Solo travel: eating in restaurants alone

07 September 2016

Travelling as a solo doesn't mean you can't enjoy the finer things in life, like a nice meal out. Read our tips on how to prepare for a night dining alone.

Don’t let having a table to yourself put you off your food; with a little forward planning, it can be an experience to savour.

When your restaurant table is set for one, it’s your mindset that makes the difference - and it’s best to sort it out even before you walk in to take your seat. So, how can you ensure that enjoyment is on the menu?

First, put things into perspective

If you live alone, then eating alone is nothing new, and certainly not something to put you off your food.

So start by reminding yourself that you’ve done this before, a lot. And ask yourself this: if it’s not a problem at home – even if it only happens on occasion – why would it be a problem in a restaurant? 

The answer is: it shouldn’t be. If you think it is, could that be because, in a restaurant, you are seen to be dining alone? Does that matter, really? It isn’t a crime, and it isn’t misfortune; it’s simply circumstance.

Maybe what bothers you is looking as if you don’t have a significant other in your life, whether you actually do or not.

Perhaps you do, but don’t take all your holidays together, or couldn’t on this occasion; maybe someone who was coming with you had to cancel and you elected to come without them.

Or, indeed, maybe you aren’t in a relationship. Whatever the reason, you’re travelling, or at least dining, alone - and that’s not a sign of failure.

Means, will, confidence and competence!

In fact, it indicates that you have the means, the will, the confidence and competence to do so. Does that sound like any sort of failure?

The bottom line is your solo status doesn’t define you, and doesn’t require an explanation – unless you choose to give one.

 It isn’t something you need to apologise for; and it certainly shouldn’t stop you dining out. So when you sit by yourself, do so with pride.

Related: What’s it like to travel alone?

Then plan practicalities

Let’s start with where you’re going to sit. If you know where you’ll be eating, it’s worth doing a recce ahead of time, to check that there are tables suitable for solo dining, and make it clear to the maitre d’ or reservations staff, that you want to sit at one.

Doing this ahead of time will ensure a smooth arrival – and spell one less hurdle, if you’re worried about turning up on your own.

And do chose your place with care. Don’t bag a table that’s right by the kitchen, the restrooms, the main entrance or a staircase if there is one; ‘thoroughfare’ dining is no fun at all.

Positioning is key.

Don’t tuck yourself into the furthermost corner, or sit with your back to the rest of the room. Sitting with your back to a wall and facing into the room, ensures that you are ‘present’ and will make your dining experience more of an occasion, as it should be.

If, at the end of the meal, you’re happy with where you were seated, and if you’ll be eating in the same restaurant again (maybe the next night, maybe not) then it’s worth reserving the same seat for your next visit before you leave.

The time to make your menu choices is when you are at the table, but it’s an idea to browse the menu ahead of time and have an idea of what you might choose, as this will give you something to look forward to.

If you drink, then having an aperitif before your meal – and possibly before you arrive at the restaurant – should sharpen your appetite and relax and nervousness you may feel.

Related: Solo travel: top tips for travelling alone.

Dress for dinner

Don’t tell yourself that dressing up doesn’t matter if there’s no one sitting with you, because it will do wonders for your mindset.

Cracking the code for eating alone in restaurants isn’t a matter of creeping in apologetically, slinking to a corner seat, sitting quietly, eating quickly and leaving early.

It’s about looking, acting and feeling as if you are exactly where you should be, and enjoying the whole experience. Heard the expression ‘Fake it until you make it’?

That expression could have been invention for this eventuality, and dressing for the part will get you to the ‘make it’ stage a lot sooner. So go for it! Get your gladrags out and make an entrance.

Related:The etiquette of solo travel.

Dos and don’ts at the table

Tips on choosing, ordering and eating your meal are not what this article is about, but you should give some thought, in advance, to what you’ll do, without a dining companion, while you wait for service and food.

The short answer is: take something with you to do, because people watching and looking out of the window just isn’t enough.

Good choices are a book, a magazine, a holiday brochure or a bulb catalogue, as is a crossword or Sudoku puzzle; but even when you are sitting alone, the dining table really isn’t the place for a mobile phone.

If you take, keep it your handbag or pocket, turn off the volume and turn on vibrate if you are expecting an important call. If you’re not, and don’t actually need it, why take it at all?

As for talking to someone, conversing with the waiter about your menu choice or the wine waiter about your wine choice could enrich your dining experience, so do engage with them.

And if you know you’ll be back, letting them know your preferences could enrich your next visit, so tell your servers or the maitre d’ that your favourite dish is always fish, that you prefer rice to potatoes, like dry wines best and can’t resist chocolate puddings. Chances are they’ll remember, and guide your choices accordingly.

Related: Why woman should not be afraid to travel alone.

The last word

Even when you’re all geared up for dining alone with pleasure, someone might ask ‘May I join you?’ or others might invite you to join their table. It’s a good idea to have an answer in mind, in case they do.

Saying “Yes” with a smile is easy enough, if you mean it. If you don’t, or aren’t sure, a firm but polite “No” is a lot harder. One of these more acceptable options might work better.

 “Thank you for asking. I’m fine for tonight, but maybe another evening?”

“That’s a very kind offer, but I can see that we’re not on the same course. Could I come and join you for desert?”

“I do appreciate you asking, but I’m almost finished here."    

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