Solo Travel: How To Feel More Comfortable Dining Alone

Whether you're solo traveling or just taking your lunch hour by yourself, you'll need to get comfortable with the art of dining alone. Many people consider eating by their lonesome to be one of the most challenging aspects of traveling alone. Asking the host for a table for one, being surrounded by a hundred voices chattering around you, not having a soul to interact with yourself — understandably, these things can make you uncomfortable. Because it's a lot to take in, and it can feel super unnerving if you're unfamiliar with the experience. 

Believe it or not, however, dining solo doesn't have to be depressing, lonely, or awkward. Eating out by yourself can be a rewarding experience and even an enjoyable treat. All you need is the mentality and tools to master eating by yourself at a restaurant. These little nuggets of advice will teach you how to feel more comfortable dining alone, which means you can get out in the world and feel positive about having solo meals.

Start with a coffee by yourself

People love coffee more than almost any other drink (except maybe alcohol). More than 163 million 60 kilogram bags of coffee are consumed per year. Perhaps that's why it's leaps and bounds more socially acceptable to sit and sip on a coffee solo than go out for dinner by yourself. Societal norms are silly like that, but you can use reality to your advantage to get more comfortable with dining alone. 

If the thought of eating alone in a crowded restaurant gets your blood pumping, you'll feel a little more at ease lounging in a cafe with a latte. In fact, you'll probably spot a bunch of people eating alone or getting work done by themselves and nursing a cappuccino at a cafe. It's easy to feel right at home as a solo diner when there are so many other people around you doing the exact same thing. It's excellent practice to prepare for an evening meal alone.

Bring a book to read

If you're feeling anxious about dining alone in your own reality, why not dive into another world through the lens of a good book? Having your nose in a book gets your mind away from all the stressful parts of being alone and makes it way easier to just lounge hours away at a restaurant. Reading a book can be your eternal solution to feeling less lonely when you're eating out alone. 

There are quite a few other tempting benefits to reading regularly, too. Reading can literally make your brain stronger and reduce your overall stress. If you're struggling with issues like depression, reading has been found to lessen the intensity of symptoms. Some studies have even found that reading books protect your cognitive function as you get older. With all these huge perks, why not bring along a book with you and get some reading time in while you're dining solo?

Do some research into the restaurant you're visiting

If you're already feeling jittery about going out for dinner alone, you want to be as prepared as possible. Preparedness helps reduce anxiety. Anything can happen out there in the world and you don't want to be caught off guard as a solo diner. For some people, it's nerve-wracking enough to eat alone, so you don't want to add the stress of showing up to an unexpected dining situation at a new restaurant. 

What if you spend hours working up the courage to go out to eat by yourself, only to arrive and find out that the restaurant is closed on that day of the week? What if the entire restaurant is rented out for a party or you get there at the start of happy hour and must navigate a sea of college students? There are a million what-ifs, but you can eliminate many of them by looking into the restaurant beforehand to save yourself any surprises. Just check out their website, GoogleMaps, or Yelp page — you'll probably find everything you need to know to eat alone stress-free

Sit back and enjoy the people watching show

People watching is the simple pleasure of watching the lives play out around you and it can be a fun way to pass the time eating alone. Checking out what people are wearing, their body language, and their emotional state. Even though you're not dining with other people, that doesn't mean you can't appreciate them for your own entertainment. No, people-watching isn't some creepy, stalker hobby. Think of it more like an active observation of the world around you. 

When you're eating by yourself with nobody to chat with, what more can you ask for than dinner with a free show? An evening performance highlighting the social tapestry of humans. You can ramp it up a little more by playing the backstory game and thinking up other customers' histories and personalities. The more creative you are, the more interesting the world around you will be. You may come to find that you enjoy this silly little game so much that you crave dining alone for the entertainment of it all!

Think about the time you'll be dining

What is the dining experience you're craving on a night out by yourself? Do you want a peaceful corner of a quiet restaurant with only a few other patrons there? Do you want to blend into the chaos of a busy dinner rush among the many other hungry restaurant-goers? The answer to this question will determine when you should go out to eat by yourself. 

If you want calm for your solo meal, you should nab a table a little earlier or later than the prime dinner rush hours. Alternatively, if you crave energy go for the peak popular restaurant times. The thing is that peak dining times differ depending on where you are in the world. In New York, people are usually sitting down for dinner around 6 p.m.However, if you're going out to eat in Spain, the restaurants don't fill up until after 9 p.m.Double-check the dinner time customs of your location before you head out to the restaurant or you may get caught in an ambiance that isn't ideal for your solo dinner. 

Order a dish that excites you

One way to overshadow the anxiety of dining by yourself at a restaurant is by ordering something that really gets you excited to eat. There is one thing way more powerful than fear — excitement. Think about how rousing it is to know you have a delicious dish on the way. You'll spend so much time looking forward to it, you won't have a second to worry about feeling awkward about eating alone. 

Order a dish that you love, but haven't had in a while or something completely new that you've never tried before. Get a dish that takes 12 hours to prepare and that you'd never want to make it at home — or order the restaurant's specialty dish. Anything that piques your interest in one way or another and gets you hungry for an amazing meal. After all, the whole point of restaurants is to eat, so you might as well make that the focus of your evening. 

