Do You Dine Alone When Traveling Internationally?

Just a table for one?” There’s an inherent bias against solo diners. If you’ve dined alone you’ve probably been seated with that phrase, which almost makes you want to get defensive.

And I get that there’s no harm intended with the phrase, but I do think social norms dictate that there’s something “strange” about dining alone. There are some places where it feels more acceptable to dine alone based on the number of business travelers and local culture. Or maybe it’s just partly that if you’re in a foreign country you feel less judged if dining alone. Part of the “well, I’ll never see them again so I don’t care what they think” mindset. For example, I feel a lot more at ease dining alone in Abu Dhabi than Los Angeles.

So if you ever travel alone, how do you handle dining? Do you…

a) Dine at restaurants alone. This is actually almost my preferred method, especially if it’s a hotel in a business area. I’ll just bring my laptop and phone and stay “connected” while having dinner. I still get to “observe” the ambiance without having to be social. Because in many cases when I’m eating alone in restaurants abroad it’s because I’m jetlagged and don’t really want to be social.

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b) Try to eat at bars whenever possible, so you can be social. I know this is a popular option for many. It’s normal to sit at a bar alone, and it’s an opportunity to meet people without using the internet/location based social networking apps. At the same time, it’s downright anti-social to bring a laptop to a bar, in my opinion, so I do find that there’s a bit of a tradeoff, if you’re like me and prefer to be connected.

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c) Order room service. Inevitably I end up doing this sometimes, since most restaurants aren’t open in the middle of the night, when I’m jetlagged and hungry. On one hand it’s kind of depressing to be in an exciting foreign city and eat in your room, but it is also practical — you don’t have to change out of your jammies, you can watch Real Housewives, and you can get work done. Win-win-win-win, if you ask me!

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So I’ve set up a poll below — please chime in on your preferred method of dining when alone! If you have further thoughts, please share them in the comments section below!

When traveling alone internationally, how do you prefer to dine?

View Results

Comments

  1. I do a good bit of solo international travel for work, and so I face this decision a lot. I generally dislike spending time in my hotel room apart from sleeping, so I don’t use room service much. I also avoid bars as I don’t drink when I’m traveling. I really like finding city center or market-type locations where lots of locals eat. These tend of offer great local food at good prices with excellent people watching.

  2. I like room service breakfast, but only if it’s included. Otherwise I venture out to find a cool coffee shop and something easy and somewhat healthy for breakfast.

    Dinner in my hotel room makes me sad. It’s nice when the hotel has a good restaurant that has a scene. You can get work done, chat with people, and hang out.

  3. I dislike eating alone as a matter of personal taste, I am an extrovert and outgoing and enjoy the company of others even if they are new to me. With that said, like many other business travelers, one often finds themselves places without a companion. If I am traveling to regular destinations I usually try to line up contacts ahead of time for a social call. Even if it is with business people or people that encounter professionally I will also inquire as to eating together. It serves a social purpose as well as it is good for business. I have never taken a laptop into a restaurant before even on business although I have used my mobile phone on occasion.

    It is not customary in the US to seat people together, but in many international areas restaurants and cafes will seat people together if the parties are willing. Sort of like how dining occurs on trains and on ships.

    If I am truly alone while traveling I will try to venture out of the hotel as much as practical (unless I need to burn the food voucher – those food vouchers can come in handy as a ploy to entice a companion to join you) this way you don’t feel so stuck. Often less formal casual cafes and street side vendors in urban areas are easier when you are eating alone plus you can run into people to talk to.

  4. I eat alone at restaurants, at the bar in restaurants, and do room service.

    My preference is to sit at the bar and eat – not so I can be social, but because it’s usually quicker. Second choice is room service, last choice is restaurants – for some reason I feel self-conscious at restaurants eating alone, though I *never* think it’s odd when I see someone *else* dining alone.

