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does anyone else hate eating alone in public?

for as long as i can remember, i've always felt very uncomfortable eating alone in a public setting. it's better if i have something to read or if i can watch tv while eating, but if i don't have a distraction then i usually end up wolfing down my food so i can move on as soon as possible OR i choose not to eat at all and go hungry until i get home (it's usually the latter). i love the idea of sitting down at a bar or table and having a great meal with a few glasses of wine by myself, but i just know that i won't be able to relax if i were to try it. in school as a kid, lunch time was where everyone would break off in to their social circles. if you ate lunch alone it meant you didn't have any friends and you were probably considered the class loser. it's cruel, but that's how it went where i grew up. that's kind of how i feel when eating alone, though that's not at all how i perceive other people dining alone.

none of my friends nor my husband can relate with me. anyone else out there have single dinerphobia?

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  1. Since the recent change in my involvement status and my move, I end up dining alone quite a bit. While sometimes it would be nice to have a companion, I'm actually kind of used to it by this point. It was weird at first, but now I enjoy people watching and checking out the character of the restaurant.

    I do eat at the bar a lot because it's more comfortable and I'm not taking a table that could be used for a couple.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JonParker

      I also eat at the bar, and enjoy it.

      Here's a thread on the same topic from two months ago:
      "Dining Alone"

    2. I think I understand where you're coming from. I have eaten alone (never in a fine dining restaurant) but would rather the enjoy the company of others. My husband travels a lot for work and has to eat alone a lot more frequently than I do. He has less of a problem doing it when he's out on business but has more of a problem in his hometown -- probably for the reason that you are stating -- it's a variant of the class loser thing.

      A friend of mine has no problem (casual or fine dining) doing this. I think it's great that she's so self-assured that she doesn't give a damn.

      1. I can see where you're coming from but from someone who enjoys dining alone (actually looks forward to it when I get the chance), I can tell you that the best thing I did for myself to get over that self-conscious feeling is to remember that other people are much more interested in themselves and what's going on at their table to pay much attention to what is happening at mine. That pretty much applies to just about anything in life. So unless you're calling attention to yourself some other way (standing on your chair, lighting a napkin on fire, whatever), just being at a table by yourself won't register much with other people.

        Once I realized that, it became a lot less anxiety provoking to eat alone. One time I even went out on a Saturday night to a movie then dinner by myself since no one was around that night. I generally plan ahead and have a book or magazine to read so I have something to do. But it's not necessary - I've sat and just had the food to keep me busy.

        I also acknowledge it's probably much easier here in NYC where eating alone is barely cause for concern. I once went back to my suburban hometown in northern CT and ate by myself - and I got some annoying "oh poor thing, no friends" looks. But I know I have friends, and didn't worry about what these strangers thought - I just wanted to eat lunch.

        1 Reply
        1. re: pellegrino31

          I know exactly how you feel. I was "the shy loser" in high school, sitting by myself. I always thought everyone was looking at me. I was VERY insecure.
          I'm still somewhat that way, although I am very lucky and live with my twin sister, who goes everywhere with me. Still, there are those rare times that I've eaten by myself, and those old feelings come back. Yes, it does help to have a book or TV.
          I also have tried to get a small booth along the wall or in the back of the place, so I'm not that obvious to everyone. Oh, I know that some people will probably say, "Don't be that way, you should make an effort to meet and get to know people", but I say, it ain't necessarily so, depending on your circumstances. I'm over 50 years old, and I'm not about to change now!!! LOL

        2. When I was young and single (in my early 20s), I travelled quite a bit & therefore dined alone a lot (mostly in nicer restaurants). I actually enjoyed it...and the attention or company I received (usu free glasses of wine).

          So while I hear other female friends disdain solo dining, I never quite understood their discomfort. However, my sister could commisserate w/you. She would rather eat fast food in her car than dine alone in a restaurant. Her thinking: solo (particularly female) diner = no company = sad & lonely. But that's her, not me.

