Solo Travel And Solo Dining

by Gray Cargill on November 23, 2009

Nobody has asked me this yet, but I imagine some visitors to my blog might get confused sometimes about why I write so many restaurant reviews at SoloFriendly.com.  Isn’t this supposed to be a solo travel blog?  Shouldn’t I just be talking about the solo travel experience and let sites like Chowhound worry about restaurant reviews?  Well, I am focusing on the solo travel experience.  Eating out alone is part of that experience.

The reason I focus on restaurants so much is that many would-be solo travelers (and even some experienced solo travelers) have great anxiety about dining alone when on the road.  They’re not used to dining alone and are afraid that they’ll be treated poorly by waitstaff or shunned by pitying strangers who will see them as “friendless”.   I write about my solo dining experiences to try to show others that there’s really nothing to fear and that you don’t have to be restricted to fast food, takeout, or room service when you travel solo.

You can have a truly enjoyable meal all by yourself in a restaurant.  Many people dine solo. I could (and have) given general advice about dining out alone, but when I’m doing research for my trips, I find it useful to read specifics about another solo traveler’s experiences (“What was it like to eat alone at Restaurant X?”).  I figure if I find those sorts of reviews useful, others must, too.

Bartop Dining

You’ll notice in my reviews that if I have a great experience, I’ll tell you that.  If I have a bad experience, I’ll tell you that too.  I try to note whether a restaurant has plenty of two-top tables, other solo diners, bartop dining, TVs, windows, and other features that make it a good solo dining spot, or whether it really did seem to be populated with couples, families, and groups.   I’ll note what service is like and how friendly the waitstaff and bartenders seem to be.  I also try to note what meals cost because I know that, as a solo traveler covering all the costs of your trip by yourself, you might need to be budget-conscious.  If I notice I am treated differently for being solo than other customers, believe me, I’ll say so.

We solo travelers have to look out for each other and share our experiences at specific restaurants with each other.  I don’t want to waste my time or money by going to a restaurant that doesn’t care about customers who are dining alone.  And I’d hate to see someone turned off from dining alone because of a bad experience at the wrong restaurant.  I have found that 95% of all restaurants I have eaten at while traveling solo were pleasant experiences. Of course, good food counts, too–why go to a solo-friendly restaurant if the food is crap?

Do you enjoy my restaurant reviews, or would you rather see more general posts about solo travel?  Are there aspects of the solo dining experience that I don’t currently cover in my reviews that you’d like to know about?  How do you feel about dining alone?

SoloFriendly December 5, 2009 at 3:46 am

Welcome to my blog, Jack! You're absolutely right about the waitstaff. I find them to be a little extra friendly when I'm alone. They try a little harder. But I also have a strategy for not being uncomfortable while dining alone–bring distractions with me in case I need them. If I'm focused on writing in my journal or reading something or flipping through the photos on my camera, I sort of lose track of where I am, so there's none of that awkwardness while I'm waiting for food to arrive. Works for me, anyway.

Jack December 5, 2009 at 12:56 am

Eating out solo is a tricky one, easy to become quite uncomfortable. On the other hand, you can also take everything at your pace, check out the passersby, and order whatever you feel like 😉

And wait staff often are friendlier too.

SoloFriendly December 4, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Welcome to my blog, Jack! You're absolutely right about the waitstaff. I find them to be a little extra friendly when I'm alone. They try a little harder. But I also have a strategy for not being uncomfortable while dining alone–bring distractions with me in case I need them. If I'm focused on writing in my journal or reading something or flipping through the photos on my camera, I sort of lose track of where I am, so there's none of that awkwardness while I'm waiting for food to arrive. Works for me, anyway.

Jack December 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Eating out solo is a tricky one, easy to become quite uncomfortable. On the other hand, you can also take everything at your pace, check out the passersby, and order whatever you feel like 😉

And wait staff often are friendlier too.

SoloFriendly November 25, 2009 at 5:03 am

Sometimes it's lonely, but not as much as you might think–for me, anyway. I'm an introvert, so I'm pretty good at “alone time”. What do I think about? Whatever pops into my head, which can be a lot of flotsam and jetsom–things I need to remember to do, trying to remember the name of the song playing in the background, what will happen next on my favorite TV show, you name it. Usually I'll review what I've done that day in my journal or flip through the photos on my digital camera and delete the duds. If I'm at a bar, I'll watch the TV but secretly wish they were tuned to the news instead of sports. If I'm in a position to people-watch, that can be entertaining. Once the food arrives, that's pretty much all I think about. 🙂

joanna_haugen November 24, 2009 at 9:54 pm

I would think that dining alone would be a little bit lonely, but it's probably a good opportunity to grow as a person too. As I don't dine by myself often (ever?), I'm wondering what you think about when you do.

SoloFriendly November 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Good luck with the trial run, Stephanie! For some reason, I find it more comfortable to dine alone when traveling than at home. Don't know why. I'll be interested to hear what your experience is. Let me know.

Stephanie November 24, 2009 at 11:33 am

I think you make some very good points about solo dining. It is one of the things I am least comfortable with when traveling alone- i usually end up eating street food or fast food to avoid it although I'm trying to become better about it. I think I'm going to start doing some trial runs at home to boost my courage.

SoloFriendly November 23, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Given how long you're on the road at any given time, that doesn't surprise me, Matt. It's one thing to do it for a week or two, but for months at a time? Yeah, I could see it getting old after awhile. Do you try to find someone to dine with during your travels?

Nomadic Matt November 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

After awhile, all the solo dinners become boring and sad. I can eat alone with ease but I don't like it anymore.

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