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Eating in Restaurants Alone

Dining AloneI eat at restaurants by myself all over the world. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me—in fact, I often enjoy it.

A few tips:

  • Bring something to do. I usually have my Tom Bihn laptop bag, so I have plenty of choices: actual laptop, New Yorker or Economist magazine, my paper notebook, reference notes for a project, and of course my phone. I don’t want to just sit there and stare while everyone else is talking to each other.
  • Make friends with the host or maître d’. I don’t mean ask for their number, but do check-in and be friendly. If the place is crowded, mention that you’re on your own and that you don’t mind waiting. Being nice goes a long way.
  • Sit at the bar or a table—your choice. Ironically, I think there’s a perception that if you sit at the bar, you want to talk to people. I generally don’t want to talk to people I don’t know when I’m eating. That’s why I bring stuff to do!
  • There’s a perception that some restaurant staff don’t like solo diners because the bill is lower. Maybe in some places this is true, but in other ways a solo diner can be a lot easier for wait staff. I’m pretty flexible about where I sit. I usually order everything I want all at once. I like refills of my coffee and water, but not much else. And of course, when service is good I always tip well.
  • Similarly, sometimes I’ve had bad tables when dining by myself—but I’ve also had great tables. I don’t think it’s true that you’ll always be seated by the kitchen or otherwise in an undesirable location if you’re on your own. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. Other times, I’m actually happy to have an out-of-the-way table so I can work.

***

I actually thought of this post while dining somewhere that I didn’t really feel comfortable. I was staying on Palma de Mallorca, in a hotel in which the other guests were almost exclusively German and British tourists from at least two generations before mine.

In plenty of places I have no problem putting my laptop on the table and getting things done, but I had the strong sense that such a thing would be weird there. (It was weird to be there already.)

If I’d had a choice I would have walked in, surveyed the scene, then gone somewhere else. But again, most of the time this doesn’t happen. Most of the time I am a happy solitary diner. In this case, I read my New Yorker and wrote the notes for this post in my notebook. The next day, I found a different restaurant.

Do you ever eat in restaurants alone?

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Image: Lennox

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53 Comments

  • Emily0717@yahoo.com says:

    Some people have hang ups about it, but I also enjoy it. I find it relaxing!

  • Charlotte K says:

    I’m at the point in the USA (where I live) that I never think about it. I would eat at any restaurant of any sort here alone. But I admit that I’m wondering about an upcoming trip alone to Andalucia in Spain. I don’t know how that culture sees it.

    I never bring anything to “do”–I’m already doing the eating! I like to look around. I’m usually in & out more quickly than a larger party (even of two) and I do tip well. I’m in my mid-50s. I’ve really seen the atmosphere for women dining alone change completely in the US. Although it really irks me when they say “JUST one?” even when they are then perfectly polite!

  • Wilson says:

    Hello there, Chris! I travel alone a lot so I eat in restaurants alone a lot too! And I agree with you, it is an enjoyable experience. Having company is always great but sometimes solitude can bring high awareness and focus to the surroundings. If you are in a restaurant or cafe with a cool interior, you can start admiring its details like you would looking at old buildings in Europe. I try not to stare but I love people watching when eating alone – people inside the restaurant and people outside the restaurant so window seats are always great when eating alone. I do not eavesdrop but I try to notice people’s general expressions, they can be different from cultures to cultures which is fun to watch.

  • Vincent Tang says:

    I agree with what everyone else has said. I think there’s something soothing about eating alone, with no distractions and no expectations of making small talk. With the rise of shared communal tables, dining alone oftentimes still leads to pleasant conversation and an eventful meal. I’m fairly comfortable with eating out alone, but I do pick and choose restaurants with atmospheres that suit solo diners.

  • MAZNA says:

    A few years back I saw a man eating alone in a restaurant and thought to myself that I would never do that. Now, I almost always eat alone, its very relaxing and I always feel great about myself afterwards. Often when I’m down I would go eat somewhere alone and read or work on something.

