How to Eat Alone (and Like It)

One of my biggest anxieties about traveling solo has always been mealtimes. I suspect I’m not alone in this. There is just something about sitting down at a restaurant by yourself that is foreign and uncomfortable for most people. You get that feeling that everyone is looking at you, feeling sorry for you, judging you.

My first couple of solo trips I was too intimidated to even try to dine out alone, and I subsisted mostly on takeaway food or convinced others in my hostel to eat with me. It wasn’t until the start of my round the world trip in Japan that I finally forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and sit down to a meal of okinomiyaki by myself.

And I didn’t die of embarrassment. In fact… I had a nice time.

How to Eat Alone and Like It - Okonomiyaki in Japan
The okonomiyaki that changed everything

Since then I have eaten alone in restaurants all around the world, from Bogota to Hong Kong, Indianapolis to Negombo. I’m even known to go out for the occasional solo dinner here in Seattle. I still sometimes feel a little weird, but for the most part, I just feel free. And hungry. The way I see it, I’m not going to let being alone stand in the way of a good meal.

I think everyone should be able to eat at a restaurant by themselves for the same reason I think everyone should travel solo at least once: to prove to yourself that you can. To not be restrained by the needs of others. Most importantly, because it makes you feel freaking powerful as fuck.

So here are my tips for how to eat alone around the world:

Address Your Anxieties

Address Your Anxieties - How to Eat Alone

A lot of times I view my fears through an ambiguous cloud of dread and anxiety. It’s not until I take the time to sit down and really break it down that I see why I was afraid in the first place. By themselves, those fears usually look silly or at least surmountable.

So ask yourself what bothers you about eating alone. Are you worried about people judging you? Afraid of feeling awkward? Concerned about being bored?

For me, I realized one of my fears is that random people are going to come over and start talking to me because I’m alone. Being bothered by people I don’t know gives me a lot of anxiety (true introvert here).

Once I started eating alone I realized that yes, this does happen sometimes, but the worry is disproportionate to the actual inconvenience. I’ve learned to deal with it. Sometimes I meet someone interesting and have a nice conversation, and sometimes I have to explain that I am just fine sitting here by myself.

Practice at Home

How to Eat Alone - Practice at Home

We live in such a social society that the idea of doing anything “social” alone is just really hard to wrap your mind around. It takes a bit of practice to really get used to the idea and feel normal.

The challenge of eating alone paired with the challenge of eating in a foreign country where you may not know the language can be a double whammy of difficulty. Start getting used to eating alone somewhere where you are already comfortable.

It may feel odd to choose to go out to eat by yourself when you probably have companions nearby who would willingly come along, but give it a shot. Take yourself on a little date to a restaurant you are already familiar with. Somewhere nice, the kind of place where you have to be seated by a waiter. Maybe pair it with going to a movie alone (another thing people get weird about).

At first, you will feel like all eyes are on you, but I assure you they are not. Eventually, with practice, that anxious voice in your head will quiet down and you may even find yourself having a nice time.

Start with Lunch

How to Eat Alone - Start with Lunch
Or breakfast!

I’m not sure why, but it is way easier to sit at a restaurant alone at lunchtime than at dinner. Lunch is less romantic, maybe less social in general. So if tackling a dinner is too much, start with lunch.

Bring a Distraction

How to Eat Alone - Bring a Distraction

It can be weird to sit through a meal without a companion to talk to. You start to feel very self-conscious. To combat this, I like to come prepared with some sort of distraction to keep me busy. Some ideas:

  • A book to read
  • Your phone to play around with (although this can sometimes appear ruder depending on the fanciness of the restaurant)
  • My personal favorite: a notebook to jot down observations. (bonus: if you’re dining alone and taking notes you might get mistaken for a food critic!)

Of course, sometimes it’s nice to just sit and people watch too.

Treat Yourself

Treat Yourself When You Eat Alone - How to Eat Alone and Like It

One incentive to eating alone? You can eat wherever, and whatever you want, and you don’t have to share. So check out that Ethiopian place nobody else seems interested in trying. Splurge on somewhere a little bit nice. Celebrate your meal alone by ordering something special, like a really luscious dessert. You deserve it.

Fake it Til You Make It

How to Eat Alone and Like It? Fake it until you make it

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was a simple one: Even if you’re scared, just pretend you’re not. Inside you may be a big ball of anxiety, but if you plaster on a big smile and act like eating alone is the most natural thing in the world for you, you may actually start to believe it.

Practice Not Caring

How to Eat Alone and Like It? Practice Not Carrying
Yes, I ate this entire thing myself. Don’t judge.

Ask yourself: how often do you actually notice people who are eating out alone? When you do notice them, what do you think? Do you feel sorry for them? Unless they are literally crying into their linguine you probably don’t. So why would other people feel sorry for you?

And even if they are judging you for some reason, why should you care? You don’t know them, you’re not trying to know them, you are just trying to enjoy your meal. Haters can hate.

