One of the reasons that holds many people back from travelling by themselves is the thought of eating alone at a restaurant at mealtimes. And for many people that do manage to travel alone, dining solo can indeed be one of the most hardest parts at first. It doesn’t have to be though! Whilst for sure the thought of dining alone can be intimidating and may make you feel awkward to begin with, there are many tips to help you feel more comfortable and confident when eating alone in a restaurant.
When you learn to embrace the experience, you’ll find that dining alone at a restaurant can actually be really empowering and enjoyable! Here I am going to share 10 really good tips to gain confidence and get over the fear of eating alone in a restaurant whilst you are travelling. You don’t have to apply them all – it’s up to you which ones you use, they are just suggestions to help you!
EATING ALONE AT A RESTAURANT
You go to a restaurant alone, sit down at your table and all you can feel is eyes on you. You think everyone must be taking pity on you because you got stood up, or because you have no friends. You believe there can’t possibly be any other reasons why anyone would willingly go out to dinner by themselves. Does this sound familiar?
Many people struggle with the idea of going out for dinner alone and eating by themselves as they find it embarrassing, or it gives them anxiety. They feel people are looking at them, judging them, talking about them. I promise you – people aren’t looking at you as much as you think they are.
Tips To Feel Comfortable Eating Alone At A Restaurant:
TIP 1: Make A Reservation
Making a reservation beforehand is a great way to reduce your anxiety and make you feel more comfortable when you walk into a restaurant to have dinner alone. By making a reservation for one person beforehand, you know that when you will show up to the restaurant that they will have a table ready for you, and they are expecting you and only you.
Pretty much always if you walk into a restaurant yourself without making a booking beforehand, they will ask you ‘How many people?’ “Table for two?’ or something similar. And of course, you feel a bit silly saying just a table for one. Making a reservation beforehand avoids this awkwardness. Plus it also means you don’t have to walk from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a table.
When all the restaurants are full and this happens, it can make you feel even more self-conscious about being alone, that you just give in and order room service or a takeaway, or grab a snack from a supermarket and eat it in your room. Whilst this may seem tempting and it’s fine to do it the odd time, you definitely shouldn’t make it the norm when you are travelling alone. Making a reservation ensures you avoid this situation!
EATING ALONE AT A RESTAURANT
TIP 2. Choose Appropriate Restaurants
When you solo travel, you will find that there are some places that just seem a lot easier to eat alone in than others. For example, when I went to the sushi bars in Tokyo, or the busy food markets in Saigon, Mandalay and Phnom Penh, I found them particularly easy places to feel comfortable eating alone. I just felt like people weren’t looking at me, and people just minded their own business whenever I ate alone in Asia. However if you were to go to an intimately lit romantic bistro alone in Paris for example, this would be a lot more challenging and uncomfortable.
Go Out For Lunch First
So to start off with, I would choose casual single-friendly tourist places to go for lunch for your first few times eating out alone. I found going out for lunch alone was much less confronting than going for dinner alone, so definitely go out to lunch alone at first to get used to the feeling.
Go to busy food malls, food courts and markets, or Japanese restaurants where you don’t sit at a table, but rather in a line facing the chef or conveyor belt of sushi going past. I found this way, it was easy to chat to other people if I wanted, and also these kinds of places were more used to seeing people eating alone so it is less of a big deal. At these busy casual dining places, they are often easier to enjoy a meal alone as you don’t have to wait long for your food and the environment is much more relaxed. Obviously ignore tip 1 for these kinds of places as they won’t do reservations in casual places like this.
Give yourself time to ease yourself into the experience of eating alone, then once you feel comfortable in such situations, you can try different places to eat at such as coffee shops, where you’ll often find people eating alone and engrossed in their books, laptops, phones etc.
You will also find that restaurants that are attached to hotels can be a great option for eating alone, seeing as they often have business travellers who will be there alone, so you won’t stick out so much if you’re having dinner alone in a hotel restaurant.
