I’m part of the solo female travelers’ network on Facebook. It’s an open and positive online community and most of the posts make me smile. Solo travel isn’t just about happiness though and one of the top complaints which I read about is solo dining. A traveler wrote about how she ended up not eating for an entire day because she feared sitting at a table alone. Even ladies who I’m close to in my city still won’t eat out alone. I’m the anomaly and so I’m sharing tips on how to eat out alone and have fun.
Eat out alone in your city
I wasn’t always confident about dining alone. My sister was and suggested I start out small. I ate breakfast which takes quicker to prepare meaning I wouldn’t have to sit around long to wait for my order. I kept on dining alone and worked my way up to lunch, and then dinner. My city is familiar to me I understand the language and culture so it took off a lot of the pressure. I also know what my favourite places are. I know which ones are pricier and which restaurants take longer to serve meals. I, therefore, recommend eating by yourself in your own city. This allows you to get used to solo dining. It will help you change your mindset and when you do travel overseas eating alone won’t phase you.
Start off small
Like I said I started off with breakfast and then lunch if you feel a bit afraid. If this still seems daunting then go have coffee. Start off smaller and then work yourself up to your goal of eating a 5-course dinner alone.
Do your research
Research things how are you getting to the restaurant, what restaurant options do you prefer, how will you get back home/to your hotel. Is the restaurant you going to in a relatively safe area? Does it have positive reviews on Facebook, Tripadvisor its website? Are you looking to go to a casual place or more formal restaurant? Do you need to book a reservation? These are a few examples of questions to find the answers to. You can always just spot a place and walk in but, if you want to treat yourself and you find that the restaurant is terrible it’s good to have a solid back up plan. Remember also that in different cultures eating alone might be considered unusual. A foreigner in a small village restaurant will be stared at. In some countries staring at people isn’t rude at all. In places like Pakistan, you shouldn’t touch food or eat it with your left hand. So do all this research beforehand it will make you feel calmer.
Most restaurants now have online menus. Look at the food options and prices. That way you know exactly what you want before the time. This will enable you to order your food faster. Some places allow you to download their menu. Be sure to look at the online menu close to the time you are going to the restaurant as menus do get updated.
Eat at the bar
If the restaurant has a bar, go eat your meal there. It’s a more social part of any restaurant. You often find solo drinkers or people leaving their tables to make orders if the restaurant is set up that way. And you could chat with the bartender. This is a great location for first-time solo dinners.
Learn to people watch
Eating out alone allows you to look at other dinners. Notice I wrote look not stare. Look from table to table. You can even play a silly game of counting how many people are in the restaurant. Tally up how many guys are wearing white shirts. Spot families. Look out for happy couples or even people who’d rather be anywhere else in the world. Or simply watch the interactions.
Don’t care too much about other dinners
People are not staring at you. Most people go to restaurants to eat logically they tend to focus on the food. We live in a hyper-judgemental world. People also tend to compare themselves to others. Social media lives look sensational and it’s often an illusion real life is messy for all of us. Don’t walk around or in this case, sit and eat thinking about how others are judging you for being a lonely loser. There’s nothing wrong with eating a meal alone in public. And the harsh inner dialogue most people even I gravitate towards have to change. Maybe people will stare or are staring as you are eating so what. The thing is the other diners are strangers and you shouldn’t invest your self-worth in what people you don’t know think about you.
Be polite, talk clearly and make eye contact. Don’t slouch and don’t walk with your shoulders dropping down. Smile and relax. If you aren’t used to solo dining you might feel nervous. Just keep at it and act like you aren’t nervous. If you practice eating by yourself you will no longer be phased.
Dress comfy and well
Looking good will make you feel good. For me looking good means feeling comfortable in what I’m wearing. I’d never wear super tight skinny jeans or a bodycon dress when I know I’m going to eat a mega meal. So factor in how much you plan to eat and if the restaurant is on a hill maybe you should wear walking friendly shoes.
