Attitudes toward dining alone in a restaurant vary enormously. There are some people for whom it is simply unthinkable. They don’t do it, they can’t imagine ever doing it, and they assume that anyone who would go to a restaurant (or a movie theater or the beach or most other public places) alone must be some kind of a loser, or must be at some terrible, lonely point in his or her life.
There are other people who would probably be puzzled that anyone would feel self-conscious about eating alone, or look down on someone eating alone. For them, if someone were to ask “How can you bear to go to a restaurant by yourself?” it would be like asking “How can you bear to go to a shoe store by yourself?” or “How can you bear to go to the gas station and fill up your tank by yourself?” It’s just a normal human activity. Sometimes you happen to be with someone when you do it, and sometimes you don’t. But you certainly don’t have to be with someone when you do it; it’s not wrong or weird to go to a restaurant alone.
But for those people who are somewhere in between-not appalled by the very suggestion that they might one day dine in a restaurant alone, and not fully comfortable and unself-conscious about dining in a restaurant alone-here are a few tips to maybe make it a little easier:
1. Pick times and types of restaurants where you’ll feel less out of place eating alone.
Date night at a popular night spot is probably not the best time for you to venture out alone. On the other hand, there are many places where someone dining alone does not stand out as unusual at all, including downtown eateries at lunch time (lots of office workers at least sometimes grab a bite on their lunch break alone), fast food restaurants, and restaurants in and near airports and train stations that serve a lot of travelers.
A lot of it too is a matter of personal taste. Most people dining alone would probably prefer to go to a restaurant when it’s slow. Fewer people to stare at them and wonder about them.
On the other hand, some people would feel less self-conscious precisely when a restaurant is busiest. They can get lost in the crowd. People’s attention will be more likely to be occupied by their companions and all the hubbub; they won’t even notice the person sitting quietly alone amidst it all.
2. Eat at the bar or counter.
This really has to do with whether when you eat alone in a restaurant you consider it a problem to be solved. That is, is your goal to cease being alone, to meet up with other people?
If so, that’s far more likely to happen if you’re sitting at the bar or counter in a restaurant. For you to strike up a conversation with someone, or for someone to reach out to you, would be the norm. Whereas if you’re sitting at a table by yourself, it can still happen but it requires crossing a greater social distance and is less likely.
When you have the option but you choose to sit at a table, that’s a way of saying you actually prefer to be alone on this occasion. Whereas when you choose a seat at the counter or bar, it’s assumed you’re at least open to interacting with others.
3. Bring along something to read.
Solitary dining calls for activities that are actually facilitated by being alone. Reading is a prime example. Having another person at the table makes it difficult (and rude) to concentrate on your book. Whereas when you’re by yourself, and thus have no companions upon whom to focus your attention, it’s a great time to enjoy your meal at a leisurely pace while catching up on your reading.
(By the way, where do people who thinks it’s sad and pitiful to go to a restaurant alone read? Presumably they do read after all, and reading is by its nature a solitary activity. Do they only read when they’re home alone? If for some reason it’s pitiful for a person to sit alone at Starbucks or Burger King or the local diner reading their newspaper, wouldn’t it be at least as pitiful to sit home all alone doing so?)
4. Change your attitude.
Why is eating alone something you regard negatively in the first place? As noted, different people have very different attitudes about it. If it somehow bothers you, or you feel self-conscious about it, or you fear what others who see you will think, it’s only because you choose to have these attitudes.
If you wanted, you could instead be like the people for whom it’s not even an issue. Why do you always have to have someone with you? What would you think of someone who refrained from going to the bank or going through a car wash because “I can’t go alone. I’d feel like such a loser”?
Maybe the more pitiful people are precisely the folks who actually care what some strangers would think if they saw them eating pancakes alone at the IHOP.
Dancing Fool, “How to Eat Alone at a Restaurant.” eHow.
“Dining Alone-Solo Travelers & Backpackers.” Solo Travel.
“How to Dine Alone.” eHow.