Sally Watson

Table at restaurant

One awkward aspect of solo travel can be dining. Even well traveled, independent people can feel uncomfortable eating in a restaurant without a companion. To combat the isolation, here are some tips for dining alone.

Many travelers entering an eatery unaccompanied will no doubt be asking for the Wi-Fi password and reaching for their phone before they’re even seated at a table. Trawling through Facebook news feeds or checking emails is an easy way to keep busy, easing the ‘discomfort’ of having no one to talk with. But whilst it might be tempting to be online, in many respects this is a cop out - as you will be failing to make the most of what can be a great travel experience in itself. Over the years in different countries, I’ve dined solo in many places, which did not have Wi-Fi.

On occasion I have perceived other customers appraising me with what I can only describe as pity, imagining them thinking: “Oh that poor woman is eating alone!”  Yet to combat uneasiness, I have learned to manage restaurant visits with strategies to make the best of my solo situation. I’ve actually discovered that dining alone can be enjoyable. The trick is to do what people did before smartphones - engage in the current surroundings. And this, really, is what travel is all about…

Talk to the waiter

Waiters at restaurant

Provided you can speak the same language, make some friendly exchange with the waiter. Even if there is a language barrier, do your best to converse. Hopefully you’ll have someone attending to you who is not too rushed and will have time for a bit of banter. Ask them about their recommendations for sights and highlights of their town or city. Not only will you be occupied, you’ll get some local knowledge and maybe make a new friend, or two.

Observe other clientele

You don’t want to put people off their meals by staring at them, so this needs to be a subtle approach. Observe other patrons and imagine their stories or what they do for a living. Be creative and make up stories in your mind. Watch how couples interact with each other, especially those you contemplate have been married for a lifetime. It will make you feel better. Often they will be having no more conversation than you! Sometimes it is just as enjoyable to be alone than sharing a meal with someone who has nothing much to say, anyway.

Analyze the menu

Plate of food at restaurant

If you are visiting a country with a different language and cuisine, look through the menu for all the food items you don’t understand. Note them down with the intention of looking up the words later to improve your local culinary vocabulary. This is usually easier in countries which have a Latin language such as France, Italy or Spain, as their languages are more similar to English.  I would be lost trying to write down Japanese!

Eat somewhere with live music

It is a lot easier to dine alone when there is entertainment. Seek out eating venues that have a live band or a singer. You can simply focus on the act during the meal, which is always a good distraction.

Sit at the bar

Bar at restaurant

In many eating establishments, food service is offered at the bar as well as at tables. Seated at the bar gives you the opportunity to speak to staff and often there will be other solo diners situated here also. It is a lot easier to chat with someone right next to you, rather than at another table.

Read your travel guidebook

This is a pretty standard go-to tool, when eating alone. You’ll not only be educating yourself on the country you are visiting, a guidebook is a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist. It can be a great prop, an opening for someone to strike up a conversation with you. I have met people in bars by noticing they are a visitor holding a travel guide and asking them about their visit.

Get Fast Food or go to a Food Truck

Food van

Weather permitting, buy some fast food and sit in a local park or public place and people watch! In many destinations food trucks are popping up and these offer an informal and economical way to dine solo while soaking up the local atmosphere.

Interact with other customers

When making eye contact with others in a restaurant – smile. It shows you’re friendly. If people are sitting nearby, don’t be shy to make “small” talk by commenting on a feature of the restaurant or the food. I have made friends with strangers, simply by starting a line of dialogue such as “Wow, your meal looks lovely, what did you order?” This requires confidence and obviously other approachable fellow diners but you will be surprised at how a simple question can lead to reciprocal questions such as “Where are you from?”

Bar at restaurant

Instead of fretting about eating solo on your travels, embrace it. Dining by yourself might put you out of your comfort zone however it offers the opportunity to learn more about the country you are visiting. Combatting shyness and observing and speaking with others, you may just find the experience makes you more independent and confident - without needing to rely on technology and Wi-Fi to get you through a solo meal.

 

Sally Watson is a freelance travel writer and photographer at Wing Woman Adventures. A self-confessed vagabond and seeker of new frontiers, adventures and international friends, she aims to inspire people to travel widely, independently and confidently! Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy