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Dining alone

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NYCfoodgirl Nov 2, 2007 08:47 PM

I travel frequently for business. When I'm in a new city, I always want to try new restaurants, but end up feeling self-conscious about eating by myself. I often end up getting take-out. Are there tips for overcoming this self-consciousness, or otherwise eating well while dining alone?

(I'm in my mid-20s, and I don't think dining solo in a "nice" restaurant is as common.)

  1. a
    agent99 Nov 22, 2007 07:57 PM

    How terrible to miss a great meal in a new city for this! I am in my early 30s and dine out alone while on vacation and dont feel weird at all, but i agree, it isnt very common. i dont like to eat at the bar, that makes me uncomfortable actually. i like my own table where i can relax and indulge! i dont feel weird about taking up a table, isnt that what they are there for?? my suggestion for you is to have a glass of wine, be open minded and remember that other diners are not looking at you, they are probably more concerned with their food too :)

    there are some perks to being a solo female diner also, in the past, waiters have offered a free drink to start, dessert etx. (i always compensate with gracious tip) most recently, this past weekend i was alone at a nice place in new orleans (free champagne) and two ladies at the next table chatted me up during dessert, after i was done, we wound up partying all night on Bourbon and Frenchman street, it was a blast!

    1. meatn3 Nov 20, 2007 10:09 PM

      Don't let not having a dining partner keep you from great Chow experiences! I first started eating alone as a teenager working at a Mall. I wasn't good about bringing lunch & there seldom was a buddy with the same break. This was before food courts, so just got used to solo dining. I was self conscious & usually brought a book. Over the years it became less of a big deal. Now I enjoy it! While a good travel partner is wonderful, they aren't always in the cards. I have had numerous solo vacations and dining (high & low end) are a major part of my travels. Over the years being a solo female diner seems to have become less unusual for restaurants, so there is rarely a problem from that end. I like to people watch & to daydream, so I seldom bring reading material anymore. You are more approachable as "one" & it can lead to some great experiences. (No, not that...)
      I have had many curious women strike up conversation (they admired my "bravery") which led to great recommendations of food & sights that I never would have found on my own! Also ended up with a few nice friendships too. People are proud of their towns & enjoy a chance to share with an interested traveler! Travel out side the US is doable too. Be aware of cultural practices & use common sense and be a polite guest, but go for it!

      1. g
        gyp7318 Nov 20, 2007 06:34 PM

        I too was a bit nervous about dining alone, especially at higher end places, when I took my first solo vacation last month to Toronto. FYI, I'm a single 34 y/o female. I did my research on the boards as well as creating a post on the Toronto board to find out from the locals which places would be more hospitable to a single female diner. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice everyone was. I had a great time not only vacationing alone but also dining alone and going out to bars. I found most everyone I encountered to be extremely hospitable and not always leacherous, looking to hookup w/an out of towner. I also had one of the most amazing dining experiences at a high end restaurant where I had a table all to myself. The staff did not make a big deal of me dining alone and nor did I. I took it all in and had a sublime evening. The owner ended up talking to me for a while and even sat down and had a drink w/me. Such an amazing experience that I'm not sure would have happened to me if a) I would have been traveling w/my friends b/c of taste and money limitations and b) I may not have been so open to new experiences.

        1. thew Nov 12, 2007 09:42 AM

          bring a book. enjoy your food. don't worry about what other people think.

          (this advice applies to all life situations, not just restaurants and eating)

          1. susancinsf Nov 11, 2007 10:15 AM

            well, dining at the bar (or counter) is one way to meet people. Once, years ago, when I had just moved to a new town and knew no one, I ended up meeting a guy I dated for several months, just sitting next to him at the counter of a local breakfast spot....

            But nowadays, I am not as interested in meeting folks...I am certainly not interested in meeting potential dates, but I do eat alone a fair amount when on business.

            Indeed, just got back from a business trip to Palm Springs, and ate two of my three dinners out in town alone. I was at a conference and knew people, and could have found dinner companions if I had wanted them, but the truth is, after spending all day with lots of people, sometimes I find it restful to spend time by myself. Not only that, but if I am dining alone, I can choose to go where I want to go: no having to compromise and go to the local PF Changs (or Cheesecake Factory, or whatever...) just because a colleague likes the one in his town and is looking for a known quantity while on travel status.....

            A third reason I like to dine alone when travelling: it is a GREAT opportunity to try more upscale spots. I have a weakness for upscale restaurants, but hubby is not fond of them, and he is usually with me when dining at home in SF. So, what better excuse to try one than when on the road, especially since that means at least some of the cost will be covered by my perdiem and the meal will cost half as much for one as for two, so hubby isn't paying for something he doesn't really enjoy!

            As for bar dining these days: I will do it if there is a view of the kitchen, since I find that entertaining, or if the place is very crowded. Usually, I find myself talking with the bartender much more than with other customers, and it can be informative to hear their take on the food, etc. However, I have had to fend off people trying to hook up with someone at the bar (though not often. maybe I am just not giving off the interested vibe) .I usually do take a table and don't feel guilty . Nor do I see any need to feel guilty: I tend to eat fairly early when by myself and rarely find the places I go to to be full: indeed even though the conference I was at in PS had booked most available hotel rooms, none of the restaurants I dined at were full while I was eating there, and no one was turned away.

            Another advantage to dining alone, even if not at the bar: I find that the staff often takes special care of you. At my best PS dinner, a woman I believe was the chef/owner's wife took over table service for me, and was very adept at making me feel comfortable and in giving me information about the food, adding to what was already a lovely dining experience.

            2 Replies
            1. re: susancinsf
              AlaskaChick Nov 11, 2007 04:27 PM

              I agree on the fact that they tend to take better care of you. I've had waiters walk me to the door and stand where he could ensure that I got safely to my car in the dark parking lot, the manager who asked if he could sit for a bit as he recalled that I was a regular - as in I go there once every 4-6 months when I'm in that city, the dessert chef who shared recipes with me, the bartender who traded their signature drink recipe for mine, and more.

              1. re: AlaskaChick
                Pei Nov 12, 2007 06:49 AM

                Same type of experiences. A friend joined me halfway through my meal once, and afterwards said she was going to eat alone more because she never realized eating alone at the bar could be so much fun! She admitted to being shocked that I was planning to eat alone somewhere as fancy as The Four Seasons (Robuchon in Manhattan).

            2. AlaskaChick Nov 8, 2007 08:26 AM

              I travel alone all the time and have for many years - there absolutely no way I'll skip the local food so eating alone is inevitable. I once has a woman out with her SO tell me she thought I was so brave to eat alone - I told her I'm not brave, just hungry! I think all the recs here are good ones - eat at the bar if you're feeling sociable, get a table if you're not. Bring something to read/do just in case you feel the need. These are all good things. You do run the risk of getting hit on at the bar but no need to feel guilty about having the bartender "play chaperone". Having bartended, and with friends who own bars, a good bartender will watch out for you tho if its really busy, that can stretch them. That said - taking control of your own destiny is a good thing. While getting hit on may be inevitable, take it as a compliment and turn it around - if its an interesting person, make it clear you aren't opposed to having a conversation but that's as far as it goes - if not, then a firm no thanks delivered with a smile works for me.

              1. n
                NYCfoodgirl Nov 7, 2007 02:14 PM

                Thank you everyone for your advice. I just got back from my trip. I ended up eating at the bar every night -- twice at the vegan restaurant attached to my hotel (I'm not vegan) and once at a sports bar. The sports bar was actually kind of fun; I ended up chatting with a few people around my own age -- it was nice to meet some locals and fellow "tourists." The only problem was that I got hit on non-stop ... and not in a good way.
                I felt bad making the bartender play chaperone, so I didn't hang around for a second drink, even though I was enjoying the game on TV.

                On my last night I skipped dinner altogether, and just had a big lunch (somehow lunch alone is less intimidating.) I tried my "foodie" picks during the day. It was still a good trip, and I'll just have to go back with my boyfriend next time!

                1. Chuckles the Clone Nov 5, 2007 07:33 PM

                  I think people are their most human when they're eating alone. I used to be scared to
                  eat alone and then I realized I was just scared to be human. It's taken some time to
                  get over but I'm much more comfortable now, on trips to other cities as well as when
                  I'm home.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                    Zucumber84 Nov 8, 2007 09:57 AM

                    I agree with you Chuckles. It is about realizing your own person and presence in the world and allow yourself to just be, instead of being distracted by noise, chatter and another human's gravity.

                  2. danhole Nov 5, 2007 11:02 AM

                    I HATE eating alone, but when I do, I try to be open minded and not come off as self conscious. I will take a magazine, and flip through it, but I look around at the other diners, smile (not flirt) and often someone will strike up a conversation with me. Why? I have no idea, but I am the one at the grocery store that complete strangers come over to, to ask about a type of food, or where to find something, or just to say they like my shirt. I come across as friendly and open, but I consider myself to be shy and nervous in crowds. My facade is to behave like I am "Murphy Brown", remember that Candace Bergan TV show. It's a trick I learned in a seminar, and I guess it really works!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: danhole
                      KaimukiMan Nov 5, 2007 11:22 AM

                      I don't have to eat out alone much, but when I do, I have never felt comfortable sitting there reading a book or a magazine, don't know why. If the place has a comfortable bar, thats good, or if there is a window and you can watch what is going on outside while waiting for food to arrive. Often single diners are given those "less desirable" tables near the kitchen entrance. Actually I kind of like that. I get to listen to the activity in the kitchen, watch the interesting food coming out, and there is no conversation for the noise to interrupt. Because the waitstaff is constantly passing the table, I generally end up getting pretty good service.

                    2. L_W Nov 5, 2007 05:56 AM

                      When I travel alone (I used to do it a lot and now not as frequently), I never minded eating alone at any restaurant. I am female, so I would not wander the streets, looking for a place, but I would ask at the hotel for a reccommendation and arrange for a cab each way. Just recently, I went to Dallas and ate a nicer hotel (Nana) by myself, sans magazine. I just concentrated on the great food and view and did a bit of ppl watching. If it is a REALLY nice place, I don't think I would ever bring in a magazine or paper, but if it was a local "dive", I totally would (or bring in some work to do)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: L_W
                        Zucumber84 Nov 5, 2007 09:02 AM

                        While it is hard to meet people when you are alone, it also gives you the chance to be more outgoing than usual. I like going out by myself and seeking other solo travelers/diners and seeing what they are all about, but in a controlled environment such as a bar or a restaurant.

                        1. re: Zucumber84
                          Pei Nov 5, 2007 09:17 AM

                          Me too! I'm not usually the most bubbly, talkative person in the room, so people are sometime shocked when I say I enjoy eating out alone--and talking to STRANGERS! It sounds so scandalous, but really isn't at all if you give off the vibe that you're there to socialize for that meal and no more. It's a lot of fun talking to different kinds of people that you might never have otherwise met, however briefly.

                      2. Pei Nov 4, 2007 11:32 PM

                        I'll tell you a story about eating alone in NYC: I was at Momofuku Noodle Bar, eating alone at an odd hour, when I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me. He was a regular (to the point of eating there up to four times a week!) and was very enthusiastic about telling me what to get and about the restaurant's history, etc. What started off as a casual "So, what's good?" ended up being an amazing lunch shared by strangers with a common interest. He even insisted on paying for lunch and only let me put in for tip, thereby cementing all New Yorkers in my mind as The Nicest People--Ever.
                        Normally I would be wary of single men in noodle bars, but it was obvious that the entire staff knew him and that he just really liked the food there. And no, he did not ask me for my number or ask me where I was going after lunch or follow me out the door. He was just a genuinely nice food loving person who was happy to share his favorite restaurant with a stranger. I came away tasting more dishes than I ever could have on my own and a priceless tip to hit up Chikalicious down the street.

                        I'm not saying you'll be comfortable doing anything close to this for a long time, but it goes to show that eating alone isn't so weird and can actually lead to some interesting experiences.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Pei
                          hotoynoodle Nov 6, 2007 05:30 PM

                          i was dining alone and reading a book. a guy two seats down commented on the author. we got to chatting about books and writers and all sorts of things. lol. we stayed and drank and talked for a few hours. he was visiting my area doing research for a book. eight years later we remain very good friends.

                        2. Cheese Boy Nov 4, 2007 10:02 PM

                          Not to digress, but all the solo diners should start up a board and pair up with other solo diners also on supposed/said business trips. You can meet some interesting and fascinating people this way and create a whole new network of friends for sure. Threads can read: 'Convention center in Philly 11/20 ...' and inside explain the details of your quest. Just an idea.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Cheese Boy
                            Caroline1 Nov 5, 2007 06:13 AM

                            In this day and age, I'm not sure I'd go for that, but I have been in restaurants where they match up single diners with other single diners, if they are interested. I'd like it if more restaurants did this, with an eye out for diner's safety!

                            Am I parnoid?

                          2. aussiewonder Nov 4, 2007 08:41 AM

                            I too am in my late 20s and dine solo alot. It's tough getting over that self-conscious feeling but as other diners have pointed out, it comes w/ time and experience and dining alone is always preferable to room service (IMO). I was in a similar situation last week, and it had been a while since I'd ventured out alone so was feeling very self-conscious, but by the time i sat (at the bar) and had ordered a drink and talked a bit to a fellow solo diner and the bartender, i relaxed and remembered why i actually enjoy dining alone sometimes (bc the alternative of convention food and forced conversation at the end of a long day is too much to bear!) I always find it less 'scary' to go to sushi bars, since there are always lots of solo diners there. Perhaps finding 'kitchen bars' or sushi bars or other such eatiers where sitting side by side w/ other solo diners will help you ease into the transition.

