Dining Alone: An inevitable part of business travel

One thing I get a lot of questions about is dining alone. If you travel for work, chances are you are going to spend a fair amount of meals by yourself. At first it’s a bit daunting, if not outright depressing, to go to a restaurant and ask for a table for one. But after a few times, it gets much easier. Now I actually look forward to it! No one to judge what I eat or drink, no one to have to entertain, and some quiet time where I can get stuff done or take it easy, while someone brings me whatever I want. Doesn’t that sound fun? Here are a few suggestions for getting you from uncomfortable to happy dining alone. (Pictured: My awesome meal at the Angus Barn in Raleigh.)

  • Don’t worry about others. One of the fears I hear often is that people feel sorry for people eating by themselves. But I promise—no one is looking at you, thinking, “That poor person is all alone!”  Chances are, they’re too involved with their own dinner companions to worry about anyone else, much less a single diner in the corner. If they do notice you, it’s probably because they’re not having too much fun themselves, and they envy your solitude!
  • Make it fun. Yes, you have to eat. But that doesn’t mean dinner out has to be a chore, to be finished as quickly as possible. Enjoy yourself! Order something delicious, try a new type of wine, taste a decadent dessert. With constant meetings, delayed flights, and never-ending emails, this may be the only down time you get during your trip! One of my favorite things to do on a trip is try local restaurants, especially ones well known for local specialties.
  • Bring something to do. For some, the worst part of eating dinner on your own is the discomfort of sitting at a table with no one to talk to. Well, if you bring work or something to read, that issue is eliminated. It can be hard to work on a computer once your food comes, but while you’re waiting is a great time to get a few things done. I also often bring my Kindle, and enjoy reading something fun while I’m out. If magazines are more your style, that works too. Just turn a dinner alone into time to do what you want. Enjoy it!

Yes, you can order room service and eat in your room, avoiding dining alone. But you’re missing out on the opportunity to try something new, get away from work for a little while, be around others, and enjoy yourself!

Readers, what are your best tips for surviving eating alone?

Comments

  1. If you absolutely hate to dine alone sit at the bar. The majority of restaurants will serve you at the bar & then you always have the bar tender to chat with as well as other people sitting at the bar.

  2. Totally agree on the above tip. And there may be a TV at the bar and you can catch up on sports and news.

  3. I really enjoy your blog. As a relatively new road warriorette (coming up 1 yr) I find your blog very informative and relatable. This week in Wintson-Salem, NC I got a double take from the waitress when I asked for a table for 1 at a local brewery. Then spent the whole meal talking to my husband on the phone. Usually I just enjoy the atmosphere and people watch.

  4. I do not like sitting at the bar – being a vegetarian and someone who does not drink alcohol tends to contribute to that. But I sit at a table where I can look at the TV and usually bring a couple of newspapers to read while waiting for the food. I also catch up on current news or reading on the Kindle or a real book or magazine.

  5. through 4 years of work travel, i still never felt all that comfortable dining alone! when i got the courage to dine alone, i did ask for a corner table so i could at least people watch. and then i’d tweet a lot about the people i observed. made me feel more connected to the rest of the world. 🙂

  6. I’m not a people person so I dont like sitting at the bar (talking to someone you dont know next to you or bartenders). I bring newspapers with me when i have to dine out. Or I get something real quick from 7-11 or similar convenient stores and eat in.

  7. I used to feel uncomfortable as well but now I don’t really mind, especially after a long day when I don’t necessarily feel like talking. Totally agree with the kindle tip. It’s probably the best thing to bring along. And I’ve also become much less paranoid about what people might think. As you say, most of them don’t care!
    For me room service is really the thing to avoid most. Not seeing anyone, not experiencing the city (and let’s not forget the horrible smell in the room, horrendous price for average food at best and the long wait time).

  8. iPad is yor friend! Mine, and my iPhone go with me just about everywhere. I spend many weeks a year traveling, and most of that time, outside of business meals, is by myself. I just pull up my blog reader, or writer app, or book, or whatever. Outside of big cities it sometimes gets a few glances, but it’s becoming more common, especially in coffee shops.

  9. I often see others sitting alone – clearly on business trips. Often wonder if I should say hi. Rarely do though and bury my head in a book or my computer. Would be nice to find a ‘travelers sign’ that you would welcome a conversation and that an approach is not a pick up.

  10. I watch comedy or cartoon episodes on Netflix. You won’t notice anyone staring when you’re cracking up. I do have occasions where others ask what I’m watching that is so funny – which in turn leads to some fun conversations.

  11. I actually read boardingarea.com on my iPhone during dinners while travelling…like I’m doing right now!

  12. I usually will sit at the bar when I eat out alone. Being vegetarian makes no difference at all, and there’s no pressure to “drink” either, although I usually will order a glass of wine. Even (especially?) at higher-end restaurants, I like the slightly less formal atmosphere and quicker service of the bar. I have never felt like I had to engage in conversation, although one time a bunch of people who were in Boston during a huge snowstorm kind of bonded.
    One safety note: don’t put your smartphone on the bar (too easy to be stolen or lost), and always be careful and discreet about going back to your hotel room!

  13. I don’t mind dining alone, but I don’t enjoy it much either. There’s something innately lonely about it. For thousands and thousands of years people have eaten together. As babies if we hadn’t had company for meals we would have perished. We’re not babies now I know but there’s a little part of me that still doesn’t like being left alone screaming in the corner!

    On a less fanciful note, one tip is to eat earlier before the drunks come out. Not always possible after a long day’s work of course….

  14. I don’t mind dining out alone. If I have time to enjoy a dinner, I look on Yelp for a unique local restaurant. I bring my Nook or some work and read through dinner.

    I find it quite empowering to be able to do things like that on my own. And if people around me want to judge, well it’s likely that they just aren’t comfortable enough to eat alone themselves and that’s their issue, not mine.

  15. I find that men are more comfortable eating alone than women. This must be the way we were raised. When a man eats alone, it is cool. A woman eating alone appears less socially acceptable especially in small towns.

  16. I eat alone all the time — on business trips and locally. You’re right, we may feel conspicuous, but no one is looking at us.

    But there’s tactics for dining alone..and then there’s the Art of it: MFK Fisher covers dining alone in many of her writings, but most especially in An Alphabet for Gourmets. “A is for Dining Alone…and so am I…” If you dine alone, it is mandatory (and delightful) reading.

  17. I bring a Kindle, too. I even have one with a built in book light (in the cover) which is useful in some restaurants where it is too dark to read.

    My problem is that I often have to leave the meal to hit the loo (an even more difficult problem on flights). With no one else there, I’ve had plates cleared before I was done and have been accused of trying to skip out on a check when the facilities were not inside the restaurant.

    Lately I’ve been staying in rooms where I can cook such as Residence Inn.

  18. I do takeouts from above-average restaurants and eat in the comfort of my room, watching netflix usually on my laptop. It’s completely ‘me’ time and I look forward to it.

  19. If I’m traveling alone and/or have no one with whom to dine, I’d much rather order room service and relax while I eat. I can watch tv, read, work, lie on the bed, look out the window–whatever I like. I don’t have to put up with the expectations of others or pretend about anything, and it’s much more relaxing. I’m not antisocial–just into personal comfort when possible.

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