Solo travel comes with all kinds of challenges, from figuring out how to navigate a foreign city’s transportation system to figuring out how much laundry should cost. But there’s one aspect of solo travel that can intimidate even the casual weekend road tripper: eating out alone.
Eating alone can be uncomfortable even in your own city, where you can order food without struggling to pronounce it, and where you know exactly how much to tip the waiter (that’s probably why it is on so many people’s bucket lists).
And when you’re abroad, little details like that can make the prospect of eating alone in a foreign city even more intimidating.
Still, going out to eat is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to get the feel of a new place, plus it can be an empowering experience. Can you imagine skipping the crazy Robot Restaurant in Tokyo or missing out on eating traditional wiener schnitzel in Vienna because you didn’t want to eat alone? Me neither.
So, for all the self-conscious solo diners out there, I’ve put together a few tips for making the most out of eating alone while you’re traveling or even at a restaurant near home.
Dining Solo: Tips for Eating Out Alone
Pick the Meal
First thing is first: decide which meal will be your first solo dining excursion for the trip.
If you’re worried about sitting alone in a busy restaurant—and most of us are—starting with lunch might be a good idea. You’ll be able to avoid the dinner crowds, not to mention the long wait and occasional curious stares from your fellow diners.
Even if lunch is a bit busy for your taste, you can find times in the day where the dining rush dies down altogether. Depending on where in the world you are, you might have luck during the brunch hours or the awkward post-lunch/pre-dinner window. My first time dining alone was in the early evening well before the dinner rush.
If you’re really nervous, you can always scope the situation out first by doing take out and then commit to a meal on the next visit.
Select the Restaurant
When it comes to solo dining, all restaurants are not created equal. Obviously, crowded date-night spots might not be your most comfortable option. Similarly, going to a big, loud restaurant by yourself—especially in the evenings—can feel a lot like going to a club by yourself.
Instead, pick a place that’s a bit quieter. Sure, you might be surrounded by couples and families all the same, but there are a few perks to opting for a more chilled out environment: you’ll probably be less likely to get the she-must-be-getting-stood-up stares from your neighbors, and you’re more likely to get good service from a waiter who isn’t swamped with large, demanding groups.
While you’re out exploring, look for a laidback café or restaurant with a bar. That way, you won’t feel as rushed to give up your seat, and you’ll at least be able to chat with the bartender if you’re feeling awkward.
What to Wear
This one is pretty straightforward, and it’s a rule I think you should stick by: dress yourself up.
Even if you’ve spent all afternoon hiking a volcano or soaking in a natural hot spring and want nothing more than to throw on your comfy lounge pants and just slam some pasta, treat this like a date and take the time to dress yourself up.
If you’re at all nervous that your solo date will make you self-conscious—and honestly, aren’t we all?—then taking that extra effort to make yourself look and feel nice will go a long way toward alleviating your nerves.
Besides, you won’t know if people are staring at you because you’re alone, because you’re seriously slamming that pasta, or because you look incredible. It’s a win-win.
Where to Sit
The first thing I do when entering a restaurant alone is tell the hostess “just one” before she asks me how many. For some reason this eases my nerves. Many times they will guide you in an appropriate place to sit, but sometimes they leave the choosing up to you.
If you’ve found that café or restaurant with a bar, pull up a stool. You’ll be a bit less conspicuous there than you would be sitting alone at a table for two, with the added bonus that you can strike up a conversation with other solo diners.
Some restaurants also have community tables, which can be another great way to talk to other guests. Of course, not everyone at communal tables is there alone—sometimes it’s just the quickest way for a party of two to grab a seat—but sitting next to or in front of your fellow diners definitely opens the door to conversation in a way that doesn’t necessarily happen at the bar.
What to Bring
It’s always a good bet to bring along some reading material (my book Bucket List Adventures would be a great choice—shameless plus). Even if you don’t need the distraction from your self-consciousness, having something to read makes a good standby for when people watching gets old (or starts to border on creepy) over the course of your meal.
Throw a good paperback, your Kindle, your iPad, or your phone in your bag and you’ll still have a lovely meal, even if you don’t happen to strike up a conversation with your neighbor. And if you’re really feeling weird about the whole eating alone thing, you can always use your phone or tablet to message a friend while you dine.
Placing Your Order
You’re taking yourself on a date, remember? So treat yourself!
Order something you wouldn’t normally splurge on, like a nice drink or a dessert that has you drooling. If you’re up for it, round out the experience by picking out a few items to try. Going out to eat can be such a unique and creative way to experience a new place, so enjoy yourself! I ordered a yummy 3-course meal at Arizona’s BLD restaurant my first time solo dining, and shamelessly ate all of it.
Self-conscious about eating a lot (alone) in front of people? Don’t worry. I’ll tell you what you already know: they’re way too busy enjoying their food and company to pay attention to how much you ordered. And if they aren’t, you’ll be too busy enjoying your meal to notice. But, if eating in front of people still makes you nervous choose items that are easier to eat. Stay away from the spaghetti with red sauce or saucy buffalo wings.
