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Eating alone in a restaurant for the first time may be intimidating to some. Food tastes better when shared, and also when surrounded by good company. However, sometimes a situation calls when you find yourself eating out alone and you think, “Oh my God, can I actually do this?” Yes, you most definitely can. Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or anywhere in between, this is for you!
1. Normalise eating alone in a restaurant
Mind over matter. Often, when I say that I enjoy dining out alone once in a while, people start asking questions like: “Doesn’t it get boring?” or “Isn’t it scary to eat alone?” or even, “Do you like, eat super quickly and then leave?” Well, my answers to those questions are: No. No. and Absolutely not.
I’ve eaten alone in a restaurant countless times, both on my travels and even when I am in my own home city. I choose to eat alone sometimes because it gives me the freedom to eat whatever I want, and whenever I want it. There are also times when I had to eat alone because none of my friends or colleagues was free, and that’s absolutely okay too. However, there are studies showing that eating alone is bad for our health and our planet.
Trust me, nobody will look at you sitting alone at a table and think, “Oh, how sad that person is eating alone in a restaurant.” Even if they do, it ain’t their business anyway – so screw what they think. Others will even think, “Wow, I wish I was that brave.” Regardless of what others may think, the only person that you should be concerned about is you. Personally, I’d rather dine alone than be in the company of people I can’t stand. So yes, in order to survive eating alone in a restaurant, you first must get it in your head that it is okay to eat alone.
2. Start out with Breakfast or Lunch
Going to a restaurant alone for breakfast or lunch is a good way to start, and to prepare you for solo dining in the evenings. These meals tend to be more casual, plus some restaurants may offer excellent deals for set lunches. You can enjoy lunch and stay well after for some tea and coffee without having to rush. Chances are, there are other fellow solo diners during breakfast or lunch, so you won’t feel awkward about being there alone.
3. Plan your dining experience in advance
As a solo traveller in a new city, I’d like to be prepared. That’s because walking around in search of a good restaurant after dark may not be practical or safe. Hence, I like to do some research into what’s available in the area and make a list. Sometimes I Google “best places to eat alone near me” or solo dining near me” to get a sense of where the solo dining-friendly places are. Ramen shops, sushi restaurants, cafés, street-side stalls and fast food establishments are some great places for solo diners. However, don’t let this list restrict you.
I’ve eaten Asian table BBQ and Shabu-Shabu alone because that’s what I felt like having at the time. The lovely lady serving me made sure I didn’t grill my own meat and fed me till I was stuffed. They were highly pleasant experiences for eating alone in a restaurant, however, I would only do that when I am absolutely craving for them.
4. Avoid peak dining hours
Restaurants tend to be less busy in the late afternoons, right after lunch and before dinner. Unless you’re in Italy where you have to consider the restaurants closing after 2 pm and reopening for dinnertime, this is the best time to dine. You’ll definitely receive a warmer welcome and the staff will be more attentive to your needs since it isn’t rush hour.
When thinking to dine at more popular restaurants, it’s best to call ahead to make reservations to avoid disappointments or long waiting times. Especially when the restaurant is family-run and has small dining spaces.
5. Request for a seat at the bar
I find it easier to get into popular restaurants without prior reservations by requesting a seat for one person at the bar. The restaurant staff would most likely be happy to accommodate you at the bar if it is available – allowing you to skip the line like a theme park fast pass would.
I have found that while eating at a bar alone, it is easier to strike a conversation with fellow bar diners, chat with the bartender (and ask for their personal recommendations) and people watch at the same time. There were several times I’ve been served the “Chef’s Special” just because the chef and I were getting along to the point of becoming best friends at the end of the meal.
6. Go on, whip out that phone
Phone etiquette somewhat doesn’t apply when you’re dining alone. It gives you some things to do while you wait for your food to come. You can get a sense of the menu by scrolling through Instagram posts of diners who have visited. Or you can catch up with friends and family while waiting for your food to arrive, and also plan where to go next. Oh, take tons of food pictures for memories and to show off to your friends and family too!
Some people bring books to pass their time. However, the more comfortable you get with solo dining, you’ll find that you might depend on these “distractions” less.
7. People-watching is entertaining
I really enjoy people watching when I’m eating alone in a restaurant. If the restaurant is moderately full, there are at least a dozen people around you and they are fascinating to observe.
I’ve watched a couple obviously on their first date, trying really hard to impress the other. I was seated next to a pack of young men chatting animatedly about sports, and congratulating one on their successful proposal. I’ve unfortunately witnessed a woman abruptly leaving the table in tears as well. I may not know their stories, but for those few minutes, I could forget about my troubles and observe them instead.
8. Chat with the staff
When you dine during off-peak hours, the service staff may be freer to entertain small chats. I always try to ask what’s their favourite thing on the menu, or if there was anything they’d recommend that isn’t on the menu. Often, they’d indulge and you’ll be immensely lucky enough to experience something delicious that nobody else in the restaurant will get to try. Sometimes, you’ll even get a few sides or desserts “on the house”. These are some of the perks of dining alone, however, please don’t expect this service every time you dine in.
Additionally, if your service staff had been incredible during your time at the restaurant, be sure to tip them. They went above and beyond for you and made your solo dining experience pleasant, the least you can do is to put a smile on their faces. It doesn’t have to be much, but a little tip and a compliment go a long way.
9. Dine alfresco
If the weather is excellent, I would recommend sitting outside. Especially when the restaurant offers a perfect view. If you’re sitting street-side, you can watch people going about their day. If you’re lucky enough to be dining by a beautiful waterfront, enjoy the breeze and the calm before you head out into unfamiliar territories once again.
10. Enjoy your food
The best part of solo dining is that your choice is limitless. Treat yourself once in a while. You can experience new flavours, try that appetiser you’ve always wanted to eat and order as many desserts as you like. Don’t feel compelled to gobble down your food quickly and leave. Savour the experience, rest your tired feet and enjoy the view while it lasts.
Final thoughts on eating alone in a restaurant
Some people dine alone by choice, or because nobody else is free to join them. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There is absolutely no shame in being comfortable eating alone at a restaurant. The feeling is liberating in fact. Even though I haven’t solo travelled since 2020, I still find some time when my husband’s at the office to go eat out alone and try something new. If you have the power to go alone in restaurants, you can do anything.
Do order that extra dessert, chat with fellow diners from the neighbouring table, or catch up with friends and family on social media. When in Venice, my husband and I encountered a lady eating alone, and we struck a lovely conversation with her. We found out that the restaurant we dined in was her favourite and frequents there when she visits. She also gave us insider tips on where to have a great time!
Have you encountered people glued to their screens even when they are dining in the company of others? It goes to show that you don’t have to be dining solo to eat alone at a restaurant.