Dining Alone

Last weekend I met up with some other moms for drinks and food at a local restaurant. It was a lovely evening, and a lovely time. It was also a growth opportunity for me, which I didn’t really expect.

Our plan was to meet at 6:30pm. I decided to make a reservation, since there were going to be about 8 of us, and I didn’t want to waste my precious night out waiting for a table. But when I called I discovered that they don’t take reservations after 6pm. So I made the reservation for 6, and let everyone know that I would be there early. I managed to arrive at the restaurant at 6 on the dot, and was shown to a large, empty table. And then the anxiety set in.

Waiting for everyone to arrive
Feeling anxious as I wait

I can comfortably eat out alone, but only in certain situations. Like, say, at a fast food restaurant or in a hotel for breakfast, with something to read while I eat. In those situations, I am not the only solo diner, not by a long shot. And I have something to keep me occupied, so that I don’t start feeling conspicuous. Taking my mind off my neuroses keeps them at bay.

But on this evening, I didn’t have any of my crutches. My current cell phone is not even remotely ‘smart’. It has, I discovered, exactly one game – Sudoku – but only the trial version that kicks you out after a minute or two, and locks you out entirely after 3 games. There was no reading material except for the menu. There were no other solo diners. And so, as much as my logical mind knows that no one around me gave me a second thought, I felt sort of uncomfortable.

Menu and mojito
I felt compelled to order a mojito, to prove that I was serious about eating there

I worried that the wait staff thought that I was delusional, imagining a bunch of friends that would never show up. I worried that other people were looking at me and thinking … I don’t even really know what they were thinking, but I certainly thought it was something, and not something good. I worried that maybe I had the wrong restaurant, or the wrong day, or the wrong time. I wished that I had some kind of time-passing device.

I decided, about 10 minutes in, that this was a good exercise. Sitting with my discomfort and stretching my limits is probably good for me. I got to have a long internal dialogue with myself about my various issues, and I even talked some sense. I don’t think I could have done that a few years ago. I still wouldn’t suggest waiting alone at a restaurant with no entertainment for 30 minutes, but it was not nearly as bad as I feared. In fact, by the time everyone arrived at 6:30 as they promised, I was lost in my thoughts and didn’t see them come in.

The ladies
The ladies who were worth the wait

In the end, I had a great time. It was worth the wait, for sure. I saw some old friends again, made some new ones, and commiserated with a bunch of moms who are in the same boat as me. And maybe, just maybe, I stretched myself a little bit. That was good, too. Although I will admit that an iPhone to entertain myself with might be even better.

Are you a confident solo diner? Or, like me, do you find it sort of uncomfortable? Do you have any coping strategies, or tips for making solo dining more pleasant? Please share!

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  1. I have actually gone to a sit down restaurant by myself when there was no hope of anyone joining me. I’m a teacher, so in the summertime I spend lots of time by myself because everyone else on the planet is at work. I cannot eat fast food, so sit down places are the norm for me. I’ve been known to bring a book or newspaper, which helps with the uncomfortable factor. The key, I think, is to pretent you’re perfectly comfortable eating by yourself. Fake it ’til you make it.

    Now that I have my son, though, I almost always have him with me when I eat out. He is pretty good company, but not as nice as adult conversation. Plus, he tends to fling food at me when he’s done eating, which doesn’t make for very elegant dining.
    Melissa E.’s last post … Are They SeriousMy Profile

  2. I never eat out alone for the exact reasons you mentioned, mainly I’m afraid everyone would stare at me, wondering what was wrong with me that no one wanted to eat with me. Even when I worked and picked up fast food, I’d eat it in car or someplace private.
    C @ Kid Things’s last post … Squirrel!My Profile

  3. I love that picture — it’s like an externalization of exactly what I would feel like in that situation. Although I would have brought a book and then been faintly annoyed when everyone showed up. Look at you slaying your demons. Way to go.
    allison’s last post … Knowing Me Knowing You July 2010My Profile

  4. Oh I have the same fears..! And yet, I try to do what scares me the most. I think sitting in a restaurant makes you aware of your surroundings and wonder what others are thinking. It’s only natural that others may have weird thoughts when they see you sitting alone. But it sounds like you handled it well.
    Sometimes if I don’t have a book or magazine, or even a silly old receipt to stare blankly at, I’ll try and scribble some notes or a grocery list while waiting. Doodling can help pass the time.
    I’m glad it turned out to be a fun night out!
    Sara’s last post … Oh Canada you have quirky quartersMy Profile

  5. I hate eating alone unless it is my desk at work or the lunchroom. ANd in those cases I have my computer or a newspaper as company.

    If it had been me I’m sure my iPod would have been tucked into my purse so I’d have some entertainment 🙂 But knowing my luck the battery would have been drained from V stealing it all the time!
    Carrie’s last post … Bloggy CrushMy Profile

  6. Sam (@iamsamisam & @babyREADY) says:

    I pretty much ALWAYS have something to read with me for those instances where I am out and alone. I know I am not very good company for myself (a lesson I should try to make time to teach myself, I know) and I have the horrible compulsion to always be early for meetings, gathering, appointments, etc. so the reading material is always with me, just in case I have some solo time.