          Now w/Mr OCAnn in tow, I enjoy his company...but wouldn't have any problems dining solo if the need arises.

          Go out and try it...it's quite liberating!

          1. howdy rebs,
            room service, skipping a meal, whatever, is not an option for me. i get cabin fever in foreign cities and insist on eating out. bars are cool because barkeeps are pretty outgoing by nature. i've met lots of conversationalists over the years. bottom line? dining out can be pretty good theater. beats the hell out of sitting in your room.

            1. You know, it's funny, I read this column in my local paper called "The Single File" and this subject comes up a lot. The columnist is always telling singles to dine alone because that somehow shows their empowerment in their single status or something. I've eaten out alone very frequently since I was in my 20's, usually at lunch but sometimes also for dinner, because I have always had a job that required me to interact constantly with others while I'm working, and it always seemed like such a wonderful luxury to eat by myself without having to talk to anyone except the waitperson. It wasn't until much later that I learned that other people might perceive that I'm eating alone because I couldn't get a companion. I used to do it when I was single, continued when I got married, and never thought a thing of it. When I was travelling in Europe (which I also did alone), I often found that eating alone in a casual restaurant was a great way to meet locals, and would frequently end up invited to some interesting evening activity. Still, if you are uncomfortable, why force yourself?

              1. over his career, jfood has eaten alone on the road hundreds of times. From BBQ pits to Michelin stars, he willtake every opportunity to try the local cuisine.

                BUT, when he first decided to try the solo at the table, it was uncomfortable, but he tempered the early discomfort with a good book. Maybe eat at the bar but if you are a single lady that may lead to other unfortunate issues. Grab a table, OpenTable takes resos for "1" person. And do NOT feel bad about eating at a table by yourself thinking the server is loosing money. Focus on the positive. If you like a glass of wine before you order, doit, want a sald with sauce onthe side, do it, what something substituted onthe menu, ask for it. You are still a customer.

                Once you get a few meals under your belt, it's a breeze and then you look for the next best restaurant that you want to try that others may not want to go to.

                1. While eating alone is generally not my first choice, I don't mind it every now and then. I do, however, also always bring a book or newspaper. Sometimes there's enough to keep my interest in the restaurant, its patrons, an entertaining bartender or nearby fellow solo diner, or things of that nature. If not, though, I can think of worse ways to spend an hour than reading a good book and sipping a nice glass of wine.

                  1. I would rather starve...what does that say about me! Wish I could do it...I am wildly jealous of those who do...I am otherwise secure and confident. YIKES

                    1. i use to really hate eating alone also. but once i took the part time job i been at, no one takes lunches with each other since we are a small bank. i have to eat alone so i gotten use to it. as long as i have something good to read then i am good for a while.

                      1. I used to, but now relish the thought. (I now have a small child and the chances to have a leisurely meal where I can linger are rare!) When I first entered the solo dining arena it was due to work travel. That didn't bother me as clearly I had a "reason" for dining alone i.e. "she's a business traveler." While I didn't hesitate to dine alone during the week, the weekend was another story. Somehow being a solo diner on date night is still an uncomfortable idea for me. Try bringing a book etc. and see how it goes. If you really can not enjoy it then look for some gourmet take out and enjoy it at home. Enjoy is the key!

                        1. I got a tip for ya. Start by eating breakfast alone at very casual places like IHOP or Perkins. The breakfast atmosphere is completely different. Kinda like "hey, i'm on my way to work and just wanted to stop for a quick breakfast". As opposed to dinner where you think people are saying "isn't that sad they have no-one to eat dinner with". Even though no-one is really thinking that, you think they are. Try it, you'll see. After a few stacks of pancakes at IHOP you'll be walking into your favorite place on saturday night and proudly saying "just one please"!!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Ranger05

                            "isn't that sad they have no-one to eat dinner with"