Do you eat out alone? What’s your best tip on how to eat alone?

 

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How to Eat Alone and Like It

Steph

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.

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32 thoughts on “How to Eat Alone (and Like It)”

  1. wow all that food looks AMAZING!!!!! I used to be like you and was scared of dining alone, now it’s one of my favourite things to do!

  2. Eating alone isn’t my favourite thing to do but it doesn’t bother me at all either. When I travelled regularly for work I got over any reservations about it otherwise I’d have missed out on too much. The worst place to eat alone is a hotel restaurant, the waitresses have a thing about finding you company to eat with so I avoid them and find somewhere more representative of the city. Japan is a great place to start because so many restaurants are used to workers eating alone on their way home so it’s not unusual to them.

  3. Eating alone used to be one of my biggest anxieties but once on a trip to Vietnam my companion got so sick I was forced to not only eat every meal alone, but also go on our excursions alone! It really opened up my eyes to the freedom someone has when they do things alone.

    xx

  4. Awesome tips Steph! I remember forcing my boyfriend to talk to me on the phone when i was out for a meal alone for the first time in paris (and with an 8 hr time difference, it was not cool)! And i realised it was so ridiculous, so i decided to just fake it the next few times i went out.
    By now, I’m comfortable eating alone! Saying “table for 1″always feels odd, but not for more than that mere second. Myphone is a constant distraction, and i think another good option is to ignore people. Have conversation in your own head, think about life, and reflect – instead of thinking omg who is staring at me.
    Eating alone turns out to be very fun! i have realised, over time, that a lot of people do it, and its so common.

    X, Carina

  5. I really appreciate this post! Sometimes it’s hard to write something completely normal and everyday that people might find silly reading, but really know it has applied to them at one time or another. I was totally nervous to eat alone at the beginning of my travels; mostly because, like you mentioned, the thought of being bothered by other people. I think that mindset was molded from the states: Im always on a tight schedule, which means I don’t have time to chat with someone new. I’ve learned now that it’s ok to chat with strangers without being in fear of “how much time” they’re going to waste of mine. That of course also goes along with the leisure of traveling =]

  6. This post caught my eye for a number of reasons. I remember when I was in 4th grade, my teacher had a beautiful and memorable story about how she used to feel very self conscious when eating alone. As a kid, I was rarely faced with this problem (since most of my meals just appeared before my very eyes and usually in the vicinity of family and classmates), but it opened my perspective to the fact that grown ups can feel scared and insecure just like kids. She told us that she used to wonder why everyone was starring at her and she realized that most of the time it was her imagination, and if someone was starring at her, it’s probably because they secretly (or not to secretly) wanted to join her. It was a good lesson in perspective. Now and then I will feel a pang of self consciousness when eating alone, but I relish the time I do have alone to work on my journals and projects, or to just clear my mind with no shields to guard the outside world. An episode of Sex and the City comes to mind where Carrie goes out to eat with no book, no newspaper, just herself. And that is fabulous.

  7. I actually used to eat alone sometimes in University. If I have a long break between classes I would go for an early dinner and bring my study material. It was nice this way since you can’t bring food or drinks in the library. Great tips!

  8. I think the last part, the one about asking yourself some question won’t work for me. It breaks my heart anytime I see someone eating alone. I don’t know why, because I know I have no reasons to feel like that, they’re probably happy eating on their own, but still…I remember during a travel, seeing a woman eating alone on a table nearby, and I caught her looking at us more than once. She seemed so nice and also, she seemed like she would love to talk about the food (she was obviously a tourist too), and I was willing to sit and just eat with her. But of course, I didn’t do it because I didin’t know if that would be a pain in the ass for her, and also I’m way too shy for that. But yeah, people eating alone just makes me have a mix of emotions. Maybe I’m just reflecting on them my own anxiety about eating by myself in a restaurant…

  9. I used to do it a lot and I’ve been trying to make a habit of it again. I wouldn’t say I always love it and feel a bit awkward at first, but it always turns out to be a great experience. I actually think my thoughts of people eating out alone have changed a lot too. Now it’s more of a: I so want to go back here and do that! You can also meet some really great people this way whether it is your waiter or someone at the counter with you.

  10. I love eating alone! I’m actually typing this comment during my lunch) I sometimes bring with me a laptop,phone/book or I just sit near window and look outside. Before I’ve felt anxious to eat alone but when I started working, I often went to meet customers and ended up having lunch by myself a lot. So I got used to it very fast.
    And now I prefer to eat alone than eat in company of people I don’t feel comfortable with. And the worst is when a stranger sits at my table. Happens a lot in fastfood restaurants like McDonalds(

  11. I don’t think I’ve done this before, but I’ve been to cafés during the day by myself which I didn’t worry about.
    I guess I could do it. I go to the cinema by myself and I’m at the stage where I couldn’t care less whether or not I’m being judged :p

  12. eating alone is much better then with company, because you can choose yourself
    you are not obliged to take a starter or a dessert, because your company is taking it
    and you can eat at your own oace
    you don;t have to hurry, because your companion eats quicker and you don’t have to slow sown, because your companion eats slower
    and you don’t have to keep a conversation going, so you can spend more attention on your food and you can eat a hot/warm meal

  13. Love eating out alone. One of my favourite things to do. Chill with a good book or my computer/tablet, my own time to watch the world go by

  14. I love doing things on my own, and eating is one of them! I mean, you can have the whooole dish just to yourself without sharing it with anyone ;D Isn’t that amazing?