    Kudos to you. I’d likely have asked the wait staff if they had a newspaper in the back. Wish I could sit alone like that.

  7. Gosh, I eat alone all the time and never think twice about it! I almost always have a book with me so I enjoy relaxing and reading while I wait for my food.

    At some restaurants I’ve been able to be seated at a bar or counter where I can talk to the chefs, and that’s fun.

    But really, I’ve never worried about it! It’s never really occurred to me that people might think anything badly about me eating alone!

  8. I have never really gone out to eat alone, even fast food. I could at the local place I go to a lot because I’m friends with the staff so it wouldn’t really be like being alone but past that I think I would be worse than you lol.
    Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green’s last post … A Day of BakingMy Profile

  9. To be honest, I’m rarely a confident anything.

    Also, I had an experience like that once but instead of it being lovely and stretching, it turned out rather horrid when nobody showed up and now I’m scared to try again (umm…it’s been over a year – I’m such a coward).

    I love how you described the evolution of your thoughts as you waited. Fabulous!

  10. That sounds like a good time!

    I don’t mind eating alone, although I usually bring a book. It took me a long time to feel comfortable going to a movie on my own and now I love it! Almost better than going with a friend.
    Capital Mom’s last post … NamingMy Profile

  11. I’ve never done it I don’t think. Fast food yes, but never a sit down restaurant. I’ve never been to a movie alone either. It never occurred to me to do something like that before I had kids but now I drool over the idea. It is hilarious to think of you worrying that the staff thought you were delusional with “imaginary friends”…that makes me laugh out loud. I would have thought the same thing!
    AmberDusick’s last post … the first two things I ever made in ceramicsMy Profile

  12. Kudos to you for stretching your discomforts in public and then sharing them with us here.

    I’m a frustrated solo diner (cos I usually have the Wee Guy with me, and he is good company I must admit). I got used to it In My Former Life when I attended lots of conferences etc solo. A good book or newspaper, and a notepad and writing materials usually saved the day. After a few years of portable crafting I’m even comfortable knitting or crafting at the table to fill in the blanks and it sometimes even stimulates a conversation (not that I always welcome conversation). I still miss it; v peaceful.

    My personal hurdle will be holidaying alone (not that I will have the chance on that one in a looooong time) – my lil’ sis has recently bitten the bullet over that one and has been chronicling her adventures in her blog. I am sooooo incredibly proud of her for stepping out of her own personal comfort zone in such style!!

    note to Amber: if that html formatting comes out screwed can you edit it out???? i’m not sure how to insert hot links in a comment so apologies if it ruins the flow
    pomomama aka ebbandflo’s last post … friday forte- walking the walk moving closer to my goalMy Profile

  13. LOL–this post validates some of my feelings. It would have bothered me too, not so much the alone part, but the large empty table part. I am frequently paranoid that I am going to arrive somewhere and no one else will show up and I’ll feel awful and look stupid. It has happened to me before, but usually I don’t look stupid. That’s just in my head. The worst, the absolute WORST is throwing a party and wondering, five minutes before it starts, if anyone will come. It’s nervewracking. Then usually they all drive up 🙂

    But in college I ate alone in the dining hall all the time. I went to college in my hometown, so a lot of acquaintances (but few friends) from high school were there too, and people I’d barely spoken to in 10+ years would see me sitting alone and ask me to eat with them. They always seemed to be eating together. I had things to do while I ate though, and was talking to people or in class all day, so eating alone was fine.

  14. Mrs.Mayhem says:

    Good for you for facing your fear and attempting to change.

    I have never gone to a restaurant alone. Partly because it seems like eating out is a social experience, and there is no point if I’m by myself.

  15. if I would have gotten an alone moment like that I would have taken a cold diaper wipe out of my purse, leaned back in my chair, put the diaper wipe over my eyes, and had a moment. first I would have put a sign next to me reading, Mother of Young Children. You know so people wouldn’t think that I was weird.
    themombshell’s last post … love himMy Profile

  16. So wonderful you used the opportunity to grow in a situation that made you uncomfortable! Have a good weekend!
    Wendy Irene’s last post … Guest Post – IndiaMy Profile

  17. I actually don’t mind eating alone. I use the time it takes for my food to be served to just sit and think without any distractions. On occasion I’ll ask for a newspaper, but usually I just sit quietly.

  18. I can happily say that I can go anywhere and do anything by myself. I learned this when I was in my early twenties. I lived with a person who wasn’t really my friend and although I made the time to do stuff with friends, I learned to do alot of stuff alone. I find it very liberating to grab my book, keys and wallet and go. I can eat fancy or fast, I have gone to movies and theater and even a concert on my own. I like my own company too. I don’t pay any attention to thos around me, so being alone isn’t ever worrisome. I hope that as my children grow, they see this in me and take it as their own. I think being comfortably alone is a wonderful skill to master.

