One of the constant and largely unavoidable challenges facing solo travelers is how to enjoy dining alone. Restaurants filled with laughter and conversation are great places to go to get to know the pulse of a city. But when you’re all by yourself, that sort of lively atmosphere can leave you feeling overwhelmed and isolated. The louder the crowd is around you, the greater the contrast with your own quiet meal. To help you feel less self-conscious and more relaxed while eating alone in public, give the following recommendations a try. Although some of them are not specifically aimed at solo diners, they are all useful things to keep in mind.
Find Your Ideal Crowd
Dinner is often much more of a social occasion than breakfast or lunch. People are in less of a hurry, they’re relaxed, and they’re often drinking, so the atmosphere is much more lively. A breakfast or lunch crowd, in contrast, frequently consists of significantly more solo diners, many of whom are sitting quietly, reading the newspaper or consulting their smart phones. If you tend to be self-conscious eating alone, this is a much easier environment to settle into because it’s easy to blend in.
Imitate A Wild West Gunslinger
Regardless of which meal you’re eating, try to sit with your back to a wall and with a view of the dining area. Sitting with your back to other diners and not being able to see what’s going on behind you can significantly ratchet up any feelings of vulnerability and discomfort you’re feeling. In contrast, a solid wall at your back provides both physical and psychological support, allowing you to people-watch and enjoy your meal unselfconsciously.
Remember, You’re A Solo Diner, Not A Second-Class Citizen
If the restaurant host shows you to a table you don’t like, say something. You’re under no obligation to accept tables crammed into forgotten corners or next to the toilets. Assuming that you’re not trying to sit at a family table when the restaurant is busy, you’ll find that most restaurant staff don’t really care where you end up sitting. As long as you’re polite, you’ll usually be allowed to sit wherever you want.
Speak Like A Native (Or Try To)
When traveling in countries where you don’t speak the local language, learn some basics before you go. Find out the names of the main dishes you might want to try. Look up how to ask for a menu and the bill. Learn how to say please and thank you. Practice asking for the check. Wait staff tend to be a lot more friendly if you try to communicate with them in their language first. This is true even if you end up butchering the pronunciation. In Europe, in particular, you’re likely to have totally different dining experiences depending on the language you begin with, so go native if you can. A really enjoyable meal out can boost your confidence and make it that much easier the next time you get ready to dine alone.
Wait, Wait. By Weight?
Some restaurants, particularly upscale fish and steak houses, list a price on the menu that is per 100 grams, which nutritionists define as roughly the size of your palm, minus the fingers. So if you’re hungry and not paying attention, your meal could end up costing you significantly more than you were expecting. Keep an eye out for “100g” or similar notations beside fish and steak dishes. Also make sure when you order that you specify how much you want so that the waiter isn’t the one deciding the price of your meal.
Stand For Savings, Sit For Comfort
Casual cafes and bars in many countries charge different prices depending on whether you stand at the bar, sit inside, or sit outside. If there’s a menu available, the different prices often appear side-by-side. If there’s no menu, it’s assumed that you’re aware that you’ll pay more the more comfortable you are. Note that the price variations can be extreme, especially for drinks. In popular tourist areas, you might end up paying double or more to sit outdoors on a patio versus inside against the bar. If you’re trying to save money and perhaps meet some of the local population, stay inside. If the place has fantastic views or has views out over a popular square or street, pay a bit extra so you can sit and relax and watch the world go by.
Know The Price Of Happiness (And Your Meal)
At one time, it was not unusual in major tourist centers in Europe to find restaurants that offered appealing menus with no prices. Madrid’s Plaza Mayor was notorious for this practice as was the area around the Duomo in Florence. Tourists would enter a beautiful plaza, see a charming restaurant, take a quick look at the menu, and sit down. Orders would be taken, drinks would be served, and when the bill was presented, the total would be whatever the wait staff decided it should be. Solo diners were particularly vulnerable because they were up against a staff who knew the local language and customs. The result was that most people just paid the bill and went away grumbling. The takeaway from this is if a menu does not list prices, either ask before ordering or find another restaurant.
Don’t Accidentally Top The Tip
The last thing you want to do after a relaxing meal is to start worrying about gratuities. Find out in advance whether tipping is part of the culture. If so, make sure you know what percent you should leave. If no one else is tipping, there’s no need to add an extra 10- 15%. Also, restaurants in some countries add a tip to the bill automatically. Depending on the local language, the bill might contain the phrase Service Included, Servizio Incluso, Service Compris, or something similar. Review the bill closely so you don’t accidentally add a tip on top of a tip.
So that’s it. Lots of recommendations that should help make dining alone a pleasant experience instead of a trial. If you’ve got your own additions to this list, please contact me.
Travel safe, travel smart