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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
33 thoughts on “How to Eat Alone (and Like It)”
I have read your article carefully and I agree with you very much. This has provided a great help for my thesis writing, and I will seriously improve it. However, I don’t know much about a certain place. Can you help me?
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.
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!
Let me tell you though, now that I have a kid, eating alone (hell just being alone) is like the greatest luxury ever.
Glad you are liking the site!
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.
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
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.
Agreed, timing is everything!
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!
This is a bit after the fact but, did you make it in the next day?? I hope so!
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!
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.