  19. I get the same feelings as you – I worry that I look pathetic with no one to eat with, or that none of my friends will show up, or that I have the wrong date/place/time. So if I play to eat alone, I always bring a book, or if I’m waiting for others, I play with my phone and avoid ordering anything, or sitting at the table even, so I can leave if they don’t show. Sorry, I have no advice, except to say you’re not alone in your eating aloneness. 🙂

  20. Amber ~ This is one of the most thought provoking, entertaining and well written story’s I’ve ever read! I laughed out loud at one point. Great thought process dialogue!!! I think this should be submitted somewhere. Seriously. I AM sorry for your anxiety though.
    I have no trouble dining alone…I’m a people watcher who becomes absorbed in imaginary lives….my escape. I often get annoyed with my husband if he is there and tries to talk to me! Ha ha….
    StorkStories’s last post … INSUFFICIENT MILK Did You use REGLAN or DOMPERIDONE They Need YOU!My Profile

  21. I’m almost used to it because I am ALWAYS the first person at everything. I even spent the first six months of Theo’s life continuing to be ON TIME (talk about stressful!!). I was the first person at our infant/mom’s group at the CLINIC! It was so ridiculous.

    Now I’m using motherhood as an excuse to be as flakey as possible and I’m loving it.


  22. I’m totally ok with eating alone. Since having kids, it is a luxury I have rarely indulged in. I did a lot of traveling in my younger years. Eating alone, like traveling alone, it seemed I would be more likely to meet new people. A lone diner will more likely ask another single if they can join them. I can still cite a few important friendship that came about in this way.

  23. When I’m solo but expecting to be alone, I’m totally comfortable. If I’m solo but waiting for other people to show up, I’m really antsy.

    Glad you had a nice time!
    Lady M’s last post … Home Again- Home AgainMy Profile

  24. I can’t recall ever eating alone in a restaurant that wasn’t a fast food establishment. In fact, I’ve asked my husband more than once how he manages to eat out alone all those times when he’s on the road. He thinks I’m weird for asking so much, but it seems like such a foreign thing for me. It’s way beyond my comfort level. In fact now that I’ve written this, I think it might make sense to force myself to do it one day. A growth experience and all that.

  25. I’ve eaten alone and been ok with it, but I totally understand your anxiety because for me the issue would be at the big table waiting for people. I almost always sit there and think “i hope I don’t have the wrong date, the wrong time, did I send them the right information? what if they’re lost and they don’t have my cell phone number? what if nobody shows and everyone thinks I’ve been stood up? Maybe I should loudly proclaim to the waiter that my friends are expected in half an hour and I’m not being badly dissed” etc Even WITH an iPhone I do this kind of thing to myself. I SO need to chill out 🙂
    Lara’s last post … Tips for eatingMy Profile

  26. I hate eating alone in public. I’ll eat in my car or hotel room but not alone. I just can’t so wow, good for you! I always feel sorry for people who eat alone and wonder why they are alone.
    Sommer’s last post … EIO Glass Kids Sippy Cup Is the Bomb- Win OneMy Profile

  27. I am a confident solo diner! I love to take the time to really just relax and be. Sip my wine, peruse the menu, just sit and be quiet and look at the sights. No newspaper to half read, no cell phone to text on. I do not mind solo dining at all!
    Mama in the City’s last post … Mama Says Relax!My Profile

  28. I like to dine alone. Although I guess it’s usually a table for one and not for 8 with only little ol me (so I can see your discomfort!) I bring a book and sometimes my journal or a greeting card for someone in which I’ll write an actual letter – because I have the time to say more than thinking of you or Happy Birthday! Especially if you don’t want to be talked to, writing is a good one.
    Melodie’s last post … The People Who Make My Baby Friendly CommunityMy Profile

  29. I don’t mind eating alone, but it bothers me to go to the cinema alone – not that I have done either anytime recently. I’m glad you had a good time at the end!
    Francesca’s last post … The best coffeeMy Profile

  30. I don’t mind eating alone. I actually really like time alone. I don’t like being the first person (in a large group) at a restaurant table. I feel guilty that I’m holding a HUGE table when I’m just one person.
    Casey’s last post … Wearing Nail PolishMy Profile

  31. I feel the exact same way – I HATE being in a restaurant alone. I just feel like such a loser and that everyone is staring at me. And honestly, I notice when I’m out and I see someone dining alone. I wonder why they are alone… Are they from out of town, or do they not have any friends… I start feeling badly for them, wondering if they feel uncomfortable like I would. Strange, isn’t it? Good for you for working through it – looks like a great time was had by all! 🙂
    ShannonL’s last post … Intentional Happiness- Vacation!!!My Profile

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  1. […] Life has changed since I was a kid. Thanks to advancing technology I always have entertainment at my fingertips. I record my favourite TV shows to watch whenever I choose. I have a smart phone in my pocket with a dozen games on it. I have access to the internet pretty much wherever I go. When I find myself in a situation where I’m forced to wait, I always have easy entertainment on hand. There’s no reason to feel excruciating boredom in a waiting room or a line-up or sitting by myself in a restaurant. […]

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