The first time I went to a restaurant by myself, I had just gotten dumped. As a freshly minted New Woman™, I wanted to prove to myself that I was a cool, effortless woman who did bold and independent things like eat lunch alone. I felt so awkward but I sat down anyway, drank my delicious margarita, ate my delicious tacos, paid my bill, and walked out beaming ear-to-ear. I had done it. I ate in a restaurant alone, I didn’t die, and it turned out that feeling awkward actually can’t kill you. I felt invincible.
Since then I’ve eaten fried chicken in a packed restaurant in the middle of the Tremé, New Orleans, and a ten-course degustation in a romantic bamboo cocoon nestled on the bank of a river at a Bali Ritz-Carlton. I’ve eaten solo at steakhouses, inhaled the messiest burger ever, and devoured four-course desserts. In fact, probably due to my huge ego, I’ve actually caught myself looking down on NON solo diners at times. How sad, to need the company of others to have a good time ~sips wine~
If you’re traveling by yourself, chances are you’re going to have to eat alone at a restaurant at some point. It can be nerve-wracking feeling the eyes of other diners on you, 100% confident that they’re judging you and your obvious weirdness, tragic lack of friends/romantic interests, and pathetic life. But I’m here to tell you that that’s all nonsense, and that nothing should stand between you eating as many courses and drinking as many cocktails as you want.
Rationalise the Hell Out of It
Considering we need food to, you know, live, it’s kind of ridiculous that there’s any kind of stigma about eating alone. Before I dined solo for the first time, I had a mini pep-talk where I convinced myself how silly it was to worry about something as trivial as eating food by myself. I thought about all the busy, important people who had also surely dined alone at some point, and it actually helped me normalise the idea of it.
It’s always helped me to try to combat dumb emotional responses with logical ones. Sometimes reminding yourself that a fear is totally irrational can help you overcome it.
Work Your Way Up With a Solo Breakfast or Lunch
Start small! It’s much easier to tackle the more intimidating solo dinner after eating breakfast or lunch alone first. There’s usually a fair amount of other lone diners grabbing a quick bite on their work breaks, and the crowd is pretty laid-back. Once you’ve gotten through one meal where literally no one paid any attention to you or your alone-ness, you’ll realise that no one cares. They’re too busy checking their Instagrams and complaining about their crappy days at work.
If it helps you to explain to the waiter why you’re alone, do it. I used to casually drop references to friends and guys I was dating all the time. My friends are at work so I thought I’d grab a quick bite! Ha ha ha! …Can I have another jack & coke please? You won’t need to for long. Pretty soon you’ll be savoring tasting menus solo at the most romantic restaurants in the world, waving away the the waiters’ questions with “I just like food”.
Bring a Book or Notebook
The first few times I ate alone, I brought a notebook with me so that people might think I was a food critic instead of a pathetic social pariah. It helped me to have something to do, and I ended up jotting down some pretty detailed notes about the food which helped me when trying to recall my favorites later!
Eating alone in public, at least in the beginning, can feel way more solitary than being alone say, in your bed at home, because it’s totally foreign. If you’re someone who’s not used to spending a lot of time alone with your thoughts, it will be really helpful to have something to focus your energy on! A phone will do just as well, of course, but if you’re trying something new you might as well disconnect for an hour or so too 🙂
Sit at the Bar (and Have Some Bubbly)
Nothin’ kills nerves like a glass of champagne or some good scotch. Obviously don’t drown your nerves in the bottom of a bottle, but there’s nothing wrong with a glass or two of wine to help you relax. Sitting at the bar also removes you a bit from the hustle & bustle of the restaurant, which helps if you’re a new solo-diner and don’t like feeling so exposed.
It also gives you a great opportunity to chat to the bartender or other diners, and maybe make a new friend out of it! I’ve met so many cool people who just happened to be seated next to me at the bar while I was grabbing a quick bite. Some of my favorite travel memories are these speed-dating kind of conversations where you share your whole life story with someone over the course of an hour and a few beers and then part ways. I have a whole collection of these little unspoiled vignettes with strangers 🙂
Be Present and Savor Your Food!
When there’s nothing else to focus on, you’ll be amazed at how different the actual physical experience of eating is. I seriously enjoy my food so much more when I’m alone. It’s like I can taste everything more sharply without all the distractions! I take slower bites and each ingredient seems to jump out more vividly.
Sometimes I’ll catch myself smiling dumbly at my food after I take a bite because it’s so delicious. Who smiles at their food? I would never do that with other people around!! This isn’t necessarily a better experience than eating with other people, but it’s definitely different, and worth experiencing at least once.
Don’t Overthink It!
No need to bust out a canned “table for one” when you walk up to the hostess. Breathe. You are just a hungry person, in a new place, who needs to eat. Don’t look around the restaurant in search of someone judging you, or convince yourself that your waitress is looking at you pityingly. She doesn’t care, and neither does anyone else.
Try not to be too focused on the alien-ness of the experience and instead focus on other things! People-watch, study the architecture, pore over the menu a little longer than necessary. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by letting your thoughts run away from you.
Seriously, Who Cares
Remind yourself that the opinions of random strangers are completely irrelevant, and that anyone who has an issue with you eating alone should go fuck themselves. Easier said than done, of course, but practice makes perfect.
The first time I went to a restaurant alone and made eye contact with someone (not even judgey eye contact!) I literally wanted to die. I was mortified. Eight months later and my waiter could outright say to me “I think it’s weird that you’re here alone” and I would order my dinner without batting an eyelash. I’ve worked hard to get to this point, by consciously reminding myself that the world revolves around me (duh. lol) and that anyone who would dare judge me is wrong, and an idiot.
Just Do It!!
There’s always going to be a leap of faith required the first time you do this. There is nothing you can read or do that will make it not scary, not intimidating, and not a little bit awkward. So you just have to go for it. Get out there, go to that one restaurant you’ve really been wanting to try, savor the hell out of that steak, those three cocktails, and that decadent, fattening dessert. It’s so liberating to overcome the fear and win this little victory over yourself. Just go!! You’ll thank yourself for it later.