For many solo travelers, eating alone is the hardest part of visiting a destination alone. In this article, I share a few easy-to-follow steps to increase comfort and confidence while dining alone at a restaurant.
🥘👩🏻🥙 Eating alone in a restaurant is easy if you choose the right restaurants, keep yourself busy, and cultivate a mindset that you have as much of a right to enjoy a meal alone as does anyone with a companion.
FACT: Discomfort dining alone is a distinctly Western idea. In Japan and many other Asian countries, dining alone is very common. 1 🍣
Most of us from western countries have been socialized to feel awkward eating alone in a restaurant. But there’s good news! We can learn to like it. 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 getting out of our comfort zone.
How to Eat Alone in a Restaraunt:
Getting comfortable dining alone is a process. Here are some helpful steps to grow this skill:
Remember: You Have a right to be there
The very best thing I recommend 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 mindset. And trust me, mindset makes all the difference.
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. I’d specifically chosen to visit the city of Zadar, Croatia because of the opportunity to swim right up to a sea organ built into the sea wall. However, 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
Some restaurants are much 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 more challenging.
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 avoid haunting your hostel’s lounge hoping to find another traveler to eat 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. Evening meals in intimately lit elegant restaurants, on the other hand, are much 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 Types of Restaurants for Eating Alone, Ranked in order of Comfort:
- Lunch counters
- Hotel Restaurants
- Sit-down restaurants during off-peak hours
- ☕🥐 Coffee shops
- Fast-casual tourist restaurants
- Fine dining or romantic restaurants
If being noticed is the trigger for your discomfort, 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. Having something to keep your hands and mind busy is especially great for restaurants. A hobby can give you something to do other than sitting awkwardly or just staring at your phone.
Travel Journaling & Eating Alone in Restaraunts: A Perfect Pair
Thanks to my travel journaling habits, 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 enjoyable. While eating alone in a restaurant, 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. However, 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.
Shiting the Narrative by Being Active
Although a person eating alone in a restaurant while endlessly scrolling their phone may be pitied by other diners, that doesn’;’t have to be the case. I think 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 when Eating Alone in a Restaraunt
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. However, if you make it your standard practice, you may miss out on a lot of the best parts of dining alone! Eating slowly offers a chance 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 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. 2 (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. 3 ). Eating this way can be one aspect of more mindful travel.
To shift eating alone from tolerable to enjoyable requires:
- getting out of your comfort zone,
- slowing down,
- and actually savoring the experience of being a solo diner.
Be Extra 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 human connection.
Although it may not decrease your discomfort eating 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.
🍤🍰🍴 A fun bonus to solo dining is that I find I’m a little more likely to get free appetizers. If the chef fires the wrong item or the kitchen has a mixup, a solo diner is a perfect table to comp a one-person item.
Drink alcohol sparingly.
A final tip for enjoying eating alone in a restaurant is to be mindful of 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, travelers should be careful. Solo travelers should 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. Finding your way home, alone, after drinking too much can put you at risk. Limit your alcohol intake 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 uncomfortable situation- but it doesn’t have to be! To enjoy solo travel to the fullest, eating alone is something travelers need to learn to tolerate.
Using the tips in this article, like how to choose a restaurant, how to stay busy, and how to adjust your mindset, all travelers can increase the enjoyment and satisfaction of their solo travel in the future.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.