                            Those exact words is what one of my friend touted a few years back when we were eating lunch at a Moxies and saw a gentleman eating alone. She wanted to ask the guy to come over and eat with us. I thought it was odd she felt he was "all alone". He looked comfortable to me. A good hearty meal, the paper, not a care in the world etc. It took her a couple of minutes to enjoy our meal after seeing "this poor guy" LOL

                            I'd have no problem eating alone, if called for. I've done it a couple of times on vacation. My husband, hates it. This last business trip, instead of going somewhere decent for a steak dinner (company paid), he bought Chunky soup and a box of Ritz and ate them in his hotel room. The trip was only 2 days. I could see a week or two of dining out being annoying where you're tired of restaurant food but, 2 days!! He makes me laugh

                          2. Sorry - no. I like dining alone - the nicer the restaurant, the better. I also don't mind traveling alone or going to the movies alone, so I generally don't understand people who need to be with someone to feel comfortable in public. That despite being the sort of kid who spent a LOT of time eating alone in the cafeteria and hating it. But instead of making me self-conscious, it just made me not care.

                            I always loved the scene in Moonstruck where Olympia Dukakis goes to the local restaurant and asks for a table. The waiter, who obviously knows her, asks if anyone will be joining her. No, she replies, "I want to eat." That's right. That's what restaurants are for - to eat. And she gets herself a proper meal, too, wine and soup and so on (and, yes, invites someone to join her, but that's beside the point.)

                            1. Interesting subject.
                              This seems to me is an issue that is heavily gender-biased.
                              Or in other words, let me guess: out of 100 male and 100 female chowhounders, how many potential candidates to start a similar thread? 20 & 60 respectively, perhaps?
                              Again, I'm wildly guessing here, but I'd dare say the female numbers would be much much higher.
                              Yeah, I know the paradigm of the "traveling salesman" (already mentioned in this thread, BTW), but that sounds kind of obsolete by now.
                              Any theories? Am I wrong?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: RicRios

                                Yes, you're wrong. At 53, and actually beginning around 40, I realized that the best company I'm likely to have when dining is myself. I love food, love the experience of dining out, and am really quite uncomfortable when a companion doesn't share my enthusisam. I don't think it has a single thing to do with gender, nor is it a question of "working up to" being able to dine alone in public! "Just do it." Yes, I reserve a table just for me, because I deserve a table as well as anyone. It's never even crossed my mind that by reserving a table for one, I'm "depriving" a couple of that table - and if a restaurant wants to ask singles to sit at the bar and reserve its tables for couples, that's OK, too.
                                Gee, I don't think we can really establish a "theory" about women being statistcally more self-cnscious than men. Wow.

                              2. When I was travelling for biz, I had to dine alone in whatever city I found myself. It never occurred to me to feel out of place. I was hungry. I needed food. I ate. Matre d's and servers were polite and courteous. Having the day's notes in front of me to review and comment on made the time pass. But usually I just savored the down time and enjoyed my meal. 'Course a dry martini helped a bit.....

                                1. Funny - I don't mind at all if it's an ethnic restaurant - will happily sit alone in a chinese, vietnamese, indian, mexican, thai, japanese or cuban restaurant - or a diner or coffee shop - or a chain like IHOP/Denny's - but I generally don'twant to go to a more expemsive place by myself. I think when I'm spending that much, I want to savor the whole experience, and a big part of the experience is usually who I'm dining with. Of course that goes out the window when I travel - then I have no problem going to the restaurant in the hotel, even if it's upscale or out to a nice spot - though more inclined to go upscale alone for lunch than for dinner.

                                  1. i learned to really enjoy dining alone when i took a solo 3-week trip to australia. the experience reminded me of just how hurried - and harried - we end to be in today's society. grabbing a bite to eat on the run, eating standing at the counter, multitasking during meals, inhaling breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner at the desk while working, or in the car while driving...hell, even when socializing at restaurants, we might forget to really pay attention to the food because we're enjoying everyone's company, conversation, and perhaps one too many cocktails or glasses of wine...

                                    i like dining alone, without distractions or something to "keep me occupied," because it affords me the rare opportunity to focus 100% on enjoying and savoring my meal.

