One of the most overlooked social difficulties of being a student (often lone) traveller is the prospect of eating alone in a restaurant, particularly in a foreign country. Our Travel Editor shares her own tips based on personal experience.
Sitting in a restaurant alone can be awkward. You don’t know where to look, there’s no conversation to fill the pause between order and course and the waiters look at you as though you have been stood up. Yet eating solo is often necessary when travelling alone and even when not (many people enjoy taking time with a nice meal and a book) but this necessity doesn’t remove that slight unease of being surrounded by families or dates while sat at a table meant for four with only your bag as company. Having Wi-Fi can make the experience slightly more tolerable; you can browse the news for a limited period of time or scroll on various feeds, but that doesn’t make up for the fact you are unable to share your experience with someone, and that the waiter keeps looking over at you strangely. Sometimes the first night of eating alone is okay but by day fourteen, I can almost guarantee that you will have had enough and become fed up of the practice, instead choosing street food or convenience store options.
In order to make the experience more enjoyable I have come up with a short list in order to eat alone successfully.
- Research the restaurant
The last thing you want is to end up with bad food. If you are going to eat alone, make sure you eat somewhere you want to in the first place. For vegans and vegetarians, I recommend the Happy Cow app, and the Michelin Guide is guaranteed to give you good ideas.
- Take something to do
This can be a fully charged phone, a YouTube playlist, or a book you haven’t gotten round to reading yet. Just take something to hide behind. Equally, sunglasses could do the trick, weather permitting.
- Know how to call the waiters
Calling waiters over is something I still struggle with, let alone in a different language, but just make sure you are able to call them somehow. Then you aren’t stuck awkwardly waving. If they don’t see you, don’t be afraid to go up to them.
- Know tipping etiquette
Save yourself the embarrassment of doing it wrong and research first. Especially if you plan on rounding the bill up- this could result in the waiter chasing you with change.
- Ignore everyone else
At the end of the day whether you are treating yourself or just need to eat during your travels, no one else has a right to comment on your behaviour and their opinion doesn’t matter. We all need to eat. Enjoy your meal, thank the waiters, and if you can’t eat alone the next night invite someone from your hostel for a meal. You may make a new friend and not have to suffer in silence again.