For many solo travelers, the hardest part of traveling alone comes at mealtimes. Dining alone can be a challenging experience – and for those of us from western countries, we may have been socialized to feel awkward eating alone in a restaurant. But there’s good news! Just because eating alone isn’t comfortable now, doesn’t mean we can’t learn to enjoy the experience- after all solo travel is all about exploring and getting out of our comfort zone.
In this article, I share a few actionable, effective tips for increasing your comfort and confidence dining alone at a restaurant + one illustration I created while dining alone in a Romanian food restaurant.
Strategies to Get Comfortable Eating Alone in a Restaraunt:
Remember: You Have a right to be there
The very best thing I can recommend to make it easier to eat alone in a restaurant while traveling (or anytime!) is to adjust your mindset. You are not a person alone in the world- You are a person on an adventure of your own creation! As a paying customer, you have every right to dine in a restaurant and enjoy the space. Using this as an affirmation as you enter a restaurant and get seated can help adjust your frame of mind as you get used to eating alone in restaurants during solo travel.
A Story about Affirmations & Doing Hard Things:
We often overlook the power of affirmations. I’ll never forget my very first visit to the beach as a solo traveler, I sat in my hotel for ages working up the courage to go downstairs and swim in the Adriatic sea. In my vacation planning, I’d specifically chose the city of Zadar, Croatia because of the opportunity to swim right up to a sea organ built into the sea wall but when I arrived at my destination and realized what a popular (and crowded) swimming spot the sea organ was- I was mortified.
As a plus size traveler, being in a bathing suit alone in front of a crowd is many magnitudes more difficult than dining alone. I stayed in my hotel room until a kind friend texted me from thousands of miles away, with simple words affirming my body’s right to enjoy swimming in the sea just as much as any other body. Clutching those words to myself, I marched down to the sea organ and plunged into the gentle embrace of the Adriatic Sea.
Choose restaurants appropriately
The fact is, some restaurants are easier places to eat alone than others. When I discovered the bustling lunch counters at Pike Place Market, I realized they were the easiest place in the world to eat a meal alone, while intimate bistros in Florence, Italy proved to be quite a bit more challenging to my own initial discomfort at dining alone.
As you get used to the experience of eating alone during solo travel, give yourself time to ease into it. Don’t just get takeout and carry it back to your Airbnb, and don’t just haunt your hostel’s lounge hoping to find another traveler with a budget for dining out with you (although, preparing food to share in a hostel kitchen is one of the best ways to make friends while traveling). Instead, ease into it by choosing single-friendly restaurants.
I find busy casual-dining tourist restaurants to be the easiest to eat and enjoy a meal alone, while evening meals in intimately lit elegant restaurants are quite a bit more challenging. Restaurants attached to hotels are also good options for solo dining, since there’s likely to be a business traveler or two also dining alone and normalizing the experience.
Best Restaurants for Eating Alone, Ranked in order of Comfort:
- Lunch counters
- Hotel Restaraunts
- Sit down restaraunts during off-peak hours
- Coffee shops
- Fast-casual tourist restaraunts
- Fine dining or romantic restaraunts
If being noticed is the trigger for your anxiety, consider enjoying meals at off-peak times of day: taking up space in a café in the middle afternoon often feels quite a bit different than going during peak hours. Similarly, enjoying dinner a bit earlier than most other diners can be a great way to avoid feeling over-exposed as you learn to grow more confident dining alone.
pick up a restaurant friendly travel hobby
As a solo traveler, I am a huge fan of portable hobbies to enjoy on the road – in fact, I wrote a whole article about why having a travel hobby is great, especially for solo travelers. Having something to keep your hands and mind busy is especially great for restaurants. If you have a hobby you can enjoy an engrossing and productive activity to enjoy while you wait instead of sitting awkwardly or just staring at your phone.
Thanks almost entirely to my habit of journaling, dining alone while solo traveling is actually one of my favorite parts of the day. After a full day of exploring- and usually picking up a quick lunch somewhere along the way to go- dinner is where I get to rest and reflect.
By using my travel journal as a space to record my thoughts about my day, time spent alone in a restaurant becomes not just tolerable but really enjoyable as I get to mindfully reflect on what I saw, experienced, and felt during my travels that day. Before I began keeping a travel journal, I’d rush through a meal to pay and escape the social awkwardness of dining alone, but with a travel journal to write and sketch in, I often linger long after I’ve finished my meal. Instead of rushing back to my Airbnb, I feel at ease- often enjoying an after-dinner drink or dessert as I take the time write or draw about my day.
Curious about travel journaling? Read my article on how to start a travel journal.
Although a person eating alone while endlessly scrolling their phone may be pitied, there’s a sense that the narrative shifts when the person dining alone is writing intensely in a journal or sketching in a notebook. As a woman dining alone who is deeply engrossed in writing or drawing, if I draw attention it’s usually the good kind!
Take Your Time
It’s okay to pick fast food or rush through a meal when you’re first getting used to eating alone as a solo traveler, but if you make it your standard practice, you may miss out on a lot of the best parts of dining alone, like the opportunity to eat mindfully and really notice the taste of your food.
Many of the best meals of my life have been solo dining experiences, and I’m convinced that they are so memorable precisely because they were solo meals. See, when we’re free from the distraction of conversation or even subconscious monitoring of a partner’s body language and nonverbal feedback, we’re more present to the experience of eating. This mindful, distraction-free way of eating has been shown by researchers to increase our enjoyment of a meal. (On a related note, this method of eating also improves our ability to notice when we’re satiated and, generally, helps us eat less than when we’re eating while distracted. source).
In other words, to take your solo dining experience from just tolerable to enjoyable requires getting out of your comfort zone, slowing down, and actually savoring the experience of being a solo diner.
Be Exta kind to your waitstaff
While I don’t recommend schmoozing your waitstaff for extra attention, the reality is you’re not alone as a solo diner. The premise of the hospitality industry is that someone is present and attentive to your needs.
If you’re a solo traveler, every little bit of human connection matters. Being kind, gracious, and friendly to your waitstaff in a restaurant when you are dining alone is actually a way to curate a little bit of the human connection that we all crave when traveling alone.
Although it may not decrease your anxiety about dining alone in a restaurant, the one-to-one connection gained through being a good guest and enjoying a brief conversation with your waiter or waitress can be a key part of sustainable solo travel.
Tip: a fun bonus to solo dining is that I find I’m a little more likely to get free appetizers. Often, if the chef fires the wrong item or the kitchen has a mixup, a solo diner may get a comped item.
Drink alcohol sparingly.
A final tip for enjoying yourself while eating alone in a restaurant during solo travel (or any time) is to be mindful and kind to yourself when choosing your alcohol intake.
Although for some people who really struggle with eating alone in a restaurant, drinking may feel like a social lubricant to make the experience less awkward, solo travelers need to be especially mindful of the amount of alcohol they drink, especially in public.
In some areas, solo travelers may be targeted for crime at a higher rate than other travelers, and finding your way home, alone, after dining alone and drinking a bit more than you should have can put you at risk. Limit your alcohol intake to well within your own personal tolerance to maintain a clear mind and sharp focus for your journey back to your hotel or lodging.
Final thoughts on eating alone in a restaurant
for some people, eating alone in a restaurant is an extremely anxiety-provoking situation, but to enjoy solo travel to the fullest, it’s a discomfort travelers will need to learn to tolerate.
Using the tips in this article, and practicing them regularly can help ease the discomfort of eating alone and, through that, increase the enjoyment and satisfaction of your solo travel in the future.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com