The Highs and Lows of Eating Alone
Whilst researching solo travel, part of the advice that popped up time and time again was preparing for dining solo. I read articles explaining how and why to embrace it, and its importance in the world of travel. Here are my insights into the pros and cons of eating alone:
The Highs and Lows of Eating Alone
Pros of Eating Alone
1.We’re watching you
When you enter a restaurant, you can pretty much choose any table you’d like. You’re alone, so you’re not taking up much room, right? Make the most of this by picking a table by the window. Of course, watching how groups of people behave differently in an eating environment is always fascinating; from spitting bones onto the floor in a Chinese restaurant to the gossiping duo lighting up cigarette after cigarette in a Czech café. But by gazing out the window, you can be nosey and call it cultural.
I treated myself to Pizza Express in Shanghai, which was up on the third floor, and I gazed down at mothers pulling their children along, businessmen strutting together on their phones, and tuk-tuk drivers pestering tourists for journeys. Also, it can get a bit awkward for places to look once you’ve read every word of the menu whilst waiting for your meal to arrive. No, man with the suspicious-looking coldsore, I am not giving you the eye, I’m trying to patiently wait for my dumplings!
2. No sharin’, no carin’
There is no one there to remind you that this is the third day in a row that you’ve ordered dumplings. You can try such a variety of different dishes too–I’m not implying that your friend/partner refuses to let you have a garlic/onion/chili infused dish, but you know what I mean. You can order the spiciest, smelliest dish and know that later on that evening (or as soon as you see the empty toilet in your dorm), no one will be there to complain.
In fact, this can turn into a bonding experience. Inside of the girls’ toilet in Mix Hostel in Chengdu, someone had made a tally-chart of how many times in one evening they’d visited the toilet as a result of trying the infamous Sichuanese hotpot. Other girls had scratched their condolences underneath. We all have to stick together, right?
It might sound a little gap yah-ish, but you can get a lot of things done whilst dining out. For example, whenever I was waiting for my meal to arrival, I would usually pull out my travel journal and fill it with notes as to what I’d done that day, remembering all of the little details and ordinary scenes that I would’ve forgotten had I’d done it before bedtime.
I could read my draft blog posts and edit them before they were typed up, or I could write about little moments I was seeing right there and then, from the way someone smiled to the style in which someone crossed the road.
Cons of Eating Alone
1. Hello from the other side
I won’t lie, I’m not entirely fearless when I look for somewhere to eat alone. I have passed so many restaurants that I would have loved to have tried, however they just didn’t look like good places to eat alone. This was especially true in Asian countries like China where eating is a social experience, with everyone sharing food and sitting around a large circular table together.
I get the impression that some restaurants are too snazzy for solo travellers, and I’d feel a little bit silly if I plonked myself down and ordered the expensive dumplings (I really like dumplings, okay?). So sometimes you’ll find yourself looking through the window at snazzier restaurants that are not designed for tables for one and end up in an alright place instead.
2. I’m still here?
Sometimes, you are forgotten about. Because I am extremely British, I will politely sit at my table and smile at my waitress when she passes without my drink for the fifth time. Or when I know my bus leaves in ten minutes but she still hasn’t cleared my plate away or given me the bill. I think sometimes we can get lost in the crowd, no matter how crazy we look choosing to eat solo, and can be accidentally and momentarily forgotten.
Of course, everything always turns out fine, and I’ll try to show that I wasn’t in a rush by taking an extra long time to pack my bag and put on my coat. It would just be nice in those situations to be treated like I was prioritised equally with everyone else who wasn’t dining alone.
Overall, there are more pros than cons to eating solo, so I suggest trying it. Embrace it! If you don’t act like it’s weird, then it won’t feel weird.
Photos for The Highs and Lows of Eating Alone by Unsplash.