Restaurants During Off-Peak Hours
If you feel self-conscious or you just don’t want to be in a crowded restaurant as this makes your anxiety worse, it’s good to go out for dinner either before or after the mealtime rush. For many people, being noticed is the trigger for their anxiety, so by going to restaurants at off-peak times, they are able to enjoy themselves a lot more.
Sometimes in a packed restaurant you may feel guilty taking up a whole table to yourself during peak mealtime hours, but if you go to a restaurant in the middle of the day or for a late lunch/early dinner, you will feel much more relaxed and get a much better experience. Equally having dinner a bit earlier or a bit later than the peak hours (around 6.30pm-8.30pm but varies in different countries) can make you feel much more comfortable eating alone in a restaurant and like less eyes are looking at you.
Different Kinds Of Restaurants You Can Get Used To Eating Alone:
- Lunch counters
- Hotel restaurants
- Coffee shops
- Sit down restaurants during off-peak hours
- Fast-casual tourist restaurants
Visiting the kinds of restaurants listed above will help you get used to the idea of dining alone and will give you more confidence. I would recommend staying away from romantic or fine dining restaurants as these are the types of restaurants where you are most likely to feel awkward and out of place (and people think you’ve been stood up on a date!).
TIP 3. Decide What Meal You Want To Eat Beforehand
Nowadays almost all restaurants have an online menu. Before you go to the restaurant, have a look at the menu on their website – this way you will know what meal you want, how to pronounce it if it is in a different language, and it cuts down your waiting time if that brings you anxiety.
TIP 4. Remember You Have A Right To Be There Too!
One of the most important tips to give to anyone who is anxious about eating alone in a restaurant is to change your mindset. Just because you are eating alone in a restaurant it absolutely does not mean that you have no friends or that you are a loner. You have many people who love and care about you, and you are simply a person taking an adventure in this wonderful world!
Just because you are dining alone, it doesn’t mean you have any less right to be there than anyone else. You are a paying customer, the same as all the other customers in the restaurant. It can really help to say this as an affirmation to yourself and adjust your mindset if you don’t feel like you should be there. As you get used to eating alone in restaurants during your solo travels, you will start to feel this less and less.
EATING ALONE AT A RESTAURANT
TIP 5. Bring something to do! (Read a book, write in your diary etc)
When I first started solo travelling and eating alone at a restaurant, I found the most awkward part for me was the waiting for my food after I had ordered. Sometimes it can take half an hour or more, so instead of feeling self-conscious and twiddling my thumbs, I learnt to just occupy myself and become engrossed in something that makes me forget I am sat alone in a restaurant.
Especially as a solo traveller it is really useful to have a hobby that you can enjoy from anywhere. Whether it’s reading a book, sewing, journalling or even editing your photographs! These are all restaurant friendly hobbies and activities you can do whilst waiting for your meal to arrive. Being able to do this means you will keep your hands and your mind busy when you are sat in a restaurant waiting for your meal to arrive. Not only this but you are being productive with your time and actually enjoying it whilst you are waiting for your meal to arrive, instead of waiting impatiently or awkwardly!
Personally I always find I am happy just looking through all my photos I have taken that day, deleting duplicate or bad photos, and then editing the best photos using my Lightroom Presets so they are ready to upload to social media! I also use this down time to reply to messages from my friends and family I didn’t have time to reply to in the day, or write some important notes for any blog posts I plan to write about that destination, so they are fresh in my head.
I love looking through all the photos I’ve taken throughout the day whilst I’m waiting for my food to arrive – honestly the time goes so quickly! Also, I’m often too tired to talk to anyone by the time I sit down for dinner so I’m glad I don’t have to maintain a conversation with anyone and can just relax by myself! I can reflect on my day – how I felt and what I experienced, and I can also plan my itinerary for the following day.