  5. i find solo dining is becoming more and more easy as restaurants create counter experiences or communal tables and bars up their culinary game. that said, it’s so much easier in some places rather than others.

    japan, for example, is a country where solo dining is an inherent practice — no matter the cuisine, you can just sidle up to a counter and eat alone. but it’s difficult to find reservations available for 1 at the more upscale restaurants.

    then you have places like HK, where communal dining with families and friends are the norm. it’s torture seeing so many restaurants with delicious food and yet you don’t want to be the jerk occupying a 10 person table solo…

    room service i tend to use as a last resort, not only because it’s wildly overpriced but also because even at high end hotels the food is simply so sub-par.

  6. The older we get, the less my wife likes dinners out while we travel. So over half my dining is solo. Always at a table, never the bar unless it’s sushi.

    I NEVER get attitude as a solo diner (I usually have a reservation for two, but say my wife was tired when I show up). I find service much better at a table, plus it’s more comfortable. Sometime I chat with the table next to me.

    I’d say try a better class of restaurants if you are getting attitude. Solo diners are usually serious about their food, and better places know that.

  7. I am fine dining alone, with someone, eating street food, or anything else. I may be wrong on this assumption, but I run under the belief that room service is much more expensive and I’d save money and enjoy a place more if I just get off my lazy butt and go out into town to eat.

  8. bar food at the one of the most expensive hotel of the city if I am not staying in there

    Some cities in western Europe like london or Paris are very expensive to stay in but it’s always a good experience to eat in there

  9. Standard reply (with a knowing, friendly smile): “Never ‘just’! One is sufficient!”. Restaurant table if I don’t want to be social, bar if I do. Never room service (unless it’s late and the restaurant is closed) – want to experience the place I’m in, even if it’s near home.

  10. Good topic, Lucky! I go for a mix – I quite like sitting at the bar for food, it seems more ‘accepted’ than at a table when dining for one. I don’t bring a laptop but do often bring my Kindle or a magazine to read, especially when waiting for food to be delivered. When arriving late at night I tend to go for the room service option as long as it’s not massively overpriced. Most self-conscious I’ve get was at the Gran Melia Fenix in Madrid – I was there on a free night offer from Amex Plat that included dinner, however I ended up being the only diner in the restaurant – talk about personal service!!

  11. Its one of my favorite activities while traveling in s.e. asia, lots of fun eating with a view of the street to people watch, ( and I leave my computer and phone in my room)

  12. I don’t have problem dining alone, even in my hometown! I prefer sitting down at a table cause it’s more comfortable. Though if it’s a popular restaurant or it’s peak dining time, I’d sit at the bar so not to take up a table for 2.

  13. @ avi — Grrr, thanks for the heads up. Trying to figure out the tech issue, because it looks correct on the back end.

  14. I wish you’d do more posts about solo travel…I can’t be your only reader who is so unlikable as to occasionally find himself without travel companions.

    I spent 3 weeks in Dallas once for work, and ordered room service and take-out every night. But later this year I’ll be going to Dublin for my first solo tourism experience and I’m going to try dining at an actual restaurant.

  15. Poll is not working, but is missing the most important choice anyway: All of the above

    Room service if it is very late or if I am very tired.

    Bar or restaurant is the usual option. I always have my iPad Mini if I want to read, but can just as easily not use it and engage in conversation at the bar if I choose. I have no problem taking a table for two as a solo diner. Living on expense account, I will likely spend as much solo as a price conscious couple anyway.

  16. I dine alone all the time, whether I’m traveling or eating out at home. I’m single, so why wouldn’t I do it this way?

  17. I do both room service and going to a restaurant alone, depending on my mood and what city I’m in.

  18. Generally prefer restaurant – great to try new kinds of food, and hotels tend to “homogenize” their offerings.

    Generally avoid room service (unless no other options), as it is tremendously expensive. Inflated hotel prices for food + delivery charge (really????) + 19% service charge + blank line for additional gratuity + plate charge + glass charge + cutlery charge + napkin charge + napkin cleaning charge + tray removal charge + convenience charge + paper copy of bill charge. (I may have made some of those up… but you know they’re coming!)