                            1. ipsedixit Nov 3, 2007 10:29 PM

                              I eat "solo" quite a bit when traveling for work

                              And like others have suggested dining at the bar is a oftentimes a good solution.

                              You might also want to dine at "off-peak" hours to avoid feeling self-conscious, e.g. dinner at a late-ish hour like 10 or 11. This isn't as hard as it sounds, esp. if you are traveling from west to east (and if you are going the other way, then have an early dinner). When the restaurant isn't packed, you'll get better, more personalized service and won't feel like a thousand eyes are watching you as you -- the solo diner -- hog an entire table.

                              For some reason, I don't really like reading a magazine esp. at a "nice" restaurant, much prefer to play with my Blackberry and post on Chowhound. :-)

                              1. d
                                dustchick Nov 3, 2007 09:46 PM

                                I often travel alone, both for work and for leisure. I, too, was self-conscious about dining alone, but like others have mentioned, bringing a book or magazine helps. Sometimes I sit in a bar area, especially if there is sports on to watch. Sitting outside on a patio can be great for people-watching. The self-consciousness does pass after awhile.

                                I tend to leave a generous tip, as I'm not only alone but also don't drink any alcohol, but I don't think that's necessary.

                                Hope you have fun dining out on your next trip!

                                1. Karl S Nov 3, 2007 11:34 AM

                                  You've already taken the first step: realizing the self-consciousness is the problem, not the situation of dining alone itself. It is in your head, and it's up to you not to take what's in your head and assume it's what's in the heads and mouths of other people.

                                  I dine out alone frequently and with delight. You get a two-top - sometimes, if things are slow, even a four-top. I always bring a magazine and a book (whichever is larger for when I am not facing food, and something smaller for when I have food). I relax. And relax. And have fun. One of the nice things about eating alone is that you can experiment with food you might not know and not risk spoiling a social evening with others.

                                  And I tip up as a single patron - first, because there's a certain amount of baseline service per table, and second because single diners can earn a bad rap as poor tippers. Add an extra 5% onto you tip than what you'd tip if you were in social company. It's not required, but if you end up travelling back to the same place, they'll remember over time.

                                  1. hotoynoodle Nov 3, 2007 09:36 AM

                                    i frequently dine alone. i work in the business and it's a nice way to decompress. i almost always sit at the bar, rather than a table and always have something to read. my personal preference is for quieter places, not loud crazy-crowded raucous ones. the bartender or another diner may turn out to be fun to talk with, or i can just relax with my book.

                                    depending on where you travel, being stuck in a strange city as a lone business diner is more common than you might realize. venture out to your hotel cafe or restaurant as a starter and stop worrying that others think you're a loser for eating alone. they're not thinking anything, they're minding their own business, just like you.

                                    1. jfood Nov 3, 2007 05:21 AM

                                      N

                                      jfood has been travelling on biz for 30 years and many times finds himself alone for dinner. There are two ways to go, eat alone in your room or eat alone in a resto. Jfood made a conscious decision for the latter many years ago. Good example of benefits. Jfood found himself in London two nights ago and was leaving the next day to go home to the US. No dinner meeting was scheduled. He found a Mich 1-star and walked in asking for a table. Now it was 645 and he was the ONLY person in the dining room (probably 60 table dining room). Talk about feeling alone. But it was a great meal and better than eating in the hotel.

                                      Suggestions. Try it once at the bar, but being a "NYCfoodgirl" you do run the risk of Mr Sleeze hitting on you. Some business travellers are unscrupulous (and that goes for both sexes as jfood has witnessed). If that is uncomfortable ask for a table and bring a book. Rare has jfood seen a woman hit upon at a table and the worse part of the meal eating alone at a table is the in between courses and the only thing to do is look around at the other patrons (uncomfortable for the most experienced of us). And if reading you do not have to listen to the next table describe all those topics that belong in the privacy of their home (unbelievable what jfood has heard over the years). An a book is a nice way to relax.

                                      But it does take time to get over the self-consciousness, and it may be years until you feel as comfortable as jfood does (it took years for him). But the end result is when travelling and you have a free night you do not have to go theough the "where do you want to eat?" dance with colleagues and enjoy a quiet meal, a nice book and some relaxing down time.