When I solo travel, I usually pack so much to do into my days, and usually just grab something quick for lunch on the go from a supermarket, so I really enjoy looking forward to sitting down to have dinner alone at the end of the day – especially if I’ve been doing a lot of walking and my feet need a rest! I always plan to have a busy day out exploring, so by the time it comes to my evening meal, I am excited to sit down and relax for a while.
Honestly, bringing something to do to a restaurant when you are eating alone helps immensely. Before I began blogging, I just used to rush through a meal as quickly as I could so that I could pay and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible as I hated the social awkwardness I felt. However, because photography is a big part of my travel blogging, I’ll often stay at my table for a while after I’ve finished my meal as I just get so engrossed in sorting out the photos on my camera.
So instead of quickly heading back to the Airbnb, hotel, house-sit or wherever I am staying, I often enjoy a dessert or a tea as I continue to sort out my photos or write notes for my travel blog and I feel completely comfortable in doing so.
By the way if you are interested in becoming a travel blogger you can read my article on how to start a travel blog!
I often feel that if someone eating alone is just scrolling through their phone endlessly, people can see that they are just killing time and looking on their phone to avoid feeling awkward and so people may look at them with pity. If however when the person who is dining alone is doing something productive such as looking through their photos or journalling, people are often intrigued and think that person must be quite interesting and so any attention they get won’t be negative.
EATING ALONE AT A RESTAURANT
TIP 6. Take Your Time
Whilst it is totally fine when you’re first getting used to eating alone – to go for fast food or to eat as quickly as you can, don’t make it an everyday thing that happens when you travel. If you eat super fast you aren’t even going to be tasting your food properly, plus you can miss out on some serious people watching!
I have had some absolutely lovely meals just observing others around me and soaking up the atmosphere, particularly in lively cities such as New Orleans. When we are eating alone in a restaurant we are free from the distraction of conversation so we actually become more present in the environment!
Tip 7. Bring Snacks Such As Protein Bars With You As A Backup
Whatever my travel plans for the day, I always bring snacks along with me just in case. Therefore if I am feeling a little anxious that day about eating alone in a restaurant, or I am too tired and just don’t feel like it, or my tour has finished late and I have got to the restaurants after they aren’t serving food any more, at least I have some food to keep me going if I am really hungry. You just never know how your day is going to pan out.
This tip is especially important if you plan to go hiking for the day, or travelling on your own without a tour. Sometimes there just aren’t any restaurants you like the look of. Or sometimes social anxiety just appears out of nowhere and you just don’t want to face anyone and you would rather eat dinner alone on your bed. That’s totally okay too, I’ve had many moments like that.
If your anxiety does flare up, having some snacks with you ensures you never go to bed hungry.
If you are staying in a hostel, an important thing to remember is not to live with the expectation that you can just find someone in the communal area who will be willing to go out to get some dinner with you. Always expect to have dinner alone, then any company is a bonus. Many people in hostels cook their own meals in the hostels or they may have a different budget or time to eating than you. That being said, hostels can be a great place to make friends when you are travelling.
EATING ALONE AT A RESTAURANT
TIP 8. Be Nice To Your Waiter
Whilst you don’t want to be annoying and bombarding your waitstaff with questions all the time, be kind to your waiter! As a solo traveller, especially if you don’t do tours, the amount of human connection you have is diminished compared to if you were travelling with others. Therefore being friendly to your waiter is a great way to have a bit more human connection – something that all of us can miss from time to time when we travel alone. Having even just a brief conversation with your waiter can decrease your anxiety levels, make you feel less self-conscious and increase your mood!
You may feel that the wait staff treat you differently. In my case as a solo female traveller, I noticed that the wait staff were particularly nice to me – I should say sympathetic, because they felt I must have been stood up. Whilst you are chatting to the waiter, they may ask what brings you to that city, if anyone will be joining you (eg: they are just nosey to find out why you are eating alone!). If they ask if someone will be joining me, I confidently and excitedly tell them that no, I am just travelling alone, I love travelling alone!
