Solo Travel: The Art of Solo Dining

Table For One Please!

The act of going out to a restaurant to eat dinner alone is one that I find fascinating to discuss with people.  Being a person who really loves her fine dining as well as a person who is somewhat impatient, I’ve found myself to be prone to traveling alone a lot, and as a result, dining alone a lot.  It has become second nature to me, but I realize that to some people, eating at a restaurant alone is a cause for pity.  While I agree it is not an ideal situation, when I realize that the worst thing that can happen is some random person whom I do not know and will likely never see again may think that I’m pathetic, it ceases to register on my radar as a concern.  Seriously, it’s 2012 folks.  Don’t we have better things to worry about than the opinion of a stranger?

Does this really look all that scary?

While I have had a good share of positive solo dining experiences, I would say that my preference is to actually eat food in the company of the family and/or friends.  Food was always meant to be a means for to bring families together at the end of the day to converse and I’ve always believed that eating delicious food is an experience to be shared with others.  However, I would rather risk the social stigma of appearing to be a loner for a wonderful culinary experience, than be a loner in my own place with Ramen noodles where no one can see me.  Therefore, I hope my stories of solo dining will convince some readers that dining alone really isn’t as bad as it might appear to be.

My Realm of Solo Dining Experiences

My solo dining experiences have run the gamut and I’d like to share these stories because I think that they serve as proof that even if you are uncomfortable going out alone, you’ll at the very least still have a story to write home about!

  • My earliest solo dining experience occurred on my 22nd birthday when I was living Michigan.  I had just moved to Royal Oak to start my first job after university and despite not having any friends yet, I felt I should go out for dinner on my birthday.  I forget the name of the place I went to, but I remember they served Caribbean cuisine and I sat at the bar.  Being my first time, I was particularly nervous because at this point in my life I was still worried about what others would think about me eating dinner by myself.  I powered through though and midway through the meal I found myself engaged in conversation with two of the regulars at the restaurant, Tom and Jerry who worked at a consulting firm next door.  Long story short, the conversation veered towards convertibles and I somehow spent the better part of the evening driving Tom’s Mercedes SL 500 around the town.  In hindsight I wouldn’t recommend getting into a car with a stranger even if you are the one driving, but regardless, it was still rather badass driving a $100k car around town knowing that I wouldn’t have to prostitute myself out for the privilege.  They were nice guys.
  • My first terrible solo dining experience occurred when I was in Monterrey, Mexico on a business trip – this was the “alleged oil tycoon” incident.  I was peacefully eating dinner at the hotel restaurant when a man who was wearing sunglasses indoors and otherwise emblazoned with metrosexual accoutrements, walked past my table and then turned around because he felt he should join me.  He sat down and before I could say in Spanish that I was almost finished and ready to leave, he was ordering himself a glass of wine and an entrée.  I was glad though that he cut me off because from this point on I claimed to not know a lick of Spanish and he had to revert to his broken English to woo me throughout dinner.  It was the worst.  This guy clearly thought he was God’s gift to women and tried to convince me that I should forget about my job and spend the weekend with him on his yacht in Cancún.  I figured, my boss changed my flat tire for me and you’re a buffoon, so I think I’d rather continue working for him than be one of your boat bitches.  Surprisingly though, I didn’t make haste with leaving this situation.  The idiot insisted he would pay for my dinner even though I explained my company was paying for it anyway, so I decided to milk this and get dessert.  Then, I made haste and got the hell out of there before he insisted on walking me up to my room.  Hey, I’ll take advantage of an opportunity when I see one!
  • After moving to Baltimore, my solo dining experiences started trending upward again.  Here I had my first experience at being a “regular.”  I had fortuitously moved in to an apartment complex down the street from one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Sotto Sopra, my go-to restaurant for when I wanted to treat myself and when I had guests in town visiting.  The establishment itself is a wonder to sit in with its art nouveau mural and dramatic velvet curtains to set the atmosphere.  I think they changed executive chefs since when I was a regular there, but one thing I remember most about this restaurant was that they had a knack for taking the simplest of Italian dishes and turning them into something unique.  One time I had a simple pasta in tomato sauce, but the mozzarella that they used was out of this world and that made it memorable.  I still get the monthly newsletter and I really do highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in the Baltimore area.  Plus the owner is really into using local ingredients which I tend to support from an economic standpoint!
  • When I was in Geneva in December 2009, I had one of my more light-hearted solo dining experiences.  I arrived late on a Friday night and for those of you who do not know, Geneva isn’t exactly a bustling city of nightlife, so I had to search long and hard for a suitable establishment at which to have dinner.  I gave up after a half-hour of searching and settled for a touristic Italian place.  I sat at the bar and after receiving my glass of wine, a man comes up behind me with one of those paper bibs to wear for my meal.   That’s when I thought perhaps I should find another place, but I decided to drop the snobby attitude and go with the flow.  After all, sometimes it IS fun to play the role of the tourist!
  • Bergamo is a city in northern Italy that I visited with a few friends back in college while studying abroad for the summer.  I was immediately captivated by this city and fell in love with a glorius yellow villa that I could see from the look-out point in San Vigilio.  I even remember saying to myself at the time, this is a place I’d love to bring my future husband.  Points of view may have changed quite drastically for me, but when I found myself at a personal low point in the middle of 2010, I decided that I would refresh my soul by returning to one of the cities where I first felt a sense of inner calm.  I came for a short weekend in September 2010 and my goal was to revisit that spot on the hill where I saw my dream house as well as eat a scrumptious Italian dinner.  I went to Restaurant San Vigilio nearby where I was ogling my dream house and had an amazing 3 course meal and for the first time, I ordered an entire bottle of wine just for myself.  I’ll admit, this was a bit gluttonous and I was quite wobbly on my feet heading back to the hotel but otherwise a great decision.  As is usually the case in Italy, the food did not disappoint and I was tickled to find that the little old man at the table next to me requested the same entrée as that “American girl”.
  • Barcelona posed the first logistical challenge for me as a solo diner.  Being in the land of tapas and given the fact that I love variety, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum when trying to order at restaurants in Barcelona, the land of tapas.  Tapas, for those who don’t know are basically smaller portions of the starters and entrees you’re used to seeing in other countries.  And of course, there are certain specialties in each region of Spain.  When I was in Barcelona, I wanted to try a bunch of different foods but at the same time, I had to consider that there was only one belly at the table to fill.  Luckily, I soon figured out that this was one of those rare occasions when you could order a starter, a soup or salad, an entrée and a dessert without feeling overly stuffed.  I came to the rough conclusion that three tapas with only one being a meat dish, would fulfill the appetite of the lonesome diner.
  • Palo on the Disney Magic – The post speaks for itself.

