Last week I booked a trip to Prague for Christmas that extends into Vienna through New Year’s. I have tickets to see several operas in each city (even the impossibly difficult to obtain Vienna State Opera) and tickets for the New Year’s Silvester Ball at the Hofburg Palace. And I’m going on the entire trip alone.
This won’t be my first completely solo trip. A few years ago I ventured to Montréal by myself and the weekend was a complete dream (well, after the hiccup with a cancelled flight leaving me stranded overnight in Minneapolis). I regularly go to New York City alone and last year spent New Years in Washington DC by myself.
Whenever people find out I travel alone, the first question they ask always surprises me: Is it weird to eat out alone?
I’m always shocked that it’s not the 10+ hour flight, not having anyone to talk to, or wandering through an unfamiliar city alone at night that makes people nervous. It’s eating at a restaurant, surrounded by other people eating, that people find intimidating. Which, in my mind, is the least intimidating thing about traveling alone!
I will admit that the first time I ate out alone I felt a little crazy. Especially when I challenged myself to do it at home in Salt Lake City, where I was bound to run into someone I knew and where, frankly, hardly anyone dines alone. But it’s actually incredibly enjoyable and relaxing. To help prove my point, here are 6 tips for dining out alone (whether you’re on vacation or not):
1. Ask for the Scenic Seat.
Proudly tell the hostess that you’re dining alone, then request a seat with a view, whether it’s near the window overlooking the street or one with a peek into the kitchen to watch the chef in action. A lot of restaurants like to put one-top tables at the bar to save larger tables for more people, so they may put you in view of the bartender before you even request it.
2. Or don’t.
Sometimes sitting at the bar is the worst place in the restaurant, especially if you’re there to really enjoy the food. It seems like whenever I’m trying to get lost in my meal while I’m sitting at the bar, the other solo diners are anxious to strike up a conversation. Sitting at a regular table prevents the awkward small talk from happening. However, I’ll note that I’ve made some friends by sitting at the bar, like in Montréal when I actually ended up hanging out with my fellow bar-mate and her friends the next night.
3. Resist the urge to be on your phone.
I know the default mode these days is to constantly be on your phone, but resist that urge even though you’re eating alone. Yes, there is an endless world of entertainment at your fingertips, but enjoy the moment and put your phone away. It really is possible to enjoy your own company, so relax and challenge yourself not to be on your phone during your meal.
4. Really taste your food.
Since you’re not distracted by your phone and you’re not deep in conversation with anyone, take the opportunity to truly indulge in your meal and taste every flavor on your plate. Some of the most memorable meals of my life have been when I’ve been eating alone, probably because I had nothing else to do but really savor each bite.
5. Take your time.
One of the things I’ve noticed when I eat alone is that I tend to eat really quickly, probably because I’m not pausing for conversation and because it feels a little awkward to be sitting there doing nothing. So I’ve learned to challenge myself to eat slowly and not shovel food in. In addition to tip no. 4, put your fork down between bites, people-watch those around you (not in a creepy way!), and take in the moment. Breathe; it’s not a race.
6. Realize no one is watching you.
It’s easy to think that other diners are watching you thinking it’s weird you’re eating alone, when in reality no one even notices. When I went to a five-course dinner on Valentine’s Day by myself, I worried people would think it was weird I was solo on the biggest date night of the year. But people are busy enjoying their own dinners, distracted by their own lives and they don’t even notice that there’s a random person eating alone. So relax! You’ll never see them again anyway.
The bottom line is to enjoy yourself. Order the weird appetizer none of your friends would like and splurge on the tasting menu for once. I love sharing a meal with people but dining alone has its perks too!
I admit that not everyone is comfortable taking a trip alone (especially to the other side of the world over a family-oriented holiday), but I do encourage–no, challenge–you to go out to dinner alone. Take yourself on a date and you’ll realize that it’s not half as scary as you think!
And then the next time you need someone to eat with, let me know. I’m always in the mood for food!