solo.
Be in the moment & embrace the situation
I love eating at fine dining restaurants on my own and make it a point to not bring a journal, a mobile phone (other than to look up ingredients and dishes or take photos) or any other distractions, I like to be in the moment and enjoy the sensation of eating, truly taking the food, the music, the decor and the atmosphere all in.
The sight, smell, taste and texture of the food is very important to our foodie needs and it is good to practice mindful eating at least from time to time.
What is mindful eating you may ask?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to whatever is happening in front of you. It usually starts with focusing on the breath in the form of meditation. You can sit and focus on your in and out breaths and when your mind wanders off, you just bring it back to your breath.
Similarly in mindful eating, you constantly bring your attention to the act of eating. Eating slowly and really concentrating on all the senses needed to eat your food. With mindfulness comes the practice of gratitude. Whether you’re spiritual or not, you can always consider how lucky you are to be eating out. You are not starving and don’t have a debilitating disease where you can’t digest your meal. Be thankful for this moment.
If you want to learn more, you can visit the Center for Mindful Eating to learn how to really concentrate on your food without needing distractions.
Go to the bathroom without worrying
Waiters are often in a hurry and want to clear tables as fast as possible. If you go to the bathroom, they might not remember you were alone and might clean your table thinking you already left.
But no worries because our group member Stacy had a genius idea to prevent this type of situation. She advised to have little cards in your wallet that say something similar to ‘I will be back soon – restroom break’ in a couple of common languages in case you dine alone frequently.
Select the right type of restaurant
Above, we described various types of alternate dining options you can visit to dine with others. Now we’ll talk about the various types of eateries that are better for solo dining and others to avoid when eating out alone.
While you can dine at just about any restaurant alone, from Michelin starred to dingy dives, there are the few that you should stay away from. Some eateries are better served for attending to solo eaters than others.
Think about family restaurants or places that serve larger meals for two or more. It may add to the strangeness to rock up at a family restaurant solo. And while sure, you could eat a meal for two and take the other half home for the next day, if you’re not used to eating alone, watching couples and groups dining together while you’re the only solo diner could make things awkward.
One of the biggest factors to look at when selecting a restaurant is to find out if they actually allow tables for one. Some restaurants, especially in the US, only allow two or more diners at a time, particularly during rush hour. The reason is purely economic since the table is occupied by one instead of two guests and thus the restaurant makes half. You can read reviews and see if this is mentioned.
If the restaurant will only allow you to eat-in solo after the rush, go to the bar and strike up a conversation with the bartender or other diners. This is a great way to build your confidence and meet new people and brings us to our next point.
There are many travel apps that help you select the best restaurant while traveling, like TheFork app. This app makes it easy to book the right restaurant for every occasion, with great deals. It operates in many countries in Europe and the Americas. Find a perfect option entering your location and type of cuisine you desire. Scroll through loads of restaurants, see their scores, menus and photos.
Engage with others
If your biggest concern about eating out alone is boredom, then we have the perfect answer for you. Instead of getting a table on your own, get a seat at the bar. There are always people having a drink or eating their meal at the bar, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation, plus these seats are specifically designed for solo travelers.
Even if there’s nobody at the bar, there’s always the bartender. Sure they might be frantically busy during rush hour, but beyond that they will surely engage in conversation with you. This way you don’t have to be lonely while you’re alone as there’s always someone to chat to.
Our group member Zhandi also recommends this: “Ask the server’s name and make a little small talk about THEM before ordered. Update them at the beginning about what type of meal flow you want, like “I’m going to order a few different courses”, “I’m just here to sit and nibble for a while”, “I want you to keep my drink updated while I’m here!”, “I’m just here for a quick meal”, “I’m going to sit here and read for a while” and so on”.
I often eat out at fine dining restaurants as mentioned earlier, and if a bar seat is available, I will ask for it. You will always get to see how dishes are prepped, with the tiny tongs and the multitude ingredients all combined in what looks like a work or art. You can ask the staff what each is or where they come from or chat to other solo diners.
Look out for single’s nights
In big cities, eating alone is part and parcel of having a busy professional life and nobody pays much attention to solo diners so you may feel less watched. At the same time, it is more likely that bars or restaurants may have singles’ nights where you can eat with perfect strangers in a safe environment.
While eating is not the main point of these events, there usually is food along with drinks and a social environment. Look it up before your trip and see if any of them appeals to you.
So, are you ready to eat alone?