Admittedly, being a restaurateur probably makes me biased here, but I think that going out to eat is one of the best ways to experience a new place—even if that means eating out alone.
Hopefully, these tips will help you to make the most of your next solo dining experience!
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31 thoughts on “Eating Out Alone: Tips for Dining Solo at a Restaurant”
oh wow this looks delicious!! i actually love to eat alone and it is a plus to not have to share dessert!! i love your photos and the way in which you write up all of your posts! great job!! ;)
xx ~ kristina
Thanks for the kind words :)
That dinner looks so delicious! Good for you to go for solo fine dining. I always feel self conscious when I eat alone but you've set an excellent example =).
It was very tasty and the staff there made me feel welcome!
Everything looks so good, especially that dessert! I've never have rocky road bread pudding but I think I need it in my life right now!
Rocky road anything has got to be pretty darn good!
I'm going away now before my stomach starts rumbling… but seriously, that sounds like a scrumptious evening and the photos are yummy! :)
It was scrumtious ;)
That dessert killed me. Going to a restaurant for dinner by yourself; so brave!
Dessert is almost always the best part!
You go girl. Cheers to not sharing dessert! :)
Thanks for cheering my selfishness ;)
Just me alone with something called a rocky road bread pudding covered in toffee sauce IS a romantic dinner. Onlookers would tell us to get a room. LOL
Oh my, that food looks delicious! I lot of people are self-conscious eating alone (myself included), but I just think back to when I worked as a hostess and had to seat people alone. I didn't think anything of it. Good for you!
Such yummy food!! I would love to dine alone just so i dot have to share this with anyone else..ha ha ..great post Annette!
Yep, that is the biggest perk to dining solo!
I appreciate you sharing some tips for dining solo at a restaurant such as ordering something that you normally wouldn’t splurge on. Since you will be treating yourself to breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s best that you try out something new. You can even consider this as your “cheat day” if you would like to try out something on their menu that you wouldn’t typically order when you’re with friends or family. If I were to eat at a diner by myself, I would definitely take this into consideration. Thanks.
Great article! One good tip I found with solo dining is that if weather permitting, dinning alfresco in a cafe-like style is much more comfortable than inside a restaurant. You can people watch, ready a book, and you stand out much less. Very much agree to put effort in looking good, you never know who might want to join you for dinner.
I completely agree about dining alfresco!
thanks for sharing
That’s definitely not something for me, I get nervous even eating with someone else!
This was something I always felt self-conscious about when I was younger, especially as a female. I thought it made me stand out and look lonely. But after going through life experiences and backpacking by myself for 9 months I really enjoy eating by myself and don’t feel self-conscious. I really enjoyed the tip about where to sit, that can be one of the most intimidating and awkward parts about eating alone.
I’m glad to hear that you now enjoy dining alone! It is definitely a different experience, but can be just as fun!
You made a good point when you suggested choosing a restaurant that’s quieter since other restaurants may be surrounded by couples and families. My plan is to treat myself on my birthday by having a sumptuous dinner alone. I really feel the need to be alone on my birthday to perfectly reflect on my life. I think I will consider having the food delivered to my house instead to make sure that I will achieve my goal.
It’s interesting that dressing up when eating alone can help calm your nerves. I have a bucket list to eat at the best burger joint in town all by myself so I’m not distracted. I’ll have to look online for where the best burger joints are.
Thanks for mentioning that eating out can be one of the best ways to get to know a new place and can be an empowering experience. My wife and I are thinking about going on vacation next month and if we do we want to try local restaurants and ones at our hotel at our destination because we like trying new foods. I think it’s a good investment to eat out because it’ll help us become more acquainted with the area and could be an invigorating experience if we decide to go.
I find it interesting that when eating out alone, you recommend picking a place that has a quiet and chilled-out environment. My husband is out of town this week, and I am planning to go out to eat by myself while he’s gone. I’ll look for a restaurant that has a more relaxing and easy-going atmosphere.
Going out to eat is, in my opinion, one of the finest ways to acquire a sense of a new location, and it can also be an empowering experience. I can also concur with this. This is why for the weekeneds, I want to try and eat alone for the first time after a break up. I feel like going to eat at a Classic Greek Restaurant and that’s exactly what I will do. Thanks.
You were right to advise picking a restaurant with less noise because other places can be surrounded by families and couples. On my birthday, I want to pamper myself by eating a lavish dinner by myself at a restaurant with live music. On my birthday, I truly feel the desire to be alone myself so that I may reflect on my life.
Thank you for pointing out that dining out can be both a great way to learn about a new location and an empowering experience. My husband and I are considering taking a vacation next month, and if we do, we’d want to test out the local eateries as well as those at our hotel while we’re there because we enjoy sampling different things. Eating out will help us learn more about the location and maybe a refreshing experience if we decide to go, therefore I believe it is a wise investment.