    But jokes aside, I actually think that being able to eat out alone is not only cool, but also useful – you really start feeling that you can enjoy your own company without needing anybody else to entertain you. That’s important in life!

  15. I just don’t give a crap what anyone thinks about me dining alone, or at anything else that deviates from the herd. Words can’t express how liberating this mindset is…

  16. I love this article! There are definitely days when I feel more self conscious eating alone than others – but usually it all disappears once the food’s in front of me. The only problem I sometimes find is that I eat way too quickly as there’s no chatting to distract me!

  17. I actually love eating out alone. I started when I was living in China, before i met expat friends, but now I like to take a book to a restaurant every so often to unwind. It’s really de-stressing have someone bring you a nice meal (exactly what you want! eat as fast as or as slowly as you’d like!) while you relax and read a good book.

  18. Eating alone is the best because you actually get to spend time tasting and enjoying the food! mmmm. I love it, it’s definitely awkward at first. But then you get used to it 🙂

  19. me_dining_alone

    Enjoy your own company. A notebook to jot thoughts in is always best or a book to read. You pass the time and don’t even realize a whole meal has gone by.

  20. This post caught my attention for many reasons. I travelled alone for the first time last month, to Norway for 4 days, and I found myself so afraid to eat alone. I’d have breakfast in my hotel, and then skip lunch, and just have a McDonalds or something similar for dinner. On the last night I finally forced myself out of my comfort zone and went to a gastropub for a meal. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t easy either. I find it so fascinating that you mention being worried about people talking to you – the thought of someone coming over to talk to me has never crossed my mind, but would actually be a welcome distraction. I’ve just booked a month long solo trip to China and Australia for this October – so I’ll definitely be taking some of your tips on board to ensure I don’t miss the amazing food these countries have to offer! Thank you for the article!

  21. And i thought i was the only one with this problem! Im currently in Munich, Germany. Went for breakfast at the hotel this morning…. skipped lunch, then had this huge battle in my head to go to a full on German restaurant which is less than 30 seconds away from me… which didn’t happen.. i made it outside the restaurant and than i ran far away from it, i just couldn’t do it! i do not know any German, i couldn’t read the menu, i was on my own, all these excuses came to my head, i got scared so i ran to the nearest MacDonald and ordered myself a chicken burger meal. Thank you for this well written article… im going to take note… and see tomorrow if i make it in to the restaurant!

  22. I am choosy about my location and timing when eating alone – for example, in Turkey there was a famous lunch spot right by my apartment, but when I walked by at noon it was full of businessmen at shared tables and was SUPER intimidating. So I went back the next day at 1:30, after the lunch rush was over, and was able to ask the staff for help choosing food, and didn’t have to sit at a table with hurried strangers. I also tend to pick places that are a little quieter, or less full. I feel a little strange sitting and reading a book alone in the midst of a raging Friday happy hour at a popular bar; I don’t feel weird at all tucked away in the corner of a cute cafe with a glass of wine.

  23. Eating alone right now. Not something I’d usually do but I needed to get some writing done come to find my laptop is dead when I arrived haha. Now I’m a little anxious

  24. I too have felt slightly awkward going out to eat alone… I was forced to get accustomed to it this past summer during an internship with travel back and forth to New Orleans. Seeing as I was living out of hotels, had no kitchen, but could expense my meals on the company dime, I certainly wanted to take advantage of trying as many local spots down in the Louisiana Food Heaven as possible. Once I learned that its cool to eat alone, I’d use it as an opportunity to strike up conversation with the hostess, servers, or other staff. You learn a lot by talking to people. Now I dont think twice about going out alone.

  25. I like eating out alone, but I find that it’s gotten harder now that I’m married. There’s almost always someone around who wants to come with me! It’s one of those things that you have to keep practicing for it not to feel awkward. But it can be so wonderful. I like going to places that have a counter (like diners or sushi bars) and to sit at the counter. It’s only then that I really notice people eating alone, but I’m comforted by them, I feel like they get me.

    Also, why do people get weird about going to movies alone? I’ve seen tons of movies alone…I just don’t get it, lol.

    And finally, I love playing around on your new site, that’s how I found this article!

  26. It sure was nice when you said that one of the best ways to make sure that the person enjoys their time eating alone, they should pretend that they are not anxious and just smile. I will suggest this to my sister since she is planning to eat at a waterfront restaurant alone. I know that smiling won’t be hard for her since she likes the sea anyway. Hopefully, this raises her spirits. Thank you.

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