Being a single woman my entire adult life means that I have had to do a lot of thing things alone that are traditionally enjoyed as a couple. I go to weddings and family parties without a plus one, I go to the cinema by myself and I have even travelled the world alone.
Yet, the one thing that blows people’s minds the most is the fact that I regularly go out to restaurants alone. But why is solo dining in public deemed to be such a daunting task for so many strong, independent and confident women.
How I overcame my fear of solo dining.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always been so comfortable dining in restaurants alone. There was once a time that my anxiety was so bad, I struggled going out alone at all, let alone eating. I used to be so concerned by how others would judge me because I didn’t want anyone to think that I had been stood up and take pity on me for dining alone. In hindsight, it was very self-centred of me to believe that other people would be focused on what I was doing when they were out enjoying themselves.
I was pushed to get over this fear pretty quickly when I decide to embark on a solo backpacking trip around the world. After all, food and dining are a significant aspect of many cultures and pivotal to the travel experience.
I couldn’t spend my entire time away hiding in my room to eat and not emerge myself into the culture, could I? It would have been a long and lonely 18 months if I had. Thankfully, I was able to make the transition to solo public dining without too much discomfort. However, there are some people who do not find it quite so easy.
Solomangarephobia – Fact or Fiction?
Although it is often considered that people do not want to eat alone in restaurants due to insecurities or a lack of confidence, this is not always the case. Solomangarephobia, is a word used to describe people who have a phobia of eating alone in public places. However, I am not sure how realistic this is.
A phobia is described by the NHS as ‘an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.” This would mean that to have a phobia of dining alone in public, a person would be physically debilitated in terror by the thought of it and not just feel a little awkward at the time.
Obviously, I am not an expert in the field of phobias. However, I do find it pretty difficult to believe that a person could be paralysed in fear over the thought of eating a great steak whilst sitting alone in a restaurant?
Whether you believe that Solomangarephobia is a legitimate phobia or not, there is still evidence to suggest that many people, especially women, struggle to dine alone in public. Just a matter of years ago, I was one of them. However, now I thoroughly enjoy going out for meals alone in restaurants. Sometimes I go and sit undistracted simply enjoying the food, wine and ambiance. Other time’s I take some entertaining resources with me.
11 Helpful Tips For Solo-Dining
Eating out as a solo woman in public is not something that is easy to do and is not something you can overcome in a day – it has taken me years to be able to fully accept and enjoy it. So, I certainly do not expect anybody to feel 100% comfortable with going out and doing it after reading one blog post. However, I have compiled a list of top tips that I have picked up along the way. I hope that these will encourage you to start taking baby steps towards being able to enjoy the solo dining experience.
Start small – Try going out to a coffee shop or café and sitting down with a hot drink and eat a muffin or pastry. This is the number one place where you’re likely to see other solo diners, even if you live in a remote part of the country.
You will come across professionals on lunch breaks from work, mum-friends having breakfast with their babies, students sat utilising the free wi-fi to complete their assignments etc. Cafés and coffee shops are definitely the least intimidating places to sit and eat alone if you’re anxious about standing out.
Reserve your table ahead of time – If the thought of requesting a table for one makes your mouth go dry and your knee’s turn weak, book your table in advance. This can be done over the phone and many places now also offer the option of booking online.
By doing this, when you enter the venue, you can simply say “I have a reservation under (insert name)” and usually be shown straight to your table. Obviously, there is no guarantee that your server won’t confirm that it is a table for one so always be prepared to answer to prevent being caught off guard.
Always take a jacket or scarf – This can be used to ‘save your seat’ if you need to use the lady’s room. This is something that I had to learn the hard way whilst out for dinner in Australia. I was sat after dinner one night enjoying a glass of wine before desert when I received a very important call from back home.
I grabbed my drink and walked outside to answer the call leaving my plate on the table but when I returned to my table it was occupied by two German men drinking beer. Turns out that the waitress thought that I had dashed off without paying the bill and offered my table to another booking. Since then, I have always ensured that I take a scarf with me whenever I eat out alone.
Enjoy an alcoholic beverage – Yes, I know that I should be encouraging people to have confidence without alcohol bla bla bla. But let’s be real, it isn’t always as easy as that and when it isn’t… alcohol definitely helps!
Take Entertainment – The first few times that you go out alone (and maybe after that), you may feel more comfortable taking something with you to keep you occupied. Something like a book, magazine or even your laptop could serve as a great distraction, helping you switch your focus from the way you feel about being out alone. Plus, it could be a great new way to be productive and get some work done.
In fact, going out for lunch to a nice quiet spot, has become one of my favourite things to do when writing. It really helps make an enjoyable experience out of writing and often enables me to think outside the box. I highly recommend trying it for writer’s block. Just getting out into new scenery and trying somewhere or something new can help get those creative juices flowing.
Study the menu online – When anxiety kicks in, it automatic triggers the body’s fight or flight response. This leads to the body releasing a rush of hormones which affect your mind and your body. As well as raising your heart rate, making you sweat and dilating your pupils, the hormones released can also make it more difficult for you to focus on anything other than fear itself.
Due to this, it is always beneficial to study the menu online before attending the restaurant. Therefore, when the waiter comes over to ask you what you’d like to order, you can be prepared with an answer even if you struggle to focus on the menu beforehand.
Go to a restaurant that you visit often – Choosing a restaurant that you know well as one of your ‘trial-run’ restaurants can also help. If you’ve been there several times before, you’re more likely to be familiar with the menu. Thus, helping chose a meal to order if the aforementioned fight or flight response kicks in.
Dress comfortably – I would advise you to select an outfit that you feel super confident in, but one that you also feel comfortable in. When you’re going out to eat alone, the idea is to enjoy the experience and indulge in whatever food you want. The last thing you want to do is worry about physical discomfort on top of any potential emotional discomfort you could face from dining alone in public.
Remember that people are usually not as judgemental as we like to believe – I have found that one of the main reason’s women avoid dining alone in public is the fear that they will be judged or ridiculed for it.
However, the truth is that people are generally incredibly self-involved. They will likely not give more than a millisecond’s glance in your direction, let alone care enough to judge you for dining alone. So, order that extra side order and scrumptious desert guilt free and thoroughly enjoy it.
Trying new things is always scary, especially when trying them alone. I am not suggesting that you rush out to the Ritz for a 3-course meal and champagne tomorrow. But I do hope that you utilise these tips and start pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Being able to dine alone is a luxury and I hope that one day you allow yourself the privilege of enjoying your own company at dinner in a fancy restaurant, where you celebrate the wonders of you!