On dining solo

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of interviewing lots of people is seeing the different stories people tell themselves about the way the world works. I’m sure I have my narratives. I know other people do too, but often these are completely different.

Which brings me to my topic for this post. I have long eaten out by myself while traveling. This seems simple enough. I like to eat. I especially like to eat at very fancy restaurants, and so it’s always a treat to me to find a highly rated restaurant in a new city and explore the cuisine and wine list. I’ll chat with the waiter about what’s good, and about a satisfying beverage pairing, and enjoy eating exactly where I want without taking anyone else’s desires into consideration. If I am attending a conference where I know people, or my speech sponsors want to take me to dinner, I’m perfectly happy to eat with other people, but if I don’t know anyone, I’m still eating out.

Then I had a conversation the other day where someone mentioned generally just ordering room service. Not because she viewed work travel as an opportunity to put on her PJs as soon as the last meeting was done and watch movies all night — which is totally cool! — but because she felt weird about eating in a restaurant by herself.

It turns out that there is some sort of stigma out there about eating in restaurants solo. Who knew? I didn’t. As I think back, I can’t recall any hosts giving me any looks about asking for a table for one. No one’s said anything when I ask for a table rather than the bar (if the restaurant was busy I’d take the bar but I’m generally traveling during the week, so non-peak times, and I feel people are more likely to talk with me at the bar, and I enjoy my solitude). I’ve read books and magazines, although in this day and age, a lot of people eating with companions are looking at their phones, so doing so on my own fits right in.

Room service always strikes me as one of those things that is better in theory than practice. The food is often lukewarm by the time it shows up, and the scenery is seldom as interesting as, say, a sidewalk cafe.

So I guess I just don’t see what the stigma is about. Sometimes I’ve eaten solo even while not traveling. Back in the day, before we routinely had evening childcare, I’d sometimes get a sitter in the evening when my husband was traveling and go eat at a local sushi restaurant solo. None of my kids will eat fish and none of the restaurants seemed to deliver to our house, so this was a practical way of getting my fix. Enjoy a nice glass of sauvignon blanc, look at the fish tank (a bit strange in a sushi restaurant, but whatever) and chill.

Do you dine out solo?

Photo: Hot asparagus soup with cold creme fraiche – one of those temperature combos that’s hard to pull off with room service.

18 thoughts on “On dining solo

  1. Huh, I was hoping there would be comments from people explaining the stigma associated with solo dining. I love eating out by myself! It feels so luxurious.

    I wonder: is this an introvert/extrovert thing? Introverts find it a pleasant way to recharge, and extroverts find it purgatorial?

  2. Agree with you – I routinely dine solo on business travel and have never felt odd in a restaurant full of couples and more. It’s a delightful chance to indulge in a good book and an appetizer all my own – no negotiating or sharing!

  3. I have no problem with the idea of dining solo BUT I don’t think I ever have! I usually only travel to conferences where I know people, and have to say that on the nights I don’t have plans with friends, I DO LOOOOVE the coziness of room service. Just the pure laziness of having the food brought to me and watching a cheesy movie under the covers. I can’t explain why, I just LOVE It and try to do it once every conference I go to! The rest of the nights I’m usually out with others. I will have to put “go to a fancy meal alone” on a someday list!

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with the room service feeling cozy. I dine solo (and without pulling out a book or cellphone) often with work-related travels without any issue but I also enjoy quiet moments. Room service though is absolutely one of my favorite treats since it happens so rarely. It’s so delicious to put on a robe and eat a burger in bed while watching a movie. I’m daydreaming about it right now!

  4. I have no problem dining solo. I’ve done everything from IHOP to the tasting menu w/ wine pairing at Michael Mina’s in Las Vegas. I can understand why it might seem daunting, but I promise it won’t be as bad as you’re imagining. Most people are far too busy paying attention to themselves to pay attention to you.

    I do a lot of solo travel as well — the only time I can remember being uncomfortable is on a cruise once where people tried to adopt me. I had to politely disengage and assure them that I would be happy to share a dinner or two if they’d like, but I wasn’t lonely and didn’t want to spend all day with them. I came aboard with a full kindle and I had every intention of spending my days on the deck with said kindle and a frozen drink.

    My family and friends are lovely and I enjoy traveling with and dining out with them. But I like to travel more than they do. As I explained to a very polite Canadian border guard who couldn’t understand why I would do a long weekend trip to Stratford alone (or possibly thought I was secretly running drugs), “My friends and family don’t like to travel as much as I do and I see no reason why I should sit at home just because they don’t want to tag along.” I’m going to do what I want – if others want to come along for the ride – awesome; if not – I’ve got this on my own.

