How to Dine Solo While Traveling
One woman. A restaurant full of people. The age-old question: How to eat alone and like it?
During a recent vacation to Portugal, I had the opportunity to take a three-day solo road trip through the countryside. An introvert, I typically leap at any chance to spend time alone for extended periods of time, but having never traveled by myself before, it dawned on me that embarking on such an adventure would necessarily imply dining solo—a social feat that was at that point in time, unknowable to me, and one that never ceased to evoke that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Jason Segel asks Jonah Hill for a table for one (“You’re just, like, by yourself?”). Pop culture references aside, the trip was one I didn’t want to miss out on, and so I dismissed my first-timer fears and hit the road.
My first experience dining alone was quintessential study in what NOT to do. To paint the picture, the sun had just set behind cotton candy-colored clouds, and I was seated inside a romantic vineyard restaurant, surrounded by what felt like every honeymooning couple in Portugal. Without a book, magazine or an international data plan to keep my busy, I alternated between picking my hangnails and grilling the waiter on every item on the menu (which, by the way, was set, and therefore required me to endure the humiliation for 2+ hours). As a means of getting through the night, I downed every alcoholic beverage put in front of me, (like I said, what NOT to do), and ate my body weight in dessert.
After that low point, subsequent attempts at dining solo only went up from there. In fact, after getting in some quality ‘me’ time and even making new friends, I learned that it was possible to eat alone and like it, so long as you followed a few key tips, which I’ve detailed below.
Tip 1: Start with lunch
Let’s face it: dinner is intimidating. There are the crowds, the noise and the general impression that everyone is having the time of their lives—all factors that’ll drive your social anxiety through the roof and rule out any chances of you enjoying yourself. But lunch—lunch is casual, lunch is professional, lunch says, “Well, alright, but I have to be back at the office in 45.” The moral of the story? Go for lunch. It’s likely nobody will even notice you’re there.
Tip 2: Bring a book
When it comes to dining solo, it can be tempting to pull out your iPhone and start scrolling. But do this, and not only will you deter people from striking up casual conversation with you, it also sends the message, “This is every bit as insufferable as it looks.” A book, on the other hand, gives people the impression that you have some reading to do and thought, “Why not do it over a meal?” And, if you pick a really good read – here are a few of my recent faves – you might even forget that you’re flying solo.
Tip 3: Timing is everything
If there’s no way around eating alone during dinner, dine before or after the rush when your server will have more time to chat and you’ll be in the company of more solo diners. Plus, most restaurants have promotions during non-peak hours, so you might arrive just in time for happy hour/late night specials.
Tip 4: Hit the bar
If you’re new to eating alone, ease into things by sitting at the bar or around a communal table. That way, you won’t feel like the center of attention, and will be better positioned to socialize with people around you. A great way to get the conversation going is to ask your fellow diners if they’ve been to the restaurant before, and if so, what their recommendations are. If they aren’t locals, all the better—you’ve just met your new travel buddies!
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Tip 5: Mix it up
Go to Olive Garden, and there’s a good chance that your food won’t distract you from your, uh, predicament. But go to a sushi boat restaurant or an authentic Moroccan eatery or any other unique dining setting, and you’ll probably be too entertained to notice everyone staring at you. Hey—just kidding.
Tip 6: Treat yo self
When all else fails, opt for a little liquid courage. Don’t overdo it—I’m talking one to two glasses max—but if they entire point of dining alone is an exercise in learning to appreciate your own company, I’m all for having a ‘treat yo self’ moment.