  19. Lucky, getting a message that says “You are posting comments too quickly – slow down” when trying to post comments. (Even the first time I tried to post). Trying to post repeatedly finally got it in.

  20. I travel solo for work and vacation so generally do a mix depending on location – some cities/towns easier than others for a solo woman. I also dine solo here in Philly after the gym or before meeting friends for drinks. I prefer a table to the bar but don’t mind the open kitchen bar/counter like at Eataly NYC. I just started posting about my solo dining experiences as some restaurants are better than others about this. As for the “just one” – when asked how many, I smile and say “just me”

  21. Hell no to room service! I could probably eat for half the cost anywhere else. And if I’m in a city where I don’t live then I want to get a sense of it.

  22. Lucky: Your picture of room service shows two place settings which suggests the picture is not illustrative of a “dining alone” scenario. Agreed?

  23. Is your girlfriend joining you?

    -No

    You’re just…by yourself?

    -Yeah

    That sucks. Okay, so just one. Here’s your wine list, your menu, come on. You want, like, a magazine or something? It’s gonna be boring if you’re just sitting by yourself. I would just be so depressed.

    -From one of the greatest movies ever

  24. I think that’s you projecting if you think wait staff are actually judging you for dining alone. There is nothing wrong with dining alone and a lot of business travelers dine alone.

    Waitstaff don’t really mind as business travelers are usually no fuss and high tipping customers.

  25. After 14 months of continuous solo travel (thanks to credit card bonuses for 40+ flights), I have grown used to eating alone in restaurants and I don’t mind it. I call it “a date with myself” and that makes it seem more fun. The only thing I don’t like is that myself always makes me pay.

  26. I tend to eat at bars when travelling, but it’s always on business, and so I’m almost always in places where others are eating alone. Wedding ring and alone seems to send the message that you’re alone for purposes of eating, so there must be a reason, so rarely does anyone mention it.

  27. When traveling for work, I probably spend about half my time dining alone, the other half dining with colleagues. When I’m solo, I prefer a table at a restaurant but if they are too busy and the wait will be long, I’ll just sit at the bar. I’d probably do a hotel restaurant/bar, takeout or fast food before room service – that’s my last resort. If I leave work really late and every good option is closed, then I’ll slum it with room service. I dunno, eating in your room alone seems a little depressing. There are very few hotels in the world where I would consider room service food high quality and there is no way to predict it: I’ve had crappy meals at high-end properties and outstanding meals in a budget hotel.

  28. I much prefer to dine alone, especially in the U.S., and I’ve been known to take a laptop or book. When in foreign cultures, I’ll go with the flow. I do not eat in bars. period. Room service is reserved for breakfast as I need quiet time to fully awaken.
    Greatest dining PEEVE: Being FORCED to eat with three strangers at a too-small table on Amtrak trains. Even at the end of a meal period, they still FORCE this and it PISSES me off to the point that I’ve given up on the damn long-haul trains.

  29. If I am traveling alone, I dine alone. Always at a restaurant and at a table just for me. If I am traveling with more people I invite them to dine with me IF we share the same style. By style I mean that when I travel either in the US or abroad I am all for trying local restaurants. If the people I have traveling with me are the type of “chain restaurant” people, unless it is a group dinner where we will all go to an event I try to dine alone so I can go wherever I want. Had times in Bangkok and KL when my colleagues from the US wanted to eat a hamburger rather than trying local food. Enough said!!! 🙂

  30. I love eating alone, both at home and abroad. What could be wrong with sitting and reading (or watching the world go by) while people bring you food? Room service is a waste of money with all of the added charges, and eating at a bar means a lot less space. And while I am quite content to eat alone, other people (or the server) sometimes start talking