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

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

  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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…

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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(

  10. 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.

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