  • lashanna Henry says:

    I’ve eaten alone in restaurants since I was about 15. That was mostly because the school I went to had a 5 and dime and rhe actual city I lived in did not. It was quiet and cheap. It was anice long bus.ride away from loud busy crowded house I grew up in. As an adult as I met people who introduced me to five star dining and.clothing I fell less need to eat out solo. I still do it today at my local Starbucks or diner but have been consider ing doing it at a rwstaraunt in town al fresco with a glass of wine and no armor and just ppl watch and relax.

  • Karin says:

    I enjoy dining out alone and consider it a gift to myself. I like having something to read, but I also take time to appreciate the ambiance, the view, the service, the patrons and the food. Sometimes the entire sensory experience is easier to absorb without companions.

  • Krista says:

    I enjoy dining by myself, I always bring something to do. I consider it a date with myself and I think having a date with yourself is really important for your well-being a balance.

  • Chris says:

    Chris, great post! When I was younger I used to HATE eating alone in restaurants and thought that other people who did that were big friendless losers. I would much rather get food to go and hide out at home, or in my hotel room if I was traveling. But then I dined out alone once, and it wasn’t bad. Although I did feel like everyone was staring at me and thinking that now I was some big friendless loser but then I realized, “Who cares?” Now I actually ENJOY eating alone at restaurants, although I prefer to sit at the bar (if it’s an option) so that if I do want to engage in conversation with other patrons it’s easy to.

  • Nancy says:

    I love eating alone, and always have. Like Chris, I bring a book, magazine or my tablet, but often I just enjoy my meal and pull out a notebook if something occurs to me; it is almost a form of meditation for me. I have friends who will do breakfast and lunch, but won’t eat dinner out alone. Doesn’t matter to me. I consider myself lucky that I enjoy my own company. I often take myself out to eat, and also love sightseeing and museum & movie going on my own. I greatly enjoy doing those things with the people in my life, as well; it’s just two different experiences.

  • Jen says:

    I eat alone regularly and have for years. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed it quite a bit. Usually I bring a book or a notebook to jot down ideas. One of my favorite things to do in my younger years was to order a desert and a glass of wine while relaxing with a good book at a nice restaurant.

  • Margaret Smith says:

    Once the last of my kids were in college I got used to eating out alone. My husband traveled a lot at the time, and didn’t want to go to a restaurant when he was home, so I decided to go out when he was away! I’ve continued this practice for years, though now I mostly just am “out and about” during the day. I do always have a book with me (or many, if I take a tablet). I do a lot of people watching, too. When I was in Spain on a couple of trips (with my husband, who was working during the day), it was fun to hear snatches of conversation and see how much I could understand.

  • Pat Dowling says:

    I also prefer eating alone while traveling. I travel for work (at least for now), and after being “on” all day, I like to turn off. I use the time productively, and sometimes even eat in the room.
    when I am looking for conversation, I will eat at the bar.

    I can recall some of my most productive evenings by myself over three or four hour dinner.
    The Choices We Make

  • Jamie says:

    With smartphones and tablets it’s so much easier to dine alone at places, whether traveling abroad or at home. When I first started solo traveling, I just had a book on hand. I’m glad I made myself enjoy dinner at nice restaurants, including a Bateaux Mouches dinner cruise in Paris. I met the loveliest couple from California. Street food is great for on the go, but it’s also nice to enjoy sitting at a cafe, people watching and enjoying the sights. I think it’s easier for more people to have a comfort level to dine alone now, but hopefully everyone’s not just looking at their devices and get the full experience.

  • Vernon says:

    I’m somewhat new to eating alone, but I’ve found, as someone who works from home, that I like to do everything ‘out’ in one go. So I gym, bank, check post, have lunch and then pick up my kids. I now pop a book in my gym bag and I love the chance to sit and read. I like it so much that I don’t want to miss my daily ritual, which helps keep me gyming as well.

    I work in the tourism industry, and so, by trying out a bunch of restaurants myself I often have the chance to reward good service by taking groups. So I think any forward thinking restaurant will be aware that serving one customer well today might mean a bigger group on another day.

  • I enjoy dining alone while writing an article for my blog, however I stopped admitting it to my friends who often freak out saying it’s too strange to sit in a restaurant on my own. While traveling I think it’s better to be alone, than for instance eat dinner with a person you just met at your hotel/hostel and you both realize you have nothing to talk about 😉

  • jr cline says:

    I rarely eat in a restaurant with anyone else. I usually eat at a table and rarely have an unpleasant experience. Places I frequent will usually seat me at the same table if I’ve expressed a preference in the past. I almost always take something to do: my journal, my phone, my ever present camera, and/or my iPad.
    Like you said, being 100 percent present and friendly is a real plus when dealing with the staff.