Make a reservation during the dinner rush

If you're planning on going out to eat alone during the dinner rush, you'll have some competition for a table. Many restaurants prioritize groups during these busy hours because more people means more money. If you want to mesh into the organized chaos of a crowd during the dinner rush, you'll want to schedule a reservation. Otherwise, you run the risk of showing up with no seat or having to endure a super long wait. Better safe than sorry. 

When you're making a reservation at a busy restaurant as a solo diner, make sure you call as early as possible. If it's a really popular place, you may even need to snag a reservation a few weeks to a few months in advance to avoid being turned away. Luckily, these days you don't even have to talk to anyone to get a table for one thanks to reservation apps. Applications like OpenTable, Yelp Reservations, and Reserve with Google can make it super simple to make and cancel reservations without ever requiring human interaction.

Join a food tour

If the idea of sitting alone in a restaurant full of other patrons really makes you feel uneasy, you might be a little more comfortable joining a food tour. A food tour will take you with a group of other hungry explorers on a food adventure through the city — usually 5-9 stops at restaurants, food stands, or other eateries. If you're traveling solo, this is the ideal 'kill two birds with one stone' situation. You'll get a feel for the city and its local cuisine, plus you won't have to eat alone! There are a lot of benefits of jumping in on a food tour besides just quelling your fears of eating alone. 

Not only will it give you a group to wander around with, but you'll get interesting insights into the local cuisine and the city in general. Your tour guide will likely provide helpful insights about things to do around the area and bring you to all the best places to eat that you could never find without their help. Stops along the tour will usually include small businesses, so you'll also be doing your part to support the local economy when you opt for a food tour. Who knows, you may even make a friend or two along the tour and never have to worry about eating out alone for the remainder of your trip. 

Have an alcoholic beverage to take the edge off

If you're sitting at a restaurant by yourself, feeling the heavy weight of being alone at the dinner table, an alcoholic beverage might make you feel more at ease with the whole thing. Wine can do wonders for solo dining jitters — always be responsible, however, when it comes to the amount you're consuming. This is one of those tips that you can adjust a little to your tastes. If you prefer beer, a cocktail, or even cider, just swap that in. 

However, you should only use this tip if you feel like you can keep it to only a glass or two maximum. A nip of alcohol is just to alleviate the nerves a bit, not to end up wasted. Not only is it embarrassing to be drunk by yourself at a restaurant, but it can also be very dangerous. At best, you'll wake up with a killer hangover and at worst you could get seriously hurt out there by yourself. One way to ensure you don't get unfashionably tipsy is by drinking plenty of water throughout the meal. 

Scroll away on your phone if you get overwhelmed

Phones can become a tool to feel more comfortable in awkward situations. Just think about how relieving it is to dive into the world of your cell phone when things get a little tense. It's perfect for when you're feeling antsy at dinner by yourself. After all, the one time it's appropriate (for many people) to be scrolling away on your phone at the dinner table is when you're eating alone. 

You don't have to scroll aimlessly or waste time on Instagram. You could be more productive, like using the time to catch up on emails or other remote tasks you've been putting off. Alternatively, you can play brain games with apps like Lumosity and Cognifit to strengthen your cognitive function in your free time. Besides catching up on busy work, you can turn to anxiety-relieving apps to feel calmer while eating alone at a busy restaurant. Apps like Headspace and Worry Watch can do wonders for making you feel more relaxed at your solo dinner. And, of course, there's always getting into a text conversation with a friend. So, if you're feeling anxious (or even embarrassed) dining alone, your phone can quickly become a device for keeping yourself busy while eating. 

Get creative by writing or drawing in a journal

One way to use your time dining alone wisely is by flexing your creative muscle through writing or drawing. Tapping into your creative side can be a fantastic method for feeling more comfortable eating alone. All you need is a pen and paper. Turn that pit of anxiety in your stomach during a dinner out alone into something beautiful on paper. 

If you don't know what to write about, you can respond to a few introspective journal prompts and get to know yourself better. A few great ones are writing a letter to your future self, listing out your favorite compliments that you've ever received, or confessing your secret desire in the safe space of your journal.  Alternatively, if you're an illustrator, take the time to create some doodles. Even if you're not a master artist, you can draw cute, little illustrations like food, hot air balloons, or butterflies. Before you know it, you will have spent half an hour on your work, your food will be arriving at your table, and those nerves about eating by yourself will be long gone.

Keep in mind that nobody really cares what you do

If you've done all the suggestions on this list and still find yourself uncomfortable eating alone at a restaurant, there is one more golden nugget of advice that might help you — knowing that nobody really cares what you do. That sounds like a harsh insult from the middle school bully, but it's really a helpful hack that will make you feel more comfortable no matter where you go or what you do. It's a freeing mindset to realize that all the worry and stress about eating at a restaurant is all in your head. 

Everyone else is too distracted by their own stuff to worry about what other patrons at a restaurant are up to. Think back to the last time you ate out at a restaurant and try to remember just one person in the joint. They'd have to stand up and do a little jig in the middle of the room for you to even recall them, and even then, you'd probably just laugh it off and go about your life as usual. Simply sitting alone and enjoying a meal isn't going to make anyone else notice you, let alone judge you. Keep that in mind when you're starting to feel anxious about dining alone and you'll be amazed at how much it helps squash the negative feelings.