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November 05, 2009



I was recently in the UK, where I dined alone every day for more than a week. It gets easier the more I do it.

Interestingly, dinner seems to be the focus of the uncomfort. No one really thinks twice about someone grabbing a solo breakfast or lunch. Dinner, though, is a social occasion and we are acculturated to feel uncomfortable when we go it alone.

Truth is, though, the other diners have plenty to think about besides the guy sitting alone. On rare occasions I have been served by someone who seemed annoyed because the larger tip to be expected from a table of more people wasn't going to be forthcoming. They can't wait to get me out of the restaurant. I happily retaliate by lingering over my meal, then meandering my way through a desert, and then ordering a coffee.

Fast-food and pizza joints and the like move 'em in and out as fast as possible, so they're usually comfortable for solo folks. Ditto restaurants in highly touristed areas. And, I've found that restaurants in the central business districts of large cities usually have a solo crowd grabbing dinner after a long day at the office.

There's a lot of solo people in the world, and there are going to be more of us. It's good business for restaurants and the travel industry to make us feel welcome.



It's nice to hear that dining solo gets easier for you the more you do it. Same for me, in that the first time I felt like the entire dining room watched me walk in and now I realize other people just don't care that much about me or any other solo diner.
Thanks for your other points as well. I try to tip generously when dining solo and so far can't recall an annoyed waiter.
And yes, there are a lot of solo people in the world and it would behoove the travel industry to think more about us.


I will agree with justcorbly that there's a large psychological difference between lunch and dinner when it comes to eating alone. I have rather little difficulty walking into a restaurant by myself for lunch, but I have yet to learn to be comfortable about doing the same for dinner. As a result, on a solo vacation I treat myself to a nice lunch, but have a picnic dinner in my room. That actually has its advantages. Lunch is usually cheaper than dinner, and I really don't need the calories of two restaurant meals. That's one way around the difficulty, but it's a workaround rather than a solution. I'm sure there are people who are comfortable and confident enough to enjoy a nice dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, surrounded by loving couples on dates. But I don't know anyone like that.

I'm not sure what the dinner discomfort actually is, especially since the process is exactly the same as going for lunch. It may indeed be the acculturation that justcorbly mentions. Dinner is more of a special social occasion than lunch, and thus carries more "baggage." I'm pretty sure that none of the diners eating with their spouses or families are wondering why that strange person is eating alone. They're most likely so involved with their own conversation and food that they don't even notice! I suspect that the only people who are likely to notice a solo diner are other solo diners (if they exist).

Last month I took a solo vacation in La Jolla. It's a part of San Diego I had never visited, and it has particularly beautiful coastal scenery that actually lives up to the brochure hype. It's also a rather upscale resort town, with lots of fancy "foodie" restaurants and very ritzy hotels best suited for romantic getaways. Since I went mid-week in September, I found fairly reasonable accommodations. And despite the abundance of couples enjoying sunset strolls along the beach, I found it a pretty comfortable place to go alone-- once I realized that those couples were so wrapped up in themselves that they surely didn't even notice me.

But getting back to the point, I tried some of the fancy restaurants, for lunch of course. Aside from the occasional solo diner dressed in business attire and frantically working away on a laptop, I saw only couples. But I stumbled on an effective way to avoid the inevitable awkwardness of walking into a restaurant alone. As soon as I made eye contact with the host(ess), I confidently announced "Table for one, please!" as if that were the most natural and normal thing in the world. They were clearly relieved at not having to ask the otherwise inevitable awkward question like "Just one?" or "Are you waiting for someone?" And I was even more relieved at not being asked. I don't know that it would be an effective remedy for dinner discomfort, but it might be a start.



I think we would all agree that lunch is more comfortable for solo dining than dinner.
But I don't like eating in my room. I can't people watch within those four walls. And I want to experience as much of a new place as I can, as long as I'm out there traveling.
I'll generally look for some place where I feel comfortable eating dinner. A pizza joint. A Chinese takeout place with some tables. Whatever.

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