  • Nicole says:

    i like it. And I think it’s important to be able to do.

  • Actually I had to do a lot of solitary dining myself to do. I think the apprehensiveness of some people stems from the fact that they feel uncomfortable going out alone, no matter where. They also then, being a bit self-conscious, think they are being judged (which as a loner you always are), but this self-consciousness shows and then … people really see you sticking out like a sore thumb. The moment you go about it all casually all this disappears (or is it just “thick me”? 😉 There is another quirk, though: often in projects I am a member of a team that just haphazardly comes together. As discussed, many feel uncomfortable alone. So they all ask each other where they’re going to eat out etc. Now, it’s not that you have to come along. But if you excused yourself, sort of, from that evening’s get-together and then … happen to hit upon the very same restaurant that group went to, things can get awkward if you want to still stay on your own.

  • Ali says:

    I eat alone regularly. I sometimes bring things to keep myself busy, but usually I people watch, savor the food, enjoy the atmosphere, and appreciate time with me.

    I will sit at the bar if I am interested in conversation (or if there is a long wait), but find a table more fitting for a relaxing meal.

    I find the service tends to be better when I’m eating alone. Servers seem to have a curiosity (or perhaps feel sorry for?) solitary diners. In either case, I appreciate the attentiveness. 8)

  • MadameX says:

    My favorite meals alone while traveling were in Venice– tough place to be alone when there are so many couples having romantic vacations together! One night I was sitting next to 4 elderly French people, who had a Jack Russell terrier with them under the table. He was staring up at me so I pulled out a sketchbook and drew a picture of him. The people noticed what I was doing so I showed them my drawing and then got to practice a little French with them. It was a fun interaction and wouldn’t have happened if I’d been dining with a companion.

  • Sean Zimmermaker says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I travel a lot for work and have found sitting and dining at the bar can be a lot of fun.

  • David says:

    Hi Chris,

    I actually like eating alone, especially if it’s my first time in the restaurant. This allows me to actually concentrate on the food and the atmosphere. As a result of this I have taken friends back because I enjoyed it so much. You have written before that there is a big difference between being alone and feeling lonely, I agree, I don’t have any problem spending that time alone and feeling perfectly content.

  • Dave says:

    I have no issues eating alone. I bring my iPad and catch up on the latest news, spoerts, e-mail. If it is a place that you do not get interupted by the wait staff, i where hearing aids and actually turn them completely OFF! Calgone, take me away! Lol

  • Kathryn says:

    I eat alone a lot. Well, I travel alone so what do you do? Sit in your room with a greasy takeaway?

    There are definitely places you can read etc and places you can’t. I dined alone in a kaiseki restaurant in Japan. Because the point of the meal is not just the taste but the full sensory experience, I think multitasking would’ve been an insult and a waste of my money. I was the only one alone and got absolutely spoilt by the staff 🙂

    I just got back from Italy and thought I was getting bad service because I was alone then realised nope, it was bad service all round.

  • Yvette says:

    Having cared for others my entire adult life (until now), I’ve always enjoyed the moments I’m alone. Taking the time to eat out, hike, travel, etc. solo keeps me sane. As another commenter said “It’s a gift to myself”.

  • I remember a scene in Sex & the City where Sara J Parker decides to enjoy a lunch alone without a magazine or any other distraction (GASP!) but instead to be perfectly happy… enjoying her moment ALONE.

    A beautiful thing.

    XO

  • Rob S says:

    I often eat at restaurants alone and always have. The one exception is upmarket restaurants. That’s because I’ve never felt a desire to eat at one unless I was with a date or later, with my wife. I used to take a book with me. Now I take my phone and make breakfast or dinner my time for checking in with friends on Facebook. I’m lucky where I live now because I can take my laptop with me to the beach and work all day for the price of lunch. Nobody gives it a second thought and the restaurant will even give me an extension cord when my laptop starts running out of juice.