As a traveller, the go-to props to take are maps, guidebooks, and language learning books. If you leave these things on the table whilst you are eating or before your waiter might ask about it or a fellow diner. These props are conversation starters. Others include interesting clothing items or a book. You can even review your travel pics on your phone or camera. The way you use your prop or props will invite conversation or it can be a barrier. If you are listening to music with earphones most people will get the hint that you don’t want to talk to anyone. Similarly, if you are heavily focused on your phone or book people won’t bother you. You can use your prop if you feel bored or to genuinely brush up on your local language skills. If you are looking for conversation and the restaurant isn’t too busy ask your waiter about top sites in the city tick them off on your map. Just learn to use your props wisely.
Make a reservation
Making a reservation for one will spare you the hassle of not being admitted. It will also help you press your point if someone tries to seat you at a crummy table. You can book online or via email at most restaurants nowadays.
Be kind to the staff
This is something everyone should do everywhere. My sister was a waitress for a while and I hate seeing people treat service staff badly. If you have really bad issues with the food voice your displeasure in a respectful way. Being allergic to nuts and then being given a salad with pine nuts is something to complain about, don’t immediately flip out. The staff will tend to be nicer in some places to solo dinners. If they can see you are a tourist they may ask about your travels, home country and so on. Being nice gets you in the good books this may lend to free dessert a better table or faster service or not. Still, my point is just treated people with respect.
Ask about smaller portions
This is where being kind to the staff may help you. A platter for one may be turned into a platter for one if you ask politely. You might be able to get smaller servings if you ask. State that you are traveling alone and are from out of town most people will be accommodating.
Have a drink
Never get blitz out of your mind if you are traveling solo. Male or female you are attracting potential scammers if you do lose your senses. A drink or two could help settle your nerves. If you don’t drink then don’t do so just to feel calmer. A soothing bath before heading out can have the same effect. Earphones playing classical music are another option. If you do want a drink or two don’t feel bad about drinking alone and don’t feel guilty for wanting a drink to ease your tension.
Take a placeholder
A placeholder is a thing that will ensure you don’t lose your seat whilst you have a smoke outside or take a bathroom break. It can be anything you don’t mind losing. A cheap notebook and a pen or a second-hand book you’ve read before. Obviously, you shouldn’t leave your laptop, phone, wallet, bag, a sparkly new camera which costs a fortune as a placeholder. I tend to tell my waiter to keep my table and I would never leave my food unattended. South African paranoia won’t allow me to give anyone the chance to drug my drink. Placeholders are still useful for me as they can remind my waiter that I haven’t left and will want to order coffee, dessert…..
Go a bit earlier
If you eat out earlier the restaurant won’t be so busy. You will get your food speedily and the vibe of the place will be more relaxed. An emptier restaurant can also be less intimidating for first-time solo restaurant patrons. Tripadvisor lets you know what the busiest time is for most restaurants, otherwise ask the restaurant staff by calling beforehand. Going earlier will get you a better seat and it’s generally less stressful.
Don’t accept a bad seat
If you have a reservation and got there early and still the seat you are assigned is bad speak up. Corners can be depressing. Sitting close to the toilet is never pleasant. Rather go for an outside seat or a table close to a window. You might encounter staff who won’t want to seat you at these places, in this case, ask to see the manager. If the manager is rude about it go somewhere else and remember to give the place bad ratings so that I along with other solo travelers can avoid it.
Be open to sharing a table
Ok, so this isn’t for everyone. I don’t like sharing a table when eating alone. If you are alright with this then go for it. I would suggest older friendly couples or families, especially for solo female travelers. Don’t let a waiter seat you at a table with just drunk guys. And a table with a younger couple on a date won’t do either; you don’t want to be an odd third wheel.
Some restaurants now have large communal tables. People can sit with friends and people they don’t know. It’s not something I’ve experienced before. I have heard good things about it though. I might try this if it is available in Cape Town.
Try new things
Food and culture are intertwined. I mentioned this so many times. Try the local cuisine you might never get to eat food from the particular country you visit again. And if you are adventures you can eat things which may be unusual in your culture like the meat from a sheep head, or bugs if you spit it out immediately only you will know and a few strangers.
Being solo means you can order 5 different desserts for dinner. You can splurge and treat yourself to a meal at a fancy restaurant. My US friend Irene did this in Cape Town. She loved a restaurant she ate at with friends and went back to have a three-course meal. There’s not having to consider the budget of your friend, lover, colleague it’s all about you. So go have your cake and eat it.
Thank you so much for reading my blog. Feel free to comment.
xxx Nikki xxx