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Nov 2, 2007 08:47 PM

Dining alone

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.)

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  1. 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

      "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

        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

          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

          "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

          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.

        4. 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

            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. 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. 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. 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.