More often than not, you are actually igniting some inspiration inside these people and they will be super nice to you not out of pity, but because they actually think you are a pretty cool person. I used to work as a Flight Attendant so I became quite used to eating alone in restaurants in foreign cities, and when I told the wait staff that was my job hence why I was eating alone, their reaction was always really positive and they couldn’t stop coming over and chatting to me and wanting to know more!
EATING ALONE AT A RESTAURANT
TIP 9. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Another tip if you will be eating alone at a restaurant is to be aware of your alcohol intake. You may feel that drinking alcohol will help make the experience of eating alone in a restaurant less awkward, especially if you really struggle with confidence to eat alone.
However, especially as a female solo traveller you really need to be mindful of the amount of alcohol you drink when you are in public. In some countries or cities, solo travellers (especially females) are seen as an easy target for crime (robberies, assault etc) and so may be targeted more. Also, when you are travelling solo, you can’t rely on a travel buddy to get you back to your accommodation if you’ve had too much to drink – you are responsible for yourself so you need to be able to find your way back alone – and often in the dark.
Someone wandering home drunk or a bit tipsy alone may be seen as a target and you can put yourself seriously at risk of harm. Personally I very rarely have any alcohol when I travel solo but that it just a personal choice. If you want to drink alcohol whilst you are travelling alone, know your limits, know how to get back to your accommodation, and get the restaurant to organise a taxi back for you if it is unsuitable to walk back. It’s important to have a clear and sharp mind so you can get back to your accommodation safely, so go easy on the spirits and cocktails.
Tip 10. Everyone Secretly Loves The Thought Of Travelling Solo!
Almost 100% of the time when I tell people that I travel solo, they say how brave and inspiring it is,. They are always impressed – sometimes even a bit jealous as they wish they could do the same. I don’t think of myself as brave – I’m just doing what makes me happy, and I’d rather travel alone than wait to find someone to travel with and not end up travelling at all!
Solo travel really helps you become more confident in yourself. Plus it is honestly drama free! No arguments with your friends or spouse about what time to wake up, what tourist sights to see, where and when to go for food. You get to do everything on your own schedule and that is so cool. You learn to rely completely on yourself and this makes you grow so much as a person!
Summary On Eating Alone At A Restaurant
Solo travelling is all about getting out of our comfort zone and exploring, and eating alone in a restaurant is one of those situations where we need to get out of our comfort zone! Whilst for some people, the thought of eating alone in a restaurant can fill them with a lot of anxiety, it should be something that we can overcome so we can truly enjoy our solo travel experience to the greatest.
Eating alone in public when you are travelling is literally a tiny percentage of your time so don’t let it stop you from booking a solo travel trip. I promise you – the only people who will think you are a loner eating alone in a restaurant are the people who would never have the guts to do it themselves – they have boring lives and will never step outside of their comfort zone. It is such a powerful feeling when you learn to not care what people think!
I feel when you start solo travelling you really start to care less about what people think. The same has to apply when you go out to eat in a restaurant. If someone looks at you funny, so what. You are never going to see them again.
Confidence is honestly the key. I realised if I felt self-conscious, people would look at me more and take pity on me. But when I started oozing confidence being alone in a restaurant, people barely seemed to give me looks. And if they did, it was often envious looks – especially if they were sitting in bad company with someone! Having the confidence to sit alone in a restaurant in a foreign place is an amazing accomplishment that many people secretly wish they could do, plus who doesn’t love a mysterious woman reading a book or writing a journal in a corner of a restaurant.
By applying the tips in this article and practicing them each time you travel solo (even beforehand in your own hometown if necessary), it will definitely help to reduce the feelings of anxiety you may feel when you eat out alone. As a frequent solo traveller, I really enjoy eating alone in a restaurant as it is something I never get to do when I am home, and I hope you will learn to enjoy it too!