                                    plus, it's great for people-watching...and occasionally eavesdropping on entertaining conversations when neighboring diners are talking just a bit too loud ;)

                                    1. For casual places, regardless of type, eating alone is no problem. At nicer places, I can do it but there does seem to be a missing social element if you eat alone.

                                      Also, no one has mentioned this but during the week at work...I'd rather eat alone. I see co-workers enough and need a freakin' break from them.

                                      1. I don't have a phobia about it, and have certainly done it many times working and travelling, but I would not go out to a restaurant alone as an outing - I really enjoy it as a social activity, not alone.

                                        1. I don't mind eating alone, and I enjoy it while travelling. I usually sit by the window so i can people watch, and if lucky, enjoy a great view. I also do this when i travel by train. Definitly have no problem going to a coffee shop alone. Did it all the time when i lived in the city.

                                          That being said, now i live in a very small town and i wouldn't go out alone here for the most part because it's mostly a few bars and greasy spoons. The only females i've ever seen out alone are little old ladies playing the lotto machines, lol.

                                          I also feel odd going and sitting in a chain type coffee shop like Tim Horton's or Dunkin Donuts alone. I don't see a lot of reason to sit and stay there even though i'm through the place all the time....and for some reason it smacks of post-AA meeting gatherings and internet dating meet-ups.... I don't feel the same about Starbucks for some reason. Maybe because around here they're attached to a Chapter's or Indigo's and alot of people are just hanging out and reading.

                                          1. I can't stand eating alone and the main reasoning for that is terrible service and the awkward feeling of just sitting at an empty table waiting for the food to arrive. I'll only go out by myself if it is a counter service place and even then I'm never truly comfortable.

                                            A young college male eating alone is certainly looked down upon as far as I've seen.

                                            1. I'm hearing more buzz about communal tables, which are quite common in Europe. Like an earlier poster, it was the way I met lots of people there when I was traveling alone. Do you think they can work here in the U.S.? I think I'd go out more often in my hometown if we had those here.

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: ccferg

                                                I've been in restos with communal tables (here in CT) - I loathe them. My personal experience -- and not because of my "neighbors", only because of what I expect in a dining experience -- awful. I prefer SOME degree of privacy when eating out.

                                                edit: In retrospect, the only really uncomfortable experience I had with communal dining was in CT at a resto that no longer exists. I was on top of my neighbors which I think explains the discomfort. It was supposedly an "upscale" resto too which probably irked me further. But at somewhere like Dominick's (Bronx), I didn't have that same issue. So I retract what I said about "loathing" them. I guess it's really the atmosphere.

                                                1. re: amanda3571

                                                  modest story. i like esca (manhattan) a lot. it's not too far from deb's office so i like to arrive early, sit at the tiny bar and hold court with a bottle of presecco until she arrives for dinner. more and more, i'm seeing single women eating at the bar. they're from out of town. they insist on a good meal and are only too happy to chat to a fellow chowhound. it's all good.

                                                  1. re: steve h.

                                                    In my experience, it's very different sitting at a bar by yourself than sitting at a communal dining table in a society where communal dining is not the norm. I'll take sitting at the bar (and enjoy it) any day over sitting at a table with strangers.

                                                      1. re: ccferg

                                                        ccferg,I was under the impression you don't mind sitting at a communal table.

                                                        1. re: raf945

                                                          I've never done it in the U.S., and I was in my 20s when I enjoyed it in Europe. I'm not sure how it would feel here. In Europe people knew I was an American and would start a conversation with me about my travels, etc. I wouldn't want to sit at a table full of couples or families and be ignored. That would seem more uncomfortable than sitting at a bar.

                                                          1. re: ccferg

                                                            I understand where you would feel uncomfortable if you were an outcast.It would be hard to enjoy a meal under those conditions.Years ago,I would have prefered a more private setting.Today, I welcome the social setting with open arms.The only drawback for me is that when I am overseas,I only speak English so there is usually a language barrier.Needless to say,for the most part I do not have a problem in the States.

