Does the prospect of solo dining bring you out in a cold sweat?
If so, you are not the only one. Going to a restaurant alone is one of the toughest challenges for a solo traveller, especially if it is your first time travelling alone.
I feel your pain. When I started travelling solo, I sought the sanctuary of room service instead of reserving a table at a local bistro. But with many years of experience under my belt, I’ve developed ways to make eating out alone a more palatable (ahem) experience.
Rock that table for one with my top tips for eating alone in a restaurant.
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1. Recognise that eating alone in a restaurant is not a taboo
Solo diners are not social pariahs. Shout it from the rooftops.
In some parts of the world, solo dining has become – whisper it – trendy. South Koreans have come up with a special name for it, Honbap.
This report, based on focus group discussions and a survey of 2,000 people, claimed that 78% of people believe that eating out alone is more socially acceptable than it was five years ago. Open Table, the online restaurant reservation service, reported that ‘table for one’ bookings jumped 160% between 2014 and 2018.
As of October 2022, there are more than 26,000 posts with the #solodining hashtag on Instagram.
In other words, all the cool people are eating out alone.
Therefore, the first step is to ditch your pre-conception that, as a solo diner, people will judge you negatively. Going to a restaurant alone is not tragic.
2. Plan your solo dining experience in advance
As a solo traveller, wandering around unfamiliar city streets at night in search of a good meal is not usually the best strategy, from either a safety or a culinary point of view.
Do your research. Check restaurants on Google Maps, TripAdvisor or your old-fashioned guidebook. I always ask my hotel for recommendations.
If possible, I like to walk by potential places to eat earlier in the day to check them out, but also to map a route from my accommodation. I also make sure that I have a few options up my sleeve if my first choice doesn’t pan out.
3. Check menu prices in advance
No one likes a nasty shock when the waiter presents your bill at the end of the meal. Make sure you know how much your meal is likely to cost and if this will fall within your budget.
The last thing that you need is an unwelcome financial surprise to add to your discomfort as a solo diner.
4. Make a table reservation for popular places
Reserving a table at popular restaurants is sensible, regardless of the size of your dining party. With your reservation secure, you won’t need to revert to Plan B on that evening.
Also, some people find that asking the host for a table for one is one of the most daunting aspects of solo dining. If you have a booking, the restaurant will only be expecting one person, saving you the discomfort of declaring that you are a solo diner at the door.
5. Eat out early in the evening
Restaurants are less busy and more informal in the early hours. Outside of peak restaurant hours, the welcome can be warmer and service more attentive.
6. Or make lunch your main meal of the day
Solo dining at lunchtime can be good practice for eating out alone at night. Lunch is more casual and as there are likely to be more solo diners you won’t feel like the odd one out.
One of the great culinary bargains is the set menu of the day that you find in some European countries, offering a limited two or three-course menu at a bargain price. These offers can extend into the late afternoon.
This can work really well. For example; on a trip to Tenerife and when visiting Valencia, I took advantage of the menu of the day a few times, leaving the rest of the day and evening free for sightseeing and relaxation.
7. Choose your restaurant wisely
This is probably obvious but if you don’t want to be surrounded by couples staring longingly into each other’s eyes, avoid romantic, candlelit restaurants. Equally, I would give family-oriented places, complete with lively children, a wide berth.
8. Select an outdoor eatery
Pavement cafés tend to be less formal than indoor restaurants and are good spots for people-watching. Therefore, if you have a choice, and the weather is favourable, sit outside.
9. Choose your restaurant table carefully
Make sure that you are happy with where you are seated. Whilst you might feel conspicuous in the centre of a restaurant, sitting tucked away by the toilets is not a joy either.
When you are seated outside of the main area of the restaurant it can be more difficult to get the attention of the waiting staff. There are few things more frustrating for a solo diner than struggling to get the attention of your server.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a table in a better location. As with any other diner in that restaurant, you are paying for your meal, and are entitled to choose a table to your liking, just as long as it’s not one displaying a ‘reserved’ sign.
Window tables are great for watching the world go by.
10. Or take a seat at the bar or counter
If you are after a more sociable dining experience, then why not take a seat at the counter or bar?
I have found that it is often easier to strike up conversations with other diners, or with the bartenders, and it’s also good for people-watching. Sushi restaurants are particularly good for this.
11. Treat yourself when you are eating out alone
Keep reminding yourself that you are on your holiday. Give yourself a pat on the back for requesting a table for one by ordering that ribeye steak, a fancy cocktail or a dessert that makes your coronary artery cry out for mercy.
