Eating alone on a business trip

What is it about eating alone that’s so hard? How can you make it easier? Reader B asks…

I started a new job with business travel earlier this year. I really like my job, but there is one thing that I can’t figure out how to make better. Every time I eat out by myself I feel like everyone is looking at me and feeling sorry for me. Why can’t I just ignore them? What can I do to not feel like such a loser when I’m by myself at a restaurant?

Reader B, I can so, totally relate. The first few years of my new job and constant business travel were a big adjustment for a number of reasons, and this was a big one. I went from working in an office, surrounded by coworkers and friends, to being by myself all the time! I hadn’t worked with any of my new clients long enough to feel comfortable inviting them out to dinner, and didn’t have a plan in place to feel comfortable on my own.

Eventually I figured out a few things to help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Sit at the bar. If you don’t want to feel like people are looking at you, sit at the bar and face away from them! Bonus: bartenders are generally friendly and will chat with you.
  • Bring something to do. Whether it’s your Kindle, work, or Netflix on your phone, being engrossed in your own activity means you won’t even notice others.
  • Go somewhere that feels like a treat. If you love pasta, find the best Italian place around. If (like me) you love wine, go somewhere with a fabulous wine list. (Pictured: a wine flight from Vino Volo. Yessssssss.) Dinner out feels like a treat when it’s something I’m really excited about eating.
  • Do something fun. Is there a way to combine food with a fun activity? For example, Alamo Drafthouse (super fun movie theater that started in my hometown) has locations all across the US now. You can eat surprisingly great food while watching the latest blockbuster.

Once I had a couple of years of frequent business travel under my belt the whole eating alone thing started bothering me way less. These days I have so many client meetings at dinner that I look forward to a meal alone! Honestly, I finally realized that most other people are so focused on their own food and lives that they literally don’t notice if other people are alone. And I bet some of them envy your solitude!

Readers, do you like eating alone on business trips, or hate it? What do you do to make it feel less lonely?

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Comments

  1. When 1st moved to New York City I didn’t know a lot of people so I was forced to do things along like eating out, movies, etc. It bothered me at 1st but the more I did it the more I noticed a lot of the people around me were also alone and everyone just minded their own business.

  2. I agree – eating at the bar is the way to go. Once you sit down, it’s easy. Every once in a while I will order room service, if I have a lot of work to prepare for the next day, and/or if it is late and I am exhausted. But the wait, the cost, and the idea of stranger in my hotel room all kind of bum me out. So more typically, if I want to eat in my room, I will find a place to do take-out. And hotel bars will almost always let you take a glass of wine to your room.

  3. I travel for work every week, so I eat alone a lot. I couldn’t care less what others are thinking if they notice me eating by myself. If for some reason they do feel sorry for me or think I’m a loser, that’s on them, not me!

    I very rarely sit at the bar and when asked by the hostess, I always opt for the dining room. After a long day with clients, I want to relax and I think a normal chair or booth is far more comfortable than a bar stool.

  4. I’m also a big fan of room service, or maybe takeout. Also, restaurant food is often kind of heavy (even the salads) so if it’s a longer trip, there are many days when I just grab a snack from a nearby cafe or grocery store.
    But if I feel like eating in a restaurant, that is what I do. I doubt most people pay any attention (unless I make a scene), especially if they have company. I usually bring a book or work papers to pass time while waiting for my order. And, if possible, I choose a window table, so I can do some people-watching of my own.

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