During the past 15 years I have been traveling quite extensively as a hospitality consultant; and whilst having a passion to try as many food and beverage concepts during my travels and sharing my good and bad experiences on social media, I am always asked the question as to how I feel about dining alone. From eating street food to fine dining restaurants; and yes, even bars, I take every opportunity to see what is trending in the hospitality industry. Well, apart from the most obvious in enjoying what I do, I also do like to immerse myself in the global food scene to gain ideas to continue creating exciting new concepts. Although I am not daunted by the solo dining experience, many of my colleagues and friends are, as you may be; so hopefully this will assist you.
If you travel for work, chances are you are going to spend a fair amount of meals by yourself. At first it’s a bit daunting, if not outright depressing, to go to a restaurant and ask for a table for one. But after a few times, it gets much easier. Now I actually look forward to it! No one to judge what I eat or drink, no one to have to entertain, and some quiet time where I can get some work done or take it easy, while being waited upon. I eat at restaurants by myself all over the world. It doesn’t bother me at all—in fact, I enjoy it.
Here are a few suggestions for getting you from uncomfortable to happy dining alone.
Don’t worry about others. One of the fears I hear often is that people feel sorry for people eating by themselves. But I promise—no one is looking at you, thinking, “That poor person is all alone!” Chances are, they’re too involved with their own dinner companions to worry about anyone else, much less a single diner in the corner. If they do notice you, it’s probably because they’re not having too much fun themselves, and they envy your solitude!
If you’re like a lot of people out there, you’re probably afraid of solo dining because you may feel lonely and don’t want to feel awkward. Solo travel is awesome for so many reasons, but namely because when you travel solo, you end up going to places to please only one person – yourself.
Here are your handy hints for eating alone in restaurants when you travel solo.
1. Time your dining well
I’d recommend trying to dine a little before or after peak time. Why? Most restaurants may still prefer to take the money of two diners over one, especially during peak times, and being in the industry myself, I totally respect that. I’m advising you dine out of peak time for your own comfort.
If you’re already paranoid about eating out alone, you can quadruple that paranoia if you hit a restaurant at peak dining time on a weekend when the place is ram-packed and the tables are sparse. Going a little earlier or later will be far less stressful.
2. Study the menu beforehand
Chances are that the very act of getting across the threshold of the restaurant and taking a seat as a solo diner, will have your head racing, and although you may look like you’re studying the menu thoughtfully, your mind is probably elsewhere…
“Are you ready to order?”
If there is any chance you can study the menu before you sit down, do it and make a decision or at least a shortlist of three things that you want to eat. Not only will it make your first 10 minutes in the restaurant less stressful, it avoids the problem of panic ordering. And, the bonus is that if you eat something delicious, you’re much more likely to want to return for another adventure eating out alone.
3. Dress comfortably
We all have clothes that makes us feel more comfortable and confident and I’d highly recommend wearing them for your eating out adventure. On comfort, you’re going out to eat. There is little point wearing that “I used to fit into shirt when I was 21” and spending the entire night breathing in. Actually, this applies to all eating out experiences – solo or not. But from an eating alone perspective, there is nothing to be gained from increasing your discomfort!
4. Make a reservation
You’ve picked a restaurant, you’ve studied the menu, you’ve planned your route, you’ve picked a non-peak time and still you’re turned away at the door. Don’t leave your dinner plans to chance – if you can, book ahead.
5. Stand your ground on seating
Sure, I get that restaurants prefer to take two people instead of one, but on the flip side, as a solo diner you’re much more likely to complete your meal quicker than a couple or group. So, I say stand your ground. If the restaurant won’t give you a decent table that makes you comfortable, then walk away – there are plenty of restaurants that will. My recommendations are to choose bar dining, which I do regularly, be it sushi bar or Tapas, which welcome’s singles diners.
6. Use your phone or bring a book
Your smartphone can serve as your dinner companion if you’re terrified of simply sitting at a table with no one to talk to. A book serves the same purpose. In those awkward moments before your meal arrives, you can connect with friends and family on Facebook. This will keep you feeling less lonely while eating alone. I regularly start a WhatsApp chat during my dinner, talking to my partner or friends and my sharing food pics. I have started a microblog of my own, capturing places I most enjoy, to gather a hit list of places I would return to.
7. Chat with the wait staff
Almost every single one of my friendships with locals has begun in a restaurant. Chat with your waiter – they’re friendly and they’ll have fantastic stories for you about where they come from and what life is like for them.
If by chance you visit the same restaurant or café regularly, before long they’ll remember your name, and each time you return you’ll feel like you’re going to visit friends.
I hate to break it to you, but no one is looking at you and thinking “Oh how sad and pathetic that person is all alone.” Because people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.
If they are thinking about you, they’re most likely wondering what that confident, independent person eating alone thinks about them as they sit with their significant other, envying you your freedom.
I enjoy eating alone because of my work, but I like to actually taste my food and enjoy the sensory experience of eating and also because I enjoy being out and exploring.
I don’t have to be involved in a conversation every second of the day because I’m doing that most of the time at work. So a quiet dinner is very satisfying.
There’s also another phenomenon, but when you dine alone in a foreign country, people sometimes tend to invite you to eat with them. It’s happened to me countless times, and it will happen to you too. In addition to invitations to join someone’s table, I’ve had countless people approach and ask to sit with me, and I’ve always said yes.
Paul was born in Sydney, Australia and was exposed to the hospitality industry from a young age. He began his career in the family business, working in all aspects of the restaurant industry. He later took a post in a boutique hotel in Sydney to continue his studies in management.
Paul’s passion in F&B moved him from hotels to free-standing restaurants as he worked his way up to management positions at a very young age. With an eagerness to succeed, he opened his first café in the Sydney Suburb of Brookvale. He soon expanded into the second café in North Sydney.
Paul sold his cafes later in order to focus in the restaurant industry. Purchasing Milsons restaurant in Kirribilli, Sydney, at the young age of 27, Paul became one of the young restaurateurs of Sydney. This ‘One Hat’ fine dining restaurant continued its success with Paul at the helm. Later purchasing the sister restaurant, Jaspers of Hunters Hill, another ‘One Hat’ restaurant, Paul began to grow his company to create a mini restaurant empire. Successfully opening Essence restaurant in King Street Wharf Sydney, Paul continued to grow his restaurant company to 12 restaurants throughout Sydney.
Creating a strong following and a recipe for success, Paul founded Savvy IQ, advising fellow restaurateurs and hoteliers on his expertise and formula to success. His work expanded internationally, and later became Director Asia Pacific for Hilton Worldwide managing almost 300 F&B outlets in 17 countries. He then moved to Moscow as Director for Stepan Mikhalkov as Director for Verchisky, Vanil and a number of other restaurants and cafes within the group.
With an international focus, Paul has been appointed as CEO with restaurant groups in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and London. Now Paul continues his consulting company, Savvy IQ and developments concepts in London and internationally, with 4 restaurants concepts opening in 2017/18.