  5. Travel all over the world, more than 125days per year and absolutely eat out solo on a regular basis.

  6. I eat out alone quite a bit, but sometimes the service you get as a solo is WAY worse than you’d get if you were with someone. I can think of two times this year when I just left the restaurant because I was seated by the host, then ignored by the waitstaff–possibly because the host is apt to put a solo diner in an out-of-the-way place.

    When I get good service solo, I try to tip well, so that they know it’s appreciated. And when I get bad service as a solo woman, I will tweet about it–not that that’s resulted in anything great.

  7. I have no issue with eating out alone. I will typically do so at the bar. Not from any fear of asking for a table for one, but rather because I LIKE the opportunity for conversation. I am definitely an extrovert and will opt for an opportunity to interact with others over solo time most of the time, so maybe it is an introvert vs. extrovert thing.

  8. I tend to prioritize very fancy restaurants more than my friends do, and, half the time, if they do choose to go with me, I end up third wheeling them and their partner (single life, y’all). So, I eat solo quite a bit. I pick one fancy restaurant in my town, Lyft, so I can wine pair, and generally come away with a fantastic memory of a great meal. I can’t do this often, but even as a grad student, I’m able to manage it once or twice a quarter.

    I also love solo travel, which is where I got used to solo dining…much easier to test the waters if everyone is speaking Swedish :). I read Kristen Lavransdattar mostly in restaurants in Stockholm.

    1. @DVStudent – love the idea of reading KL in Stockholm. And yes, that would get you through a lot of solo dinners!

  9. I quite like eating solo, but I’ve definitely had a few “just the one?” questions from waitstaff/hosts. Or if I sit solo and eat at a bar (I like watching sports), that definitely seems to invite conversation I’d prefer not to have, as you note.

    I WOULD however like to put in a plug for room service BREAKFAST while traveling solo for work. One of my favorite things to do on business travel is get up for a morning workout at the hotel gym, come back, shower, and then time the room service (ordered the night before) such that it arrives right when I get out of the shower. I eat in my robe while my hair starts to dry and I watch morning TV. I always order a large breakfast when I do this–eggs, potatoes, fruit, coffee–which I love because as a vegetarian, business trip lunches are often unreliable and I find myself making do with a granola bar and crappy side salad. It’s a nice routine to ensure I get some “me” time in before the craziness of the work day starts, and it makes traveling for work feel a little more luxurious!

    1. @Holly – I may have to try this on days I’m not dashing out the door in the morning! It is true that they usually have those little cards you can fill out and put on the door to ask for a specific time the next day.

  10. Laura, I think like you I never thought about it until I heard about others having an issue with it. Plus, I must admit that just after being divorced, I thought about it all the time. Eating out alone was even worse than going home to an empty house.

    Plus, I think it depends upon where you live, as to whether you’ll sense or hear this from others. I often sense an initial puzzled reaction to “table for one” from the host staff at any sit-down restaurant in my very family-oriented, suburban corner of the world. I never felt that when living in and around NYC.

    1. @Broc – I agree that how you’re feeling may influence how you feel about dining out solo. Eating out alone after a divorce while being surrounded by couples would definitely be hard!
      Side note – my husband told me he once accidentally went out alone on Valentine’s Day. This was before we met. He’d been traveling and didn’t really have much sense of what day it was and he goes out to a nice restaurant solo, looks around at the roses and candlelight and is like “Oh…”

  11. I eat out solo quite a bit, at all sorts of restaurants. I think the stigma of eating out alone, at least for women, is left over from the time before the early 1970s and the women’s liberation movement. If a woman are out alone, it was assumed she was “not nice” – either fast or a prostitute, looking for a hookup. Naturally, that’s one of several possibilities, but at that time, it was supposedly the only possibility. I’m glad we can dine out now without that assumption.

  12. This is so true and I wasn’t aware till my husband commented on a gentleman dining alone. It was so interesting to realise that the story in his head was that the poor guy had no family or friends to eat with! I cherish my alone time so I hadn’t made similar assumptions about the diner’s personal story. I quite like eating alone when I travel, particularly if I have had to spend the day connecting with a lot of new people – the need to be ‘on’ and engaging can be exhausting. I have been known to take a good book with me to read during my meal 🙂

  13. I’ve heard of this stigma and never once have experienced it. Especially since having kids, I relish meals alone in a restaurant 🙂 It just feels so luxurious – someone else is cooking, it’s a good meal, and I can read. I generally don’t do it when I’m in a hurry, though – part of what I like about it is that it’s a good time to relax. I dislike hotel room service when traveling because I don’t like eating where I sleep. It just feels more messy and hectic and confined. I’d rather go down to the hotel restaurant if I’m not wanting to leave the hotel entirely.

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