One of the things I’ve been asked over the years as a solo traveller is how can I eat alone like it’s the scariest thing ever. When my friend left me alone in Vancouver, it was one of the things that made me feel a bit unnerved…Can I eat alone or have a drink on my own?
The thing is that eating is seen as such a social event, and when you walk into a cafe, pub or restaurant you will see tons of groups of people. But if you look again, especially at the bar area you will likely see at least one person on their own just like you.
There is nothing strange or scary about eating alone when you travel solo, and people do it all the time. It can be a bit uncomfortable and awkward at first but you will get used to it once you’ve done it a few times. Trying local cuisine, and dining alone has gone from something I hated to one of my favourite things about travelling alone.
But if you still feel utterly terrified or anxious about eating alone, these are my top tips for eating alone when you travel solo. You never know it may become something you love!
25 Tips For Eating Alone When You Travel Solo
Start With A Breakfast Or Lunch
If you are really anxious about walking into a busy restaurant and dining alone, you can take baby steps by going out for breakfast or lunch alone first. Restaurants generally will be quieter especially if you choose their quietest dining times.
Eat At Off-Peak Hours
Eating at off-peak hours when restaurants are quieter is way less intimidating than walking into a really busy bar full of couples, groups and families.
Go Fancy For Breakfast Or Lunch Instead Of Dinner
Let’s be real, it’s pretty awkward to sit in a fancy restaurant alone. If you aren’t ready to dive all the way off the deep end, then visit fancier restaurants during lunchtime. You’ll save money because you’ll get to eat off the lunch menu AND you’ll avoid being surrounded by couples & families.
Keep It Simple At Dinner Time
Then keep it simple at dinner time when restaurants are more likely to be filled with couples, and groups of people. If you want to be really low-key around dinnertime, then a cafe, pub or restaurant with bar seating is a good option.
Sit And Eat At The Bar
This is one of my favourite strategies for eating out alone especially if I’m feeling introverted or less confident in myself. When you are being seated just ask to sit at the bar. By sitting with your back to other diners you will feel less uncomfortable about being on your own plus there is likely to be other people on their own at the bar too so you won’t feel like an odd one out.
If you feel up to it you can also be social this way by chatting with the bartenders and other people alone at the bar. In fact, I’ve found over the years that the restaurant (or pub) bar is one of the best places to meet and chat with random people if you want to socialize. Or you can just sit in silence sipping on your drink or watching the TV if there is a TV in view.
Choose A Seat That Faces Away From The Crowd
Similar to sitting at the bar, choosing the seat at the table you’re given where your back is to most people is also an easy go-to move to feel less uncomfortable. People may look at you but you will be oblivious to it if you have your back to them.
Try New Foods
Be adventurous when you are dining solo by trying new foods or dishes that you’ve never had before. It’s a fun way to distract yourself while learning about the local cuisine if you are feeling uncomfortable.
You could even set yourself a challenge for each trip to try at least 1 or 2 random things.
Order Early & Get The Bill Early
Even though I’m pretty comfortable dining alone now, and actually enjoy it these days I still have moments when I feel uncomfortable in a restaurant so I always order early and get the bill early.
By previewing the menu online in advance, you can avoid any awkwardness of waiting around as it means you can place your food and drink order as soon as the server comes over. Plus of you are in a foreign country it gives you prep time beforehand to master how to order what you want in the foreign language (just use Google Translate). And then when your server comes over mid-way through your meal ask for the bill to avoid waiting around when you’ve finished eating.
Talk To Friends & Family
During your meals, contact friends and family, and fill them in on your adventures. When you’re travelling and going to different attractions, it can be hard to find time to text or call people so take advantage of the quiet time of eating out to catch up with loved ones.
Pick A Place With Good WiFi
I always choose restaurants and pubs with decent free WiFi because I can go on my phone (or my Mac) and check social media, firm up travel plans, catch up on email or work on the blog.
Order The Wine or Cocktail
Get a glass of wine or beer or a cocktail as soon as you sit down if it will help take the edge off and ease your nerves.
Boost Your Confidence With Champagne
One of the best tips I’ve read recently to feel more confident at a bar, or restaurant when alone is to order a glass of Champagne. It doesn’t have to strictly be champagne, Prosecco or any other sparkling wine would have the same effect as it’s just about the image it conveys.
A woman who sits and drinks a glass of champagne on her own looks confident and chic. She’s a woman who enjoys the finer things in life and makes any day a reason to celebrate. You will be telling people that you know exactly what you are doing, and it will probably give your confidence a boost. I challenge you not to sit up a bit straighter and feel more confident with a glass of champagne in your hand.
Journal (or Blog) During Meals
During meals is also a great time to catch up on your travel journal or work on blog posts if you’re a blogger like me. I’ve sat in many restaurants, cafes and pubs writing away. It’s an easy way to distract you from any thoughts about people staring at you or what people might be thinking of you.
Write about what you’ve been doing on your travels, any lessons or takeaways, how you are feeling, what you are doing next or whatever you like. If you get stuck on what to write just google travel journaling prompts to get some ideas.
Read A Book
Take a book with you to the restaurant. This might sound like a strange tip but it really works because it will distract you from worrying about what people are thinking. It’s a perfect time to start or finish any books that you’re reading and all your solo dining fears will disappear when you are engrossed in your book.
Go Ahead & Treat Yourself!
Make your dining experience a self-care activity by treating yourself to something indulgent. Go ahead and get dressed up and take yourself out somewhere for a delicious meal. And definitely treat yourself to that appetizer and dessert if you want. Reward yourself for doing something that scared you.
Dress For Success
Use Instagram and Google to find out how people dress for the restaurants you choose to go to. Feeling underdressed or overdressed is far worse on your own when you are already feeling nervous so get clued up on how dressy you should be to feel more like you fit in.
So choose an outfit appropriate for the restaurant that makes you feel good about yourself and comfortable. If you look good you will feel good, so it will help you beat those nerves.
Enjoy Some People Watching
Dining out is a perfect time to people watch especially if you choose to sit outside. I love people-watching because you can learn a lot about the culture of the place you are in by simply observing people. Just be careful not to stare. If you are not comfortable being watched by others just request a seat against a wall or at the back of the restaurant or patio.
Be Thankful For Your Solo Dining Experiences
If you take a moment to people watch in a restaurant I bet you will see at least one unhappy couple in a fight, a group of friends all glued to their phones or a family who blatantly do not want to be dining together. Be thankful that you are not stuck on one of those tables.
Stop Worrying About What People Think Of You
One of the biggest tips I can give you that will make the world of difference is to learn to ignore all the strangers around you and what they might be thinking. I get that it can be super awkward and uncomfortable when strangers stare at you but you will never see any of these people again. So don’t concern yourself with what they may or may not be thinking of you in a particular moment because they do not matter. What matters is that you have a great experience travelling. So try to relax and enjoy the moment.
Tips For Choosing A Restaurant Or Pub
Here are a few tips for choosing a restaurant when you are dining solo.
Pick A Restaurant Or Pub Before You Go To Dinner
If you are already feeling stressed or anxious about dining alone the last thing you want to be doing is wandering around wondering where to eat. So ease the pressure by doing some research before you want to eat to take the pressure off and make you feel a little less unsure about eating out,
Use Google and Google Maps to research restaurants in the area, and then look at pictures of the places, opening times and the ‘about’ to learn about the atmosphere i.e. is it casual, formal, posh, popular for couples or solo dining. You can also look at the reviews and see what people are saying. A lot of restaurants and pubs have websites too where you can see more pictures and learn more about the vibe of the place.
Do Google Searches
On Google do basic searches for the best restaurants in your current location for solo dining. For example, here’s a list of places for Washington DC
Avoid The Peak Dining Hours
Especially while you are getting used to dining alone it’s best to just avoid peak dining hours when restaurants and pubs will be really busy. For example, if you eat around 9 am for breakfast or around 2 pm for lunch you are more likely to avoid couples on dates, or big celebrations and gatherings.
Also, weekends will always be busier than weekdays so to begin with it might help you to dine during the week before you eat out alone on weekends.
Refer To Google Maps For The Best Times To Eat
Use Google Maps to see the busiest dining times for different restaurants, pubs and bars (as well as attractions) so that you can be strategic about when you go to avoid the busy times.
Choose A Small Restaurant
If you’re comfortable dining with others, then choose a small restaurant. For starters, they’re much more cosy and intimate. There’s also a chance that you’ll be seated at a table with others. Try a food-truck park, or a festival or visit a coffee shop to try it if you don’t feel confident about going somewhere small right away.
Helpful Tips To Save Money When Eating Alone
Enjoy Happy Hours
Happy hour is generally my favourite time to eat when I am travelling, or just out and about at home because you can get food for a mere fraction of the price and it’s often some of the most popular dishes of that particular bar, pub or restaurant. Once you are used to dining in busy places I recommend doing Google searches of the best happy hours where you are,
Eat At Food Trucks
There have been times on my travels when the meals I’ve had from food trucks have been nicer than restaurants I’ve gone to and a fraction of the price. If the place you are in has food trucks, then this is an easy way to save money on food – and avoid busy restaurants at the same time,
If the place you are visiting has its own section on Groupon you will probably find deals for eating out. Under the food & drink category, you will be able to search for deals for restaurants, bars, cafes and treats, plus breweries, wineries and distilleries.
Tips To Eat Alone Without Actually Eating Alone
Here are some ways you can join a group of travellers, if you’re not ready to eat completely alone or if you’d simply like to meet people. This is an incredible way to curate unforgettable food experiences, learn more about authentic cuisine directly from local hosts, and meet like-minded people along the way.
Food experiences with local chefs and hosts in your city or abroad. Intimate & immersive dining experiences, hands-on & interactive foodie activities and exclusive, personalized private events.
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Another way to have unique food experiences hosted by locals is to check out Airbnb experiences. You can search for things like cooking classes and locally hosted dinners so it’s a good way of getting off the beaten path and trying new things.
I hope that you have found these tips helpful. Enjoying solo dining may not happen overnight but if you try at least some of the suggestions in this post, it will get easier. Many of these tips are things I do every time I dine solo, and have helped me to like rather than dread dining alone so I hope they will help you too.
Do you enjoy dining solo or is it something you currently freak out about? Let me know in the comments.
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Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.