You’re Never Alone in Latin America

While I have become accustomed to eating alone at times when the situation warrants it, the one thing I love about Latin America is that eating alone is next to impossible.  I went to lunch in Puno, Peru the other day at a busy place that was catering to the lunch hour rush.  I stepped in a uneventfully took my place at an empty table in the back.  Within five minutes of sitting, an older woman and her daughter sat my table and told me they were going to join me.  At first, I was still on my paranoid streak from Lima and I thought I was somehow about to be robbed again.  However, after the little bit of small talk we had, I remembered this custom from my time in Costa Rica.  I looked up and saw other people entering the restaurant and seating themselves at tables with obvious strangers.  When I was in Costa Rica during a summer in college I had gone out to lunch at a small spot in San Jose.  I was in the middle of eating my food when a man and his mother sat down and joined me.  They didn’t make a big deal about it, just ordered and started talking to me.  As this isn’t the norm in the U.S., I was a little confused but soon came to appreciate the company.  As I was having lunch in Puno with this woman and her daughter I remembered the custom and all felt comfortable again.  I even thought back to the oil tycoon man and considered granting him some leniency because perhaps, he thought it was normal to sit at a table with a single woman and start making small talk that she would infer as sleazy.

While I can definitely see the potential for sub-optimality in the situation of strangers just joining each other at dinner tables in restaurants, I generally like the idea.  There are times when I really do want to be left alone, but for the most part, I think it is a great way for people to socialize and have an enjoyable evening, as opposed to the potential boredom that might come along with eating alone.  I’d love to see what life could be like back in the U.S. or in Europe if people were more open and sociable in restaurants!


12 thoughts on “Solo Travel: The Art of Solo Dining

    1. Thanks! Right? There’s this long-standing fear of dining alone, yet few people ever stopped to question, well why is it so scary? I’ve yet to hear a logical answer to that question that confirms the fear. Have fun and eat well!

  1. Great read! I love dining alone, though for me it only works if I have something to do, so I tend to always take a book or paper with me, and take my time to eat and enjoy the space I have. Staring out in front of me or around the room for length of the meal would have me bored and then i would just ram the food down and finish as soon a I can.

  2. Great perspective on solo dinning…
    Frankly, after all these years of business and pleasure travel I am yet to master this one. I simply hate dining alone. Somebody suggested reading and have tried reading books, newspapers or facebook during dinners, but since i was brought up with an idea that reading while eating is bad for you this does not seem to work for me. It is not that i care what people think ( i gave up on that ages ago), it is more that food and wine don’t seem to taste the same when i am on my own. Oh, well… i will definitely try to take it easy after reading your article

    1. It’s always tricky finding out which strategy works best for you. Allison’s comment is really relevant to me – I just pay more attention to the food when I’m alone. Best of luck to you!

  3. I also enjoy eating alone occasionally. I think sometimes you enjoy your food more since you don’t have anyone else distracting you from it (like on a bad date or something). I think people sitting at your table randomly could be a good way to make some new friends – and practice your Spanish!

  4. I’ve been traveling solo and dining solo for years. I used to be self-conscious but, like you, I’ve grown rather used to it. Indeed, some of my finest adventures began with a night out eating alone in a foreign country. When you eat with others, the dining experience tends to be self-contained. But when you are alone, anything is possible.

  5. I have only eaten at a restaurant alone a few times. I found the experience calming. Took my time,read my book and watched the people around me, which I find entertaining. Makes me realize I do have my act together. It was good! I agree with you…better to be out and enjoying a good meal than home nippling on some leftovers alone.

  6. this is a great read. I thought i was the only one that dined alone and appreciated being alone! it’s the only occasion i actually get to relax and not think about anything (which is not the norm for me as i’m a constant thinker!) i like being able to people watch in restaurants. I’m travelling to geneva next weekend and i’ve heard that their service in cafes / restaurants are very slow, so i am worried about how long i can be patient for!

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