  • Nat says:

    … I happen to be reading this in a restaurant eating by myself! I love doing it. I like just having time out to myself to think and plan things out, or read, or whatever it is I’m up to. If I’m at home I rarely take the time to really sit and think about things so it’s nice!

  • Hi Chris,

    I hope on your second night you had the chance to go to one of the fantastic tapas bars or restaurants in Palma instead of eating dinner in a hotel. If you ever go back to Mallorca I recommend checking out my friend Caterina’s food and style blog. She lives in Palma part-time and finds all these non-touristy gems: http://www.palmallorcastyle.com

  • Charlie says:

    Hi Chris, I was a catholic priest for twenty years and for most of the last ten years I ate alone usually at one or another of Chicago’s many famous and reasonable Greek family diners. I always read either the New York Times or the New Yorker and never returned to a place where I was told “since you are alone you will have to wait because we have to give tables first to those with two or more in their party.” Unfortunately, it happened often as I usually had to eat during a restaurant’s busiest evening times so I could return to the rectory each night in time for office appointments with parishioners. Happily, I haven’t eaten alone for twenty two years as a Greek owner of Tiffany’s restaurant in Des Plaines was a cupid of sorts in 1992 when he sent over a complimentary bottle of wine on my second date with my fabulous wife, Diana Eiranova Kyle, activist/author whose book “Till Justice is Done” (amazon/kindle) relates how her volunteer work for the wrongfully convicted helped abolish the death penalty in Illinois.
    Happy traveling,
    Charlie Kyle
    Chicago

  • Valentino says:

    Hi Chris!I’ve never eated alone, but I will do it, I hope when I’ll have my master degree in Math. For now I’m a little busy with early morning study for the university, and all day I have a job in a IT company (in Italy).
    I really hope one day to be able to dine alone in a nice restaurant somewhere with my laptop, planning the next day’s work, work where I am the boss of myself.

    Thank you for what you write (specially your 100$ startup book), it motivated me a lot.

    Keep it up.
    Ciao,

    Valentino Saba
    Pisa (Italy)

  • Glen Ward says:

    When I first started solo traveling with work I found it strange to start with eating alone, I thought everyone was looking at this loaner.

    Doing it was part of helping realise it does not matter what other people think I am enjoying my book or Ipad and meal. I found the time waiting was well spent doing something peoductive and not just talking.

    I do like to watch the world too, Gemma says I am doing surveillance.

    This has then led onto many travels now with my partner all over the UK.

    All the best

    Glen

  • I’ve eaten alone in restaurants for years and love it. I usually bring a book or paper – have written a lot of poetry. Nowadays always have my phone in case I come unprepared.

    Will usually sit at the bar if I’m open to conversation. I find it a great way to meet people in new places – so was frustrated during a recent trip to New Zealand where people don’t sit at bars. Did get good advice from the bartenders. And the last weekend spent no money for beer since got adopted by a manager/bartender who for some reason wouldn’t let me pay and is now a Facebook friend and living in Australia.

    Since I also love great food, I’ve had servers in “fancy” places get into the fact that I was enjoying dining there and often got special service. (“Is there any way I can get just one taste of cheese?”)

    Great topic – thanks.

  • Sally says:

    Hey Chris, I feel for you- that awkward thing. I’ve done lots of solo dining, some good, some bad- usually with a book for company. Best one was a little place in New Orleans where the pirate Lafayette used to hang out- the cook sent me out a fresh sample of the gumbo he was cooking up – maybe he felt sorry for me or maybe I looked too skinny, I don’t know, but it was delish! Best places are usually the local working-mans places. Happy Travels!

  • Sharon says:

    I am often a solitary diner, I’ve never had anything but courtesy from staff and felt totally comfortable taking my tablet out and reading while I eat. If I can I surreptitiously people watch too.

  • Victor says:

    Sometimes I do, and I like it. I enjoy the solitude at times. I’ve never really had bad service because I was alone; in fact, there were times I’ve had quicker service.

  • Ceil says:

    I hardly ever eat alone in a restaurant. I had rather grab something at a deli and eat outside, or in my room. I have ate alone in a restaurant occasionally when traveling when that was the only option, but it is not my first choice. As it is I almost always have something to work on while I eat, except on the occasion I am with others.

