Alone does not mean lonely.
Unaccompanied is not unhappy.
Yet both are associated with eating alone. Many people have no issue with it but others believe there is a social stigma associated with eating alone. They feel it and they don't like it. Even some diehard solo travelers find dining alone difficult. It's #3 in the top “7 Things You Don’t Love About Solo Travel”.
If you're one of those who love solo travel but dislike solo dining, I have a few tips for you. Tips that will hopefully turn the eating alone experience upside down – making it a highlight of your solo travels.
Eating Alone – a casual experience.
If fine dining is not your goal you have lots of options. And because casual places are more frequented by people on their own, there's really no social stigma attached.
- Indie coffee shops. The menu is usually small but the food is often exceptional.
- Communal tables. Choose casual restaurants or cafes with communal tables and it's likely you'll end up in a conversation with a local. To find such restaurants use a website like Yelp and put “communal table” in the Find box and your destination in the Near box.
- Street food / Food Trucks. The food truck and street food scenes are no longer about the cheapest, fastest food possible. Many cities have great street food cultures that are worth checking out for low-cost, casual meals. If you're in North America go to Roaming Hunger for current information on where to find food trucks.
- Dinner with a local. There are a few sites that will help you book dinner with a local. Try VoulezVousDiner or EatWith.
- 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. Hopefully there will be an event you can join when you're in town.
Dining Alone for the Food and Wine Lover
If it's all about the food…
- 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, presentation… Discuss them with your server. Ask for the sommelier to recommend pairings. Experience your dinner to its fullest.
If you'd like excellent food but want a more social experience…
- Choose a restaurant and eat at the bar. Even in a fine dining establishment, the bar is a more casual place to eat than at a linen-covered table. I often meet people at the bar and have interesting conversations. I've even had my dinner bought for me after such a meeting.
- 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 a new skill, meet people and share a meal with new friends at the end.
- 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.
- Choose the lunch hour. A fine restaurant has the same executive chef for the more casual, less expensive noon hour as it has in the evenings. It's likely a more relaxing time for dining alone.