                                                2. re: ccferg

                                                  I am trying to think of a few in the Providence area.Angelo's on the hill.Durgin Park in Boston.Outside public clambakes.Lancellotta's in North Providence.Oki Japanese Steakhouse.Tough to come up with them.

                                                  1. re: ccferg

                                                    I am trying to think of some in the Providence area.Outdoor public clambakes.Oki Japanese Steakhouse.Angelo's on the hill.Lancellotta's in North Providence.It's hard to come up with them.

                                                  2. I actually quite like a singleton meal now and again. My life is usually so frickin busy that a meal just me and my own thoughts, my own schedule, etc, is a nice respite. I often end up having interesting conversations with the wait staff.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: litchick

                                                      litchick, I couldn't agree more. Dining alone often leads to conversations with wonderful people who would be less inclined to approach you if you weren't alone. Gosh, I actually miss the days when I found myself in some diner eating a slice of pie...smiling to my right and to my left..and having one of those great conversations with a total stranger who also dug the pie!

                                                    2. When I was in college I started going to the movies by myself. For some reason, that was very hard for me to do. But it was important for me to do. Now, I go all the time, and, in fact, really it's the best way for me to see a movie. I can get completely into the movie with no distraction.

                                                      Same for eating out, but that was even harder. I did find that taking a book, or a notebook to write in made it easier. Eventually it got easier and easier. Still, I might have a hard time eating at table all by myself in the middle of a busy place on a Saturday night. Fear can be a powerful thing!

                                                      2 Replies
                                                        1. re: RicRios

                                                          I suppose of what other think, though it shouldn't matter, and now for the most part it doesn't.

                                                      1. I like eating alone and with others...the two experiences are very different, but are enjoyable in their own ways. In general, I like doing things (going to the movies, watching tv, shopping, etc.) alone and I work alone and find comfort in it even though I am very outgoing and social as well. Each has their place.

                                                        1. I have a tip for you. I enjoy eating alone...but always have a book with me. To make it a little easier in your first forays, try going to the restaurant at an off hour...for instance, lunch at 11am or 2pm, or dinner at 5:30...it helped me in the beginning, because the servers were not too busy to take extra time for me, and by the time I was leaving, lots of others were coming in and for some reason that made it easier. Now, I don't mind going at noon, but will try to sit at the bar then, so tables can be used by 2 or more! Good luck....it's really fun once you get used to it! Remember...YOU OWN THE PLACE!!!

                                                          1. I was in an upscale restaurant for lunch yesterday with and noticed 3 solo diners. Did I notice them because they were alone and forlorn looking? NO! I noticed them because they were have a great time. One was obviously a regular who the waitstaff adored, the second was a man was was very comfortably reading the paper, and the third was a woman with a book that I'm pretty sure she was just using as a prop.
                                                            The waitstaff went out of their way to make sure that they were comfortable and happy. and seemed to really enjoy the interaction with the singles which was a big contrast to the less obtrusive (different but equal) service that they gave to the couples and groups.
                                                            I wish to god that there was someplace nice near where I worked so I could take that time out over lunch....

                                                            BTW, I used to be amazingly shy and overly-sensitive but there has to come a point where you can put yourself first. (ahh, the benefits of age: Selfishness!) It's not like they're even remember that you were there...they serve way too many people!

                                                            1. We just got back from skiing, and while waiting for a table at a local steakhouse the managers voice was heard saying "Smith, table for 1", there were some chuckles in the crowded (avg. wait time 1 hr),but I'm sure Mr./Ms. Smith didn't care. I personally don't care for eating alone at a restaurant, I also won't go to the movies or the theater during the afternoon. I still don't know why my wife married me.

                                                              1. I understand completely, rebs. For me, it's about people watching and problems with eye contact. I like to people watch, but in a restaurant setting, I don't want to make other tables uncomfortable by staring or listening in on their conversations. And I don't want to make eye contact, here in NYC, with anyone who might take it the wrong way (i.e. flirtatiously). So I find it easier to eat with a book when I have to dine by myself.

