Travelling for work often means travelling alone, which inevitably means confronting the awkward hell of dining alone. But if you do it right, it can actually be quite enjoyable. (Promise).
The main thing to remember is that people are far more concerned about themselves than they are about other people. So although you may feel self-conscious, remember that most of it is psychological and it’d be a shame to let awkwardness get in the way of enjoying some little culinary wonder.
Tracey Nesbitt, editor of the Solo Traveler website says: “I’m all about the food and wine, so I’m quite happy to dine alone. I usually choose a window seat so I have something else to look at as well.
“Sometimes people at the next table will strike up a conversation, sometimes the wait staff give me extra attention because I’m on my own, and sometimes I combine my meal with looking at brochures and planning for the next day. I find that staff are generally very accommodating to solo travelers, and will usually offer to let me choose my own table.”
You don’t have to be Indiana Jones
You may feel like you need to be adventurous, but Hannah Loaring, who runs the travel blog Further Bound says it’s perfectly fine to operate within your comfort zone.
“The main thing is to choose places to eat where you will feel most comfortable. I like to seek out smaller restaurants and cafes with friendly staff and a warm atmosphere.”
Take a book/magazine/phone
Even if you don’t end up reading it, it’s a security blanket in case you need something to fiddle with. Some people are for and against phones - on the one hand they act as a buffer so you won’t engage or have spontaneous conversations with bar staff or other diners. On the other hand, some travellers say it’s a great way to catch up with your family, for instance using FaceTime.
Anika Newjoto at headforpoints.com, the UK’s biggest frequent flyer website, is a great advocate for FaceTiming home but says: “Use headphones!”
Opt for bar seating
If you feel too self-conscious, dining at the bar is a happy medium as it’s not too obvious you’re eating solo.
Tracey says: “For those who enjoy a more social experience, having your dinner at the bar can be a great option. Conversations tend to flow naturally, and I’ve met some very interesting people that way. And if it’s not busy, you can chat with the bartender or wait staff when they have time.”
You don’t have to leave the hotel
Just because you aren’t eating in your room doesn’t mean you need to leave the hotel to mix with other humans. In fact after a long day, you may relish the idea of eating somewhere a lift-ride away from your room.
Just be savvy about where you choose to dine. Instead of the hotel restaurant - which can sometimes feel too formal - look at other areas where food is served such as a lounge.
Rob Burgess from headforpoints.com says: “If your hotel has a club lounge, it can be worth upgrading. Not only can it make sense financially, as you’ll get breakfast and evening snacks and drinks included, but you don’t feel at all self-conscious sitting alone in a lounge.”
Alternatively, he says the most casual restaurant in a hotel is usually the lobby lounge.
“The bustle of guests coming and going around you makes for a very informal atmosphere where you won’t look out of place eating alone,” he adds.
Do Your Research
Before you set out, have an idea in mind of where you want to go or you may lose your nerve.
“When it comes to dining alone,” says travel advice website IndianaJo, “choosing a restaurant off the cuff is just another daunting task to add to an already intimidating activity. Wandering around the streets promising yourself that you’ll just eat at whichever place looks nice/is least busy/ takes your fancy is most likely going to involve you walking the streets for a long time before finally getting frustrated with yourself and heading home.
“Choose the restaurant in advance and not only do you remove one decision from the equation, you’ve made the first step in committing to a night out alone.”
Lastly, Own It
Once you get over your self-consciousness, think about the upsides. If the food is terrible, or you sit down and don’t like the ambience, you don’t have to do that polite thing of worrying if you’ll embarrass your dining companion.
You literally can just slink out.
Same thing regarding your Instagramming your food. No apologies here, just lots and lots of artful pictures of your latte with no one to cast judgement.