“Just for one?” It was the question that used to ignite a sudden wave of self-consciousness and borderline mortification every time I entered a restaurant doorway, greeted by a host inquiring as to how many were in my party; their gaze not too subtly drifting past me in search of a companion. “Yep, just one” was my sheepish reply, my unease evident as I averted any potential eye contact and my face flushed red.
I’m sure you’ve been told that with age comes wisdom and I think the same is true for solo travel and its many intricacies. Yet prior to this revelation, there was a time in my life when the prospect of dining in public alone was completely unacceptable to my notions of acceptability. I now cringe at the memory of never sitting by myself for lunch in the university canteen if my friends weren’t around, the fear of appearing to be a complete loner, stared at and judged by my peers enveloped me, forming a now seemingly ridiculous aversion to solo dining.
Yes my younger self really was quite nonsensical at times, adding yet another completely trivial drama to the list of trivial dramas that frequently chart the life of a student. If I were to transport myself back to that canteen right now, stand myself on a table and announce loudly that I needed a show of hands from those present who would judge, stare, point, laugh (or all of the above) if I were to dine by myself, then I am quite certain that not one person would raise a hand — although they would perhaps question my overall sanity with regard to the standing on a table amongst the lunchtime crowd scenario unfolding before them.
So yes, solo dining has proven to be my achilles heel, the particle floating against the grain of an otherwise contented acceptance that life simply leads some of us to do more things by ourselves than it does for others.
It has taken many years and solo adventures for me to finally embrace the joys of a table for one. I’m now a pro at breakfast, lunch and coffee stops; the occasions when people tend to be by themselves anyway are easy. The evening time still proves a little challenging. Arriving at a busy dinnertime restaurant packed with groups, friends, couples and families I can feel that flush of red beginning to paint my face once more as I request a single seat. The lesson for my solo self though is that no one, really no one, cares that I’m dining by myself apart from the self-conscious section of my brain that pulses loudly when it senses I’m breaking from its perception of normality.
Solo dining has for the most part revealed itself to me to be one of life’s simplest and most enjoyable of luxuries, a truth I can use to banish that self-consciousness to bed. Of course there are moments when I feel a touch lonely eating out by myself, when I wish I had someone to reminisce with about the day gone by or to enthuse with about the food; but moments pass quickly. As a solo diner I’ve been afforded some of the most memorable dining experiences of my life and that makes it such a treat.
I’ve spent a lively night at San Fransisco’s buzzing Progress Bar , sampling their incredible farm-to-table tasting menu. I fondly remember chatting the evening away with a Canadian couple sitting next to me at a Dubrovnik eatery, eager to interact with anyone besides themselves for an hour or two. At Woodstockholm I mingled with the locals via a front row seat at their creative kitchen hub, savouring their blissful attention to my every need. And I’ve played the lead role in my love affair with Paris over the perfect French meal at Buvette in Montmartre.
Above all else solo dining has taught me to feel truly comfortable with myself, it’s placed me briefly into the story of strangers, made me appreciate more than ever the company of those closest to me when we do dine together and you know what, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’ve listed below a few of my top solo traveller dining tips and if you only take away one piece of advice then I recommend it to be this — remember to turn out the lights on your self-consciousness for the evening!
Until next time…
- Research restaurants you would like to dine at before you travel, particularly those recommended for solo diners and to be sure of a table, book before you go.
- If your budget permits it seek out a luxurious dining event for yourself; why should you miss out on that fine culinary or Michelin star experience just because you are by yourself.
- Dress up! If you like to wear something jazzy for evening dinner out then do, I always dress to impress myself.
- Chat to the staff, they often have great tips for your stay and make sure to ask them for their recommendations from the menu; if it’s a sharing plate or tasting selection usually suited to more than one person this is particularly important.
- Ask for a prime spot at the bar, it’s usually the best seat to soak up a restaurant’s atmosphere, interact with the staff and fellow diners if you wish and ideal if you are a walk-in and there are no tables left, you can happily skip the queue.
- Be aware of location as you may be returning quite late to your accommodation so plan that journey back from a restaurant. Check whether public transport will still be operating and whether it is safe to walk from station stops by yourself. Get the restaurant to book a taxi for you if in doubt.
- If you really don’t like the idea of dining by yourself, or if you are on a longer trip, then check out EatWith, a communal dining experience operating in over 200 cities around the world; the perfect opportunity to meet and dine with like-minded individuals.
- And finally, more of a perk than a tip, remember that no one will ask to share your dessert!