  • Hannah Rose says:

    In my twenties I dined alone often, simply because there was no one else around to share a meal with. It wasn’t easy because then, as now, I lived in a very conservative part of the country where people just don’t do that. It was probably one of the things that contributed to creating a nonconformist and independent me. In my sixties, now, I have the “experience” in my memory, so am able to just go ahead and do it, and enjoy the meal. But not as MUCH as sharing the experience with others. Food is really more than something to sustain us, carrying expectations of social connections. Most of us are conditioned to eat together by family life. It is always more stimulating and memorable to add laughter and smiling to a food experience–in my humble opinion. I don’t think I would carry any kind of mental distraction into a restaurant with me. I’m there to be fully present, not find a way to occupy myself until food arrives. 🙂

  • Jeff Peters says:

    I found myself making my first solo international flight on a return trip from India. I had stops in Mumbai, Bangkok Thailand, and Seoul Korea (yeah, that was a bad bit of travel hacking on my part). I was a scared, having never traveled alone let alone in a foreign country. I had a scare in the Mumbai airport when a group of muslim men on the way to the Hadj approached me in an internet cafe and said some threatening and awkward things. I still don’t know how I got out of that situation, but it left me anxious the rest of the trip. I guessed that being alone made me appear an easy mark. I try to avoid eating alone in an obvious or exposed area when I travel alone now be it in an airport or anywhere. A nice secluded area where I am inconspicuous is grand. I never travel anywhere, without a book and a pad of paper.

  • Being terminally single, I eat in restaurants by myself all the time. I actually really love it! Like you, I always bring something to do.

  • Elissa says:

    I typically have only dined alone with traveling on my own. In limited times, it was okay. I’ve either brought a book or had my phone. Occasionally, people i’ve chatted with before dinner have invited me to join them, which was great.

    However, in my day-to-day life, i’ve not been a solo diner. But, I’ve just moved to NYC and know very few people here, so I’m thinking that unless i want to start eating alone all the time in the apartment, i better get a little more comfortable dining alone out until i expand my network here. thanks for the timely post! 🙂

  • I absolutely love to eat alone and do it all the time in Paris and blog about it. I liken eating alone to eating with my favourite person, myself and also it is all about the food. All your attention is on the food when you eat alone so it becomes a singular sensual pleasure.

  • Jasmine says:

    Yes ! I do that too. I go to my favorite restaurant to eat my favorite food and it’s ok if I’m alone. And waitress is very normal and nice to me.
    The most important part is the food. That I am enjoying a lot 🙂 🙂

  • Mary Ann Hurst says:

    When I was younger it took some getting used to eating alone when I travelled on my own, but later I thought nothing of it. The world is full of interesting and interested people. I have had two occasions where the wait people thought it was unusual that I was eating alone – once at the upscale restaurant in the Halekulani Hotel in Hawaii – but the staff just spoiled me to death. The other time was in one of the two resorts on Lanai Island where I was having supper on my own. The waitperson thought I was one of those people hired to check out the hotel and give recommendations on how to better the service. I had excellent service there, too! 🙂

  • Adrian James says:

    I am going to Menorca soon, and following a break up, I have decided that I’m going ahead with the holiday just by myself. It’s going to feel a bit strange, eating alone, but I’m going to man up, dress up, and be the eccentric Englishman abroad…I’ll probably buy the Times, and sip a gin and tonic to complete the look !!

  • Nadia says:

    Nice article! I’m gonna have solo travel to Bali and wondering am I gonna have guts to have dinner alone at the hotel restaurant. I do eat alone some times at the food court, but this time is different place. So… I’m preparing myself from now on! I will share my experience later on 🙂

  • Jacques says:

    It’s also cheaper to dine alone and there is no-one else who likes to taste the food out of your plate. I also drink more when on my own, which has its own rewards.

  • Sheri says:

    I prefer eating alone. However, on more than one occasion there are people there I know and they invite me to join them. It seems rude to me if I don’t. Any suggestions to say no thanks so I can enjoy my meal alone?

  • PartsFPS says:

    very nice topic…

  • Suzanne says:

    I enjoy it. I view it as being on a date with myself so I don’t mind not necessarily having anything to do. I have conversations with myself in my head 🙂 I promise I’m not crazy.

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