Interestingly, one of the biggest concerns I receive by future solo female travelers revolves around eating alone while traveling. It’s not finances or safety, although those are close seconds and thirds. But eating out alone seems to come with a side of feeling awkwardOn my first solo trip to Ireland, I was visiting Cork, a city known for its food. I knew I wanted to treat myself to a nice meal here, so before heading out for dinner, I Googled the “best places to eat in Cork”. A few places came up and I decided to pick one once I scouted them out in person. I don’t recall the name of the place I chose, but I remember getting a bit of side eye from the hostess as I asked for a table for one. She seated me on a back wall and I took the side facing out to the restaurant so I could people watch. Perfectly content, I ordered an appetizer, my meal, and a glass of wine. I was planning to order dessert as well, except for this one thing. The waitress offered me magazines…three separate times. I think she was trying to help, because how could a 28 year old girl possibly be enjoying herself alone at a restaurant. But I didn’t need help. I had already made up background stories for a number of unhappy looking couples at the tables around me. And I was 100% enjoying myself and my meal. In hindsight, I should’ve lingered and made her uncomfortable a bit longer. Or maybe help her realize that eating out alone could actually be quite enjoyable. Since I didn’t linger, I’m writing this post filled with my top tips for eating out alone, and enjoying it!
Pick a Place You’ve Already Eaten
The most intimidating part of eating out for me is walking into a restaurant filled to the brim with people and not knowing if I should seat myself or wait. I feel a bit lost in that moment. Therefore, my first piece of advice is to get started before you even hit the road. Take yourself out for dinner at a restaurant where you’ve already eaten. By picking a place where you’ve already eaten, and enjoyed, you know the layout of the restaurant, where to find the hostess, and are familiar with the menu. Which means you can confidently walk in, get a table for one, and pick something new off of the menu to try!
Start with Lunch
Isn’t that a dating app? If not, it should be. Lunch is much lower “pressure” than dinner. It seems to be more socially acceptable to dine alone in the afternoon than just a few hours later in the evening. Maybe it’s because you can play it off as you’ve been out exploring all morning, are now hungry and just happened to pass by this restaurant that looked tasty.
Check Out the Menu in Advance
Admittedly, I do this whether I’m going out alone or with a group. Checking the menu in advance helps you narrow down your options and figure out your price point. Especially if there is a language difference, you can use Google translate to get an idea of what you might be ordering. And look at photos to get a feel for the place before you even step foot in the door.
The hostess might give you side eye, but if you walk in with your head held high your self-confidence will be contagious. Wear something you feel good in, do your hair, whatever it is that makes your confidence soar. The host won’t even question why you are eating alone or try to put you in the corner by the bathroom.
Don’t Let Them Put You in a Corner by the Bathroom
This seat sucks, for anyone. Just because you’re dining solo does not mean you shouldn’t also be able to enjoy the epic view of the ocean that you chose this restaurant for. If they try to seat you somewhere that is unsuitable and it’s not obviously the only table left, politely ask to sit somewhere else.
Ask for a Seat at the Bar
I love sitting at the bar, there are usually other solo diners there that open to a friendly conversation. Or a bartender who is down for a bit of banter. I highly recommend this at sushi bars, I always seem to score a free appetizer or dessert when I eat alone at a sushi bar. It’s also a good option if staring at an empty seat in front of you doesn’t sound like a good time.
Engage Your Server
Be polite and engaging with your server. You may already know what you’re going to order from your prior research but ask for their recommendations. They know what is most popular on the menu and what sounds good but really isn’t all that great.
It’s pretty intimidating to walk into a restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night when all the dates are in full force. To skip this, go when the restaurant first opens. It might be early in the day for dinner, but have a large breakfast and you’ll be hungry by the time the restaurant opens up. And you might still have extra daylight to watch the city lights come up which is such a nice time of the day.
Bring a book that you’ve been wanting to catch up on. How nice does it sound sitting in a cozy Irish pub, with a pint in your hand, a warm stew, and a good book? Or bring that journal out and write about the awesome day you just had exploring this new city and the people you’ve met.
Make Your Own Entertainment
People watching is one of my favorite pastimes. While eating solo I enjoy coming up with elaborate backstories for the other diners. Like that girl is pissed at her boyfriend because he didn’t wear the shirt she got him. Although this game has gotten more difficult as when I look around the restaurant, I often see groups of friends eating out together, but all absorbed in their phones. What’s the point in even going out together then?
Order ANYTHING You Want
Many people claim that one of the drawbacks to eating solo while traveling is that you can’t try more than one local dish at a time. I call bullshit. Who says I can’t order two entrees? And that tasty sounding appetizer. Oh and the ice cream. I cook the majority of the time while I travel, so why not do it right when I decide to splurge a little on a nice meal. Added bonuses, I don’t have to share and if I don’t finish it all I can save it for the next day (every hostel I’ve ever stayed in has had a fridge).
Drink the Wine/Beer/Whiskey/Water
Just because you are a female traveling solo does not mean that you can’t have a drink. Order that nice glass of wine that the area is known for. No apologies needed. I mean, how can you go to Argentina and not drink Malbec? Not a drinker? Enjoy your water with a slice of lemon cause you fancy!
Without the distraction of a dining companion regaling you with a story that you lost interest in because you’re so hungry, you can enjoy the entire meal. You’ll be able to see it coming from the kitchen piping hot to your table. You can taste that first hot bite of food or the crisp crunch of the salad. That pairs beautifully with the wine suggested by your server. And you can sit back after that first bite and think “damn, I’m glad I didn’t miss this.’