                                                                1. At first I never preferred eating by myself, until I saw a middle aged man seated next to my friend and I at Silver Spoon restaurant (in Toronto).

                                                                  I first whispered to my buddy and wondered whether he was lonely. However, after awhile, I admired how he was there to just enjoy a good meal. You could see it in his confident manner. He also cozied up to a book he brought with him.

                                                                  It inspired me to give dining alone a try. In my experiences, it really depends on where you go. The first place i tried dining alone was at a Vegetarian restaurant. However, based on the friendliness and lack of second glances, I noted that they probably had many students eat solo there (the restaurant was very close to the University)

                                                                  However, when i tried another attempt at dining alone, i was made to feel like a loner. This restaurant was in a smaller town. The receptionist immediately placed me in the bar, when I had requested for a table (it was a Monday night, slow evening for them). As well, when I finally settled for the bar area (it was a booth), people who walked by me always glanced at the empty spot across from me. It was not, I would say, my most comfortable of moments.

                                                                  1. For me, it depends almost entirely on the establishment & whether I have a good magazine to read. At a casual place with friendly service where I can grab a corner table or some sort of seating where I'm not out in the middle of the room, no problem. I've also experienced friendly chats with other solo diners or couples when seated at the bar.

                                                                    1. don't worry about what other people think of you, especially people you don't know.

                                                                      love yourself enough to be comfortable alone

                                                                      bring a book

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                        I love myself so much that I don't need a book! ;)

                                                                      2. For me, dining out includes company. It's part of the reason for going out in the first place, since the conversation is usually as good as the meal itself. Again, I'm only speaking on my preference.

                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                        1. re: porkanista

                                                                          Have you been in situations where the only option was to dine alone...like on a business trip?

                                                                          1. re: OCAnn

                                                                            We are sent in groups of two or more for business, due to the structure of the company. I guess I've gotten off lucky in that sense. When on a trip, the other worker and I usually do things together. I personally prefer it, for safety reasons in a different town. I guess it never crossed my mind to go solo. It would definitely be wierd, but I guess one would be able to focus on the meal more. I'm not a total foodie in that sense. I think the comraderie in a dive is better than a grand meal solo. I guess I'm just a people person. I enjoy other things solo-shopping, working out, etc

                                                                          2. re: porkanista

                                                                            no one questions that its better to go out with someone, and the joy of eating w/someone is greater.. but the question is is there value in eating out when u r alone, and how we each feel when in that situation

                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                              I question it. Okay, yes - I love sharing a meal with someone I love and generally prefer that to eating alone. But I think, if cultivated, eating alone can be a great experience, an experience of a different kind than sharing a meal, but not lesser, and worth enjoying on its own merits. For one thing, you can focus on the food. Really focus. Every bite, every taste, without the distraction of conversation. You can eat at your own pace, not speeding up or slowing down to match your companion. (I know I do this - my brother and I both tend to eat too quickly, but together we can speed through a meal in no time. Each speeds the other) I find that I slow down when eating alone. I think contemplation is enhanced when eating alone - eating alone is great with a view or a fireplace, something to fixate you eyes on while your mind wanders. Journals are valuable, because writing can help you focus your thoughts. But I prefer not to read, unless there's a long wait of some kind. Reading takes you out of yourself, transports you to another place. But the value in eating alone to me comes from being completely in the moment, attaining a mindfulness that is not compatible with reading. (It's unfortunate that one ends up sounding so new age when talking about this sort of thing.) I have great memories of one of my first real meals alone - a martini, a rare steak, a crisp salad in a quiet restaurant with a fire on a rainy night.

                                                                              1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                Ohhhh...you take me back to the days of my youth when I used to dine & travel alone quite often. I too enjoyed that aspect of dining alone...alone with the meal, my thoughts and pen & paper...and, like you, I never understood others who ate while reading a book. Such sweet memories. Thank you!