How does everyone feel about eating alone? Do you feel like a bit of a loner, and that everyone’s watching you, or do you love the opportunities for reading or people-watching afforded by solo dining?
Have you got any tips for travellers on their own when it comes to eating out?
I’m interested to hear your thoughs…
I don’t mind it at all. Sometimes i people watch or take in the surroundings, sometimes I’ll read a book or catch up with a bit of writing with a little pad and pen (I know I’m old fashioned that way!)
I’ve never had a problem meeting up with other travellers and sharing drinks/meals with them when I have wanted some company, but likewise I’ve never had a problem with my own company either.
Since I love food, I think one of the benefits of eating alone is I am able to sample little bits of street food or roadside eats any time I like without being constrained by a full companion or complaints of ‘we’ve just eaten!’ haha!
There are no real bits of advice needed really, just don’t feel so self conscious about it.
I travel solo alot and also with my partner. I like both! I love to people watch, so you don’t have to be bored sitting by yourself. Read the newspaper or a book at a cafe. Eating alone has forcced me to be more extrovert and it has paid off with great conversations with complete strangers. Last month I was in the south of Thailand. I went to a restaurant by myself, but the owner came up and started talking to me and before you knew it he introduced me to another guy he knew from Australia and I ended up sitting at the other guys table with the owner and off we went to some great conversation. I ended up with a 20% discount from the owner on my next visit. I returned with a friend, the owner saw me, treated me like a long lost friend, and we even got a free drink after dinner and another discount. You can choose to join a communal table in a small village with Portuguese working men, not speak the language and make friends. It depends on the mood. Some days I just “want to be alone” and you can do that. Other days I want to be part of a group and from my experience you can do that with a smile and many times people with gesture you over. In Prague I was at the Beer Festival by myself for about 2 minutes and the guys started talking to me and the rest is history. So as a traveler you can sit and read, cruise the people rushing by the cafe window or join in. You decide!!!!
People-watching and casual chat both have their place, depending what kind of mood you’re in (and how busy a day you’ve had!), but I find that there’s one way to greatly improve your experience in any restaurant or bar, whether you’re a lone customer, in a couple or a group. That is to actually engage in conversation with not only other customers, but the wait/bar staff too – not treat them like some invisible entity only there to do your bidding!
Some of my most memorable meals have been when I’ve chatted away with waiters and bartenders and found how small a world it is – paths having almost crossed on different continents in years gone by…
I recall the French waiter in NYC who was overjoyed to shoot the breeze about Zinedine Zidane’s then-recent chest-butt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup (having had short shrift from his football-apathetic colleagues), or a New Orleans chef-patron who passed around the Fernet-Branca shots to help a friend feel more at home (being away from his old Glasgow life of bartending, where that spirit was the standard pick-me-up!).
It’s true that you often get treated like old friends when you return, even to establishments closer to home, and months later – I suppose that’s a good indication of any business you might encounter on your travels.
This Guardian article has more on the subject!
Kia Abdullah Talking to wait staff is a good tip. When I was in the US last year, several waiters complimented me on how well the Olympics were executed and how amazing the opening ceremony was. I thanked them graciously (Danny Boyle wasn't there so I was comfortable taking the credit).
It helps that I'm an Asian girl with a British accent in a foreign country – people are always curious about my background which helps start conversations.
Tim Chester Interesting stuff. Serving staff in the US usually talk to you in depth regardless, but agree that engaging people wherever you meet them is well worthwhile.
I’ve become better at it with time. Usually, I take a corner table where I feel somewhat protected from the throng. There HAS been one experience that made me feel like a bit of a loner. It was a Saturday night in San Francisco. I walked into a restaurant and asked for a table for one, but the waiter sat me at a table for four. The place wasn’t full so I didn’t think much of it. Then, he brought four menus and started to lay out four glasses. I had to tell him that I asked for a table for ONE, emphasising the point that I was alone.
I felt really self-conscious occupying the large table so asked him if he preferred I move. He moved me to a smaller table… slap bang in the middle of the restaurant. So there I was, Saturday night in a busy city, in the middle of a restaurant with huge windows so everyone could look in and see what I loser I was.
In reality, I’m sure no-one noticed but I felt really uncomfortable. To top it off, the food was awful. I ate a few bites, downed my drink, paid the bill and scarpered.
Tim Chester I've been in that situation, when reviewing meals. Problem is no-one realises you're there for work.
Ha – yes, so many staff in the US can drift into an autopilot rictus grin, but I mentioned the NYC waiter because it was one of those places where his level of chattiness was certainly welcome but definitely unexpected (even for the US), given the potential haughtiness of the surroundings. Going beyond the usual ‘service with a smile’ veneer, to ‘service with a sit-down and shooters all round’ is probably the preserve of small operations, where there’s one or two people running the show.
That’s true the world over – at family-run establishments you’ll almost certainly be served by someone with a vested interest in its fortunes, so they’ll always want to make sure you’re happy.
As for dining alone for reviewing purposes, maybe ‘it-must-be-for-work’ isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for other customers, but I’ve thought that savvy staff should always assume that ‘single diner= reviewer’ as their default setting, just in case…
I don’t mind eating alone. As long as there’s food on the table, I enjoy every bit of it.
I usually eat slowly when eating alone (compared to with someone else, I eat a bit fast) – I do this because I would like to savour the taste of what I am eating and enjoy the meal as well.
I love watching people, read a good book and just hanging out when I eat by myself.