12. But go easy on the booze
Don’t get me wrong. I love a glass or two of wine with dinner and maybe a cheeky cocktail or digestif. But as a solo female traveller, I am responsible for my own safety and for getting myself back to my accommodation.
Therefore, I don’t take any chances and limit the amount that I drink when away. For me, this is not the right time to go out on the lash.
13. Focus on others
You are not the centre of attention. Leave self-absorption at the restaurant door. Look outside of yourself and indulge in people watching.
People can be fascinating, from your fellow diners, and how they interact with each other, to the waiting staff dashing around.
Scan the room and guess which couples are on a first date or which are having an affair. Engage your waiter in conversation if you can, or talk to those sitting at the adjacent table.
They may have stories to tell and could give you some top tips for your trip. All of this could be fascinating stuff for your travel journal.
14. Bring a prop or two
Initially, you are likely to feel uncomfortable dining alone and bringing a prop can be a lifesaver. Think of it as your armour.
Your virtual companion could be any of the following:
- A book (why not dip into one of these fabulous books about solo travel?)
- Some puzzles (e.g. crossword / Sudoku)
- Your travel journal
- Your smartphone – dining is a good opportunity to check email, text, gather information, or check what’s happening in the world
- Your camera – you can review your photos from the day
However, you will find that as you get more comfortable with eating out alone, you will need to rely on these props less and less. In the early days, I used to be glued to my Kindle, barely looking up. Whilst I still carry it with me, nowadays I will barely make it through a chapter.
15. Keep your belongings safe
After a few friends had their bags and purses stolen in busy London bars and restaurants, I am super careful about where I leave my bag.
Either keep your bag on your lap or secure it to the leg of your chair. Whatever you do, never hang your bag on the back of your chair or leave it on the floor. You’re just asking to be robbed.
Equally, in busy restaurants, and particularly when sitting at outside tables, don’t invite passing thieves to pinch your mobile phone by having it on display.
My Pacsafe Anti-Theft backpack allows me to enjoy my meal, secure in the knowledge that my belongings are secure. Not only does it convert into a shoulder bag, but you can also fasten it around table or chair legs with its clever security clips.
16. Carry some cash
When you are travelling alone, you have no one to fall back on if things go wrong. So what would happen if you finished a splendid meal only to find that the restaurant does not, or cannot, accept cards, and you have no cash on you? Or what would you do if they did accept card payment and your card was declined?
Always be prepared.
17. Savour every morsel
Don’t yield to the temptation to rush your meal. Dining alone is not about throwing food down your throat and getting out of there as quickly as possible.
You have carefully selected your meal from the menu and now is the time to enjoy every mouthful.
18. Exude confidence
It’s all about attitude. Transform yourself into the most interesting person in the room
Order yourself that Margarita or a glass of fine wine. Sip it slowly whilst surveying the room.
You can be that glamorous, mysterious individual watching the world go by, drink in hand.
19. Focus on the positives of eating out alone
Always remember that you chose to travel alone. You chose that restaurant, that cuisine and to eat at that time. Setting the budget is entirely up to you.
And no one will judge you if you slob some sauce onto your top.
20. Enjoy solo dining
This is ‘me time.’
Relish the opportunity to go out to dinner alone. Take in your surroundings, reflect on your day, write in your travel journal and plan the day ahead, whilst feasting on delicious food and wine.
21. Tip well
In countries where tips are customary, and if the service that you receive warrants it, tip well.
Just because you’re eating alone in a restaurant doesn’t mean you have to go overboard. But a fair tip shows your appreciation and results in a warmer welcome for the next solo female diner.
Thank you for reading my tips for eating out alone
Like most things in life, the hardest part of eating alone at a restaurant is doing it for the first time. If you are still unsure about solo dining why not start with baby steps?
For instance, try a coffee shop for afternoon tea and cake and you will see others doing the same thing. Or go into a bar, order a G&T and lose yourself in a good book or in conversation with a stranger if you are very lucky.
Alternatively, why not join a food tour? That way, you will learn more about local cuisine, try several eateries and meet other travellers in the process.
I will leave you with a final thought.
All too often these days, people dining together will be glued to their smartphones, only engaging in sporadic conversation. This just goes to show that you don’t have to be a solo diner to eat out alone.
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Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
To get in touch, email her at email@example.com or follow her on social media.