Club Soda and Salt

No more stains

On dining alone

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on November 3, 2009

Frequent travel builds up a lot of skills, and perhaps the one that I have honed the most over the last few years has been learning to dine alone. It’s not as easy as it seems – I have memories of wandering the streets of Barcelona or Paris feeling too self-conscious to take a meal at a proper café, and instead subjecting myself to terrible fast food options. It was a sad state of affairs, one that I suspect afflicts all too many people, especially the casual traveler on his or her first solo jaunt. The good news is that I’ve managed to get past all that. I now boldly eat wherever I please, and have learned to really appreciate those solo meals. So the next time you find yourself in a culinary capital needing a table for only one, here are some thoughts on how to beat that nagging feeling of being quietly judged.

  • Confidence is essential. And really, there’s no reason for you not to have it – despite silly social judgments and conventions, there’s nothing _wrong_ with lone dining. So ask for your table for one with timber in your voice.
  • Bring a book. My preference is something engaging, but also a little demanding. David Foster Wallace rather than Snowcrash. I also enjoy reading the local English-language daily to get some flavor for local controversies.
  • A notebook is also a plus. Eating alone gives you time to think, what with being freed of the obligation to make conversation, and you should make the most of it. Where do you think this got written?
  • I’d also suggest leaving the laptop in the hotel room safe. A laptop is just too attention-grabbing and makes it unlikely that you will spend any time making observations. Take your notes on paper. A nice bonus is that this makes you look more intellectual and less like a hipster.
  • You obviously shouldn’t be drinking yourself into a stupor, but a glass or two is OK by me. There’s no reason to subject yourself to meal after meal with water and soda, and almost anywhere will have local wine or beer that’s worth checking out.
  • Choose your spot wisely. You don’t want to be eating alone at the Cheesecake Factory. I suggest tapas and the like – places that will give you small portions (so you can sample a lot of things) and have some atmosphere.
  • And finally, I’ve always found that a good way to forget about being silently judged is to spend time silently judging others! People smoking near their kids (harder to spot in the US, but easy elsewhere), fellow tourists ordering in boisterous English or demanding that their food arrive “rapido”, or just plain old ridiculous hipsters – the possibilities for looking down on others for fun are endless.

Now you can go forth and eat alone, and never worry about having to cower in shame in a McDonald’s in Shanghai.  You can thank me later.

3 Responses to “On dining alone”

  1. […] blogger Club Soda and Salt shares his thoughts “on how to beat that nagging feeling of being quietly judged” when […]

  2. Chennette said

    Yeah, when I think back to the first time I was really a lone traveler/diner – when I was studying for a few months in Canada, I regret all the interesting looking places I passed by in favour of pizza and bagels because I was 20 and cowardly. Now, however, I can go enjoy dinner anywhere with or without books and whatnot (although a camera is always on hand for the food!) and completely pull off the nonchalance…even if some days I might be pretending. It’s easier in hotel restaurants where you’re staying because it’s more usual, and I guess I built on that. However, what does one do when traveling with colleagues who ignore the whole of Brussels to chow down in McD’s for EVERY meal. Ditch them I suppose.

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