About a month ago, I came across this viral tweet. It had a picture of a man eating alone at a restaurant. He was in profile, so I couldn’t really see any emotion on his face. All I could see was a man. Eating. Alone. At a restaurant.
But the tweet it came with claimed the man was lonely.
I don’t know the story behind that photo, but it got me thinking about all the times I had eaten out alone recently. I never felt lonely. Nobody ditched me, nobody cancelled on me, because I didn’t invite anyone in the first place. I just wanted to eat alone.
Why I like eating out alone
I’m a freelancer and grad student, so I’m often working or studying at some coffee shop or restaurant. Since I don’t work in an office, where it’s easy to find a coworker to share a pizza with, dining alone is just more practical for me.
Besides that, the following are other reasons I like dining solo.
- I can eat whatever I want, wherever I want. When I’m with a group, I have to decide on a restaurant with the group, and then when it’s time to order, I have to decide on the dishes with the group. When I’m alone, I don’t have to consider anyone else’s preferences—I can just go for pasta all day errday, just the way I like it.Continue reading below ↓Continue reading below ↓Recommended Videos
- I don’t have to mind anyone else’s schedule. Everyone else is busy these days anyway—it’s near-impossible to lock down a date and time with a particular friend group. So if I really want to eat somewhere, sometimes I go it alone. That way, I can choose to do it next weekend, or live on the edge and do it right this second. Or I can choose to take my sweet time munching in the soft glow of candlelight, or be out of there after a few quick bites.
- I’m better able to watch what I eat. As someone who gains weight easily, eating solo allows me to limit my intake and not gobble up every morsel in front of me with reckless abandon. A study has found that eating in groups leads to larger food intake, and the bigger the group, the more you eat. Dieters, be warned!!!
- I can spend my time however I want. I can work. I can study. I can read a book. I can write in my journal. I can make playlists on Spotify. I can play Candy Crush until I run out of lives. Nobody can stop me.Continue reading below ↓
- I don’t have to sit through conversations I would rather not be part of. I love company, but some mealtime conversations just leave me feeling worse off. Especially if it involves too much gossip. Or backstabbing. Or arguing. I’m trying to be a better person, dammit.
- I get to people-watch. This is especially fun to do when you’re traveling to a new place. You get to learn more about its culture and people when you see how others interact over a meal: how loud or quiet they are, how affectionate or reserved they are, whether or not they keep to themselves, whether or not they clean up after themselves. (On that last count, the Philippines has a long way to go.)
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- I’m really comfortable doing things alone. I like how writer Miles Klee of MEL Magazine referred to eating out alone as a “power move.” He says, “It’s a chance for you to do you. Nobody’s going to look your way and think, ‘Wow, what a loser, slurping down ramen without a friend to ask them how it tastes.’”
But I also know that this sort of confidence comes with age. I remember being a teenager and being embarrassed to eat alone exactly because people might think I was a loser. So if you’re not there yet, don’t worry. You’ll get there.
Tips for those who want to try eating out alone
I know some people who always want company when dining out, and that’s great, too! We should all do what makes us happy! But for those of you who are sick of waiting for your friends to be free and want to throw caution to the wind and just savor that meal solo, here are some tips to start you off.
- Go for the smaller cafes and restaurants. These places tend to serve meals good for one to two persons, as opposed to family-style joints that offer mammoth plates. Coffee shops in particular attract lots of solo customers, so you’ll quickly find your tribe of lone wolves here. I’d caution against fast food places because the tables are too close together and the noise hardly makes for a relaxing time, but if you really want that burger, hey, don’t let me stop you.
The most important thing is that you love the restaurant you’re dining at so you get the most out of the entire experience—from the food to the ambiance.
- Choose the right spot. This goes without saying that you should pass on the larger tables which will make your aloneness more conspicuous, although more places offer communal tables now which are perfect for solo diners. Booth seats are great because they shield you from prying eyes. Corner tables are also perfect; even better if there’s a window you can look out of for maximum feels. If there’s a bar, sit there—it’s the prime place for the next item on this list.
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- Chat with the waitstaff. Try this when you’re sitting solo at the bar and the waitstaff is not too busy with other customers. It’s always entertaining to talk to them—you learn insider info, plus they remember you when you come back.
I remember dining alone on the first night of a solo trip to Bali and having the waitstaff keep me company. They taught me some Balinese words, plied me with free drinks, and posed for photos with me like we were best buds. Good times.Continue reading below ↓
- Do it before dinnertime. Diners are more likely to troop to a restaurant for social reasons in the dinner hours. If you’re still iffy about going solo, head there for brunch, lunch, or an afternoon snack instead so you don’t feel too much like a loner among big families, boisterous groups, or lovey-dovey couples.
- Have something to do. If you won’t be glued to your phone or laptop, bring reading material, a journal, a coloring book, a photo of Harry Styles, whatever. While eating out alone is great on its own, you also want to be able to train your eyes on something so you’re not always accidentally locking eyes with the guy at the next table who’s there with his girlfriend. (Awks.)
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- Try not to be self-conscious. Pay no mind to the people around you. Apart from maybe noticing you when you walk in, they’re probably too caught up in their own meals and conversations to care about the girl sitting alone with a photo of Harry Styles in the back corner. In fact, a study has found that people tend to overestimate the extent to which other people pay attention to their actions and appearance—it’s called the “spotlight effect.”
So go ahead and enjoy your solo meal. Just mind your own business. And try not to lock eyes with anyone. Unless they’re also alone. And cute. In which case, go for it.