10 Tips for Dining Alone on the Road
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Even for the most outgoing of extroverts, dining alone can be daunting. Not as daunting as it was in, say, 1964, when restaurants would sometimes not even seat single ladies. (This is one of those times I wish my mother were alive so I could say, what? Really?)
The "table for one" phobia is so common it’s even got a name: solomangarephobia.
(Okay, that might be a joke. Break it down... solo - mangare - phobia. Brilliant!)
Even so, I'm all for it. Here's why:
It's the best way to get insider info on the town. What's it like living here now? How have things changed? Who's sleeping with who?
Local cuisine. That shrimp and grits on the Riverwalk in Wilmington. Thank you. Again.
It's hard to find a good Cosmo in your hotel room.
Today - thank you smart phones - it’s the easiest thing in the world. Not like back in the day, when dining alone meant trying to act cool while squinting at magazines in the dark.
Here are a few of my keys to the kingdom when it comes to dining alone. Your own tips are more than welcome in the comment section below.
1. Sit at the Bar – If the bar is quiet, that's where I go. I love the informality of it. You can talk, not talk, watch tv, snooze – no one cares. Plus, bartenders are way more likely to comp you a drink than waiters.
2. Ask for a Table – Even though I’m a pretty confident extrovert, if the bar is busy and loud, I often feel my inner self-conscious-middle-aged-lady-who’s-about-due-for-a-hot-flash poking her head out. In that case, I say F-it and get a table. Smile at the waitress. Spend a lot. Own that table for two.
3. Google it – Neither TripAdvisor nor Yelp have clued in to (or care) about the single dining market. How hard would it be to add a category to their filters – Good for Solo Dining? You'll have way more luck Googling “best restaurants for dining alone in XX.”
4. TripAdvisor it – Having said that, if you’re looking to sit at the bar (see #1, above), TripAdvisor is the perfect first stop. Under “Establishment Type” filter on Bar or Pub. Then scan the results to eliminate the biker bars, sports bars, dive bars, etc. (unless you’re into that – no judgment).
5. Go early, or late – Another common tip, but also true: avoid the rush. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant dining room, you know what it’s like to get slammed. Servers might really want to hear about your day on the road, but to them the world is just tables, and tickets, and orders getting cold. When the rush is on, it's easy to start feeling like a commodity, and who needs that?
6. Order tortellini – Eating spaghetti in public is a bitch. Or maybe that's just me. The point is: fork food. If you don’t like tortellini, fine. Get chicken (not fried), or pork (not ribs), or steak (not burger). The only food that’s safe to pick up in public is French Fries. (Ketchup elevates the risk factor, but worth it.)
7. Pre-charge your cell phone – If the place turns out to be a dud, you’ve always got your virtual buds.
8. Ask for...something – After dinner (alone) on the English seacoast, I wanted to linger, so I walked to the bar and asked the bartender for a light. (Oh, the glory days of asking for a light. What do people say now? Can I hit your juul?) Not only did I get a light, my authentic American accent also got me a seat at the bar and a pint, and when the closing bell rang, an invite to stay behind with the owners and staff. We told tales for hours. So even if you can't ask for a light, ask what’s interesting to see nearby, or where your server is from and how'd they land here…you get the idea. Be friendly, and work that accent.
9. Be safe - I don’t live in fear when I travel, but it makes sense to use a little caution. I don’t volunteer that I’m traveling alone – I might hint that my husband is in the hotel room – and I make a point to text someone from wherever I am. And I don’t flirt, drink too much, or stay too late. (Unless it's a bar in Lyme Regis.)
10. Leave a good tip – This really has nothing to do with traveling alone; rather, it has to do with making it just a little easier for all of us. Women have an atrocious reputation for being bad tippers. My own experience, peeking at checks when I’ve gone out with other women, proves this to be all too true. There’s just no excuse for that. In our culture, we tip 15-20% at full-service restaurants if everything went well, which it usually does. We need to man-up and accept that. There are plenty of self-service or counter-service restaurants out there, but if we want a nice dining experience where tipping is the norm, we need to be normal. ‘Nuf said.
If you are truly, truly panicked about the idea of dining alone, this post from Indiana Jo may help to prepare you for entry. If you’re worried about being liked by the maître d’ or your server, this one from Eater will put the fear of God into you.
Table for one photo from brightsideme.com
Ribs photo from Yelp (with apologies)