While eating alone is not given a second thought by many solo travelers, for some, especially those new to solo travel, it remains an issue.
They feel awkward. Less welcome by the wait staff. Observed and maybe judged by other diners.
But, as a solo traveler, you're an adventurer. Make it your narrative of choice. Embrace the confidence this suggests because, as you travel alone, you will eat alone, at least some of the time.
If you're still a little uncomfortable with it, it's helpful to have some strategies to make dining alone a fun and even social experience.
Below are tips that could make dining alone a highlight of your solo travels.
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Tactics for Eating Alone at a Restaurant
Despite a surprising move by a two-star Michelin restaurant in London to charge solo diners double, the vast majority of the restaurants in the world welcome solo travelers. In fact, many are designing restaurants to accommodate solo travelers with seating especially suited for singles that also works for couples.
Here are ways to be comfortable dining alone at restaurants.
- Look for communal tables. There are some great restaurants with communal tables. The bonus is that you'll likely end up in a conversation with a local. To find such restaurants, use a website like Yelp and put “communal table” and your destination in the search bar. Up will pop restaurant options with tables for sharing.
- Eat at the bar. Even in a fine dining establishment, the bar is a great option for those dining alone. I often meet people at the bar and have interesting conversations. I've even had my dinner bought for me after such a meeting.
- Choose the lunch hour. A fine restaurant has the same executive chef all day long. Eat at a renowned restaurant at lunch and you'll likely save money and be in a more casual setting.
- Focus on your food. Going to a restaurant on your own allows you to really focus on your food. Savor every mouthful. Enjoy the chef's artfulness in the menu, unusual combinations, and presentations. Discuss them with your server. Ask the sommelier to recommend wine pairings. Experience your dinner to its fullest.
- Write in your journal or read a book. This is, of course, the classic.
Alternatives to Restaurants for Solo Travelers
If you just want a good meal, you have many more options than formal restaurants.
- Cafés or patios. When you have the world to look at and people to watch, you won't feel nearly so obvious for eating alone. Enjoy the food and the city buzz.
- Indie coffee shops. Check out their menus online before you go. The food options are sometimes few but the food is often exceptional. Plus, in coffee shops, the lone person is the norm.
- Street food/food trucks. The food truck and street food scenes are no longer the cheapest, fastest food possible. In some cases the food is exceptional as the vendor specializes in just one or two things and does them very well. Yet, still, with low overhead, the cost is reasonable. You'll often find picnic tables nearby for communal eating. We haven't found a really reliable, comprehensive app or website to search for food trucks internationally, but if you google “street food” and your destination, you'll find lots of information to guide you.
- Food tours. A food tour will take you to the best a city has to offer. You will typically enjoy local wine or beer and specialty foods along with a half dozen or so other travelers. You will leave the tour satisfied and having had a fun, social afternoon. Often, the timing of these tours straddles lunch and dinner, and includes a lot of food, leaving you with two less meals to worry about.
Food Experiences for Travelers
Everyone wants company now and then, even solo travelers. How does a solo traveler find social dining experiences for those times when they don't feel like eating alone? Here you go.
- Take a cooking class where everyone shares a meal at the end. Cooking schools are a wonderful opportunity to learn about a culture through its food, develop new skills, meet people who share your passion for food, and share a meal with new friends at the end. Read about some of our Culinary Travel Experiences Around the World.
- Find a chef's table. A chef's table is usually off to the side of the main kitchen at fine restaurants. I've eaten at two chef's tables and in both cases there were over 8 people at the table. Some knew each other and others didn't. We were served by the executive chef and sommelier who made special plans for the dinner based on seasonal food. Chef's tables are fun, social, and very comfortable for solo travelers.
- Dinner with a local. Eating in the home of a local is an amazing experience. There are a few sites that will help you book dinner with a local. Try EatWith or BonAppetour. If you are going to someone's home, give them the same consideration that you would a friend. Tell them of any allergies you may have, bring a small gift, arrive on time and don't stay too late, drink moderately as this is an expense they are incurring, and contribute to the conversation without monopolizing it.
- Join a foodie meetup. If you want to have a meal at a restaurant with locals go to Meetup.com, choose your destination city, and look for a food and wine group. There are often many food and wine meetup groups in a city. Hopefully there will be an event you can join when you're in town.
10 Tips to Save on Food While Eating Alone
In addition to the tips above, here are some more realistic, practical tips to help you eat well and save on food as you travel.
- Know before you go. Know what your food budget is before you leave. Set an overall food budget for the trip. Splurge some days and save on others.
- Choose accommodation that will lower your food expense. You don't need a kitchen to save on your food costs, though it does help. Choosing accommodation with a mini-fridge is enough to keep all you need for simple breakfasts and those salad/sandwich meals of the day. Note: if you take the hotel treats out of the mini-fridge to store your things, make sure you return them. These are costly items. Check your hotel bill carefully in case your mini-fridge was monitored electronically and you are charged for all the things you moved. If this happens, you can ask for a physical count of the fridge and have your bill adjusted.
- Stay hydrated on the cheap. Bring your water bottle along on your travels and fill it every day to avoid the high cost of bottled water and the environmental damage it causes. If you're not sure of the water quality, use a purification system. The Grayl Ultralight Water Purifier is a water bottle and water purifier in one.
- Take advantage of meal deals and discounts. Groupon is a great source of meal deals. Google “Groupon ‘your destination' restaurants” and you'll find deals specific to where you're going. Only buy deals from reputable sites. Doing research for this post I found a site with deals that seemed too good to be true so I looked for a review of the site. Sitejabber had 392 reviews of it and 292 of them gave the site only one star. It pays to do your homework.
- Get the Time Out Deals. Time Out Magazine is all about inspiring people to enjoy the best of a city. They have individual publications for cities around the word. Find the Time Out publication for your destination here. Then look for an “offers” tab to find deals at local restaurants. Here's an example for London.
- Take in food festivals. Most cities have food festivals to allow you to enjoy local specialties. Google your destination and “food festival” to find out what you may enjoy as you travel. There are themed food festivals for just about every taste including vegetarian or vegan fare, craft beer or local wines, even specific types of food, such as soups, burgers, or tacos. It's a great alternative to a formal dinner in a restaurant dining room where it's more obvious that you are eating alone.
- Make the most of that free breakfast. If your hotel includes a free breakfast, you can get a filling and free start to your day. There's nothing wrong with taking a piece of fruit or other transportable snack for the road to reduce your costs during the day.
- Get takeout from a high-end grocery store. Whether you buy individual elements or a fresh prepared meal, you can put together a great meal from a fancy grocer at a fraction of the cost of a sit-down restaurant. From cheese, a baguette, and a bottle of wine to piping hot pizza to a salad bar, you will find plenty of options.
- Have a picnic. Pick up food from a farmer's market or any of the above places and have a picnic in the park. It's especially wonderful if you can get fresh produce in season or artisanal treats made by locals.
- Get that discount. Use your membership cards to get discounts. AAA has restaurant deals that run at 10% to 15%. CAA has the same. Look in your wallet for your membership cards and see what you may have that can offer you some savings.