                                      1. t
                                        Tay Nov 2, 2007 09:28 PM

                                        NYCfoodgirl
                                        I travel on business as well. If you're going to a large city, sometimes calling the hotel at which you will be staying, and speaking to the Desk Staff, (or, if they have one, a Concierge or Hospitality Desk.) and explaining your single traveler status, can be very helpful in terms of reccs. They have made reservations for me at restaurants that they deemed both good and safe. I can appreciate what maria lorraine posted, but if you're a single woman, traveling alone, sitting at the bar can be a mixed experience especially in a small city/town. If you still don't feel comfortable dining alone, ask the hotel Desk Staff if they have a menu folder so, if you do decide to explore, you will know what's available, where it's located. and can ask the staff if the area is safe to travel alone. If they hesitate, have them call you a cab and get the cab's dispatch number so you can have someone pick you up....
                                        Sheesh! ...I'm starting to sound like your mother!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Tay
                                          starlady Nov 2, 2007 10:37 PM

                                          I eat out alone on a semi regular basis, as I also travel for business. I alway bring a magazine (note: magazine - not book as they never stay flat on the table as you are trying to eat and read at the same time), but also like to sit at the bar and chat with the bartender. I never feel bad at taking up a table if I have lots of paper work to do and just want a cocktail and some fries (or insert here other fave finger food) and want to spread out on a place that is not my hotel room bed. I do ask for recommendations from staff, and ALWAYS get the resto to call me a taxi to take me back to my hotel. Other than that maybe ask for a place that has TV's so you can watch the news or whatever (not everywhere that has a TV plays sports 24/7). I know that's not super helpful but that's what I do :)

                                        2. maria lorraine Nov 2, 2007 09:01 PM

                                          When traveling alone, I love sitting at the bar and having dinner. I enjoy talking to the bartender and interesting locals (and hearing their insider tips on restos and local hangouts and places to visit). I always bring a magazine to read or to "rescue" me from a bore or boor. I admit to feeling a tad uncomfortable taking up a "entire" table, even if it's a two-top.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: maria lorraine
                                            Caroline1 Nov 5, 2007 06:09 AM

                                            "I admit to feeling a tad uncomfortable taking up a "entire" table, even if it's a two-top."

                                            It took me a while to work my way through the dining alone aversion, but it is possible. When it comes to guilt over taking up a table all by yourself, why should you feel guilty? It is, after all, the restaurant management that decides where to seat you. In better restaurants, they pretty much know what kind of seating they have available, and if it's a very busy night, don't be offended if they ask if you would object to a meal in the bar. Or I have even had a resaturant seat me at a very large table, explaining it's the only table not reserved and asking me to please be comfortable.

                                            I think the key is to talk to the maitre d' or hostess about your concerns and let them guide you. Most of all, relax and enjoy your food!

                                            1. re: Caroline1
                                              ccbweb Nov 6, 2007 08:06 AM

                                              The thing I always remember when I'm sitting at a table alone is that it's no different than 2 people sitting at a table normally used for 4...or 3 people sitting there, or 5 people at a 6 top and so on. There is a maximum that can be seated a particular table, but that doesn't mean that's the only number that can sit there or that the restaurant makes X amount each time they seat that table. As Karl notes below, there is a baseline level of service (whether that's water, tea, bread, etc) that is much the same for 1 person as for 2 or 3 or so and I usually take that into account when I tip.

                                              1. re: ccbweb
                                                rednyellow Nov 8, 2007 06:07 PM

                                                I don't feel guilty at a table for two, maybe a bit silly at a table for 4 or 6! Some restaurants realize that solo diners are often quick, in and out, no conversation or lingering. I'll even ask for my check when the entre or desert arrives. If I'm walking around in a big city and I'm hungry for dinner, I'll pop into a place that looks interesting and just ask if they are booked up for thenight or can they fit in a table for one. As often as not, they seem happy to have me. A few times I"ve been told that they are booked at a certain time and I'm fine with that as long as the food comes out at a reasonable rate, which it always has.

                                              2. re: Caroline1
                                                maria lorraine Nov 10, 2007 10:18 AM

                                                "When it comes to guilt over taking up a table all by yourself, why should you feel guilty? It is, after all, the restaurant management that decides where to seat you."

                                                My feeling guilty isn't necessarily logical; It's just from being in the food and wine industry that I know that the business side of the resto might prefer two persons at that table, especially two persons who walk in without a reservation. My "guilt" also overlaps with the self-consciousness that others have identified, and I have not yet overcome this. My personal solution is to sit at the bar -- I love it there, and have learned to deal with being hit on, even the most outrageous forms of it.

                                              3. re: maria lorraine
                                                t
                                                Terrieltr Nov 9, 2007 09:51 AM

                                                I don't like to dine during peak hours when I'm on my own -- usually if I'm by myself, I want a quiet meal -- so I rarely have to feel guilty about "taking up" a table. Heck, I've had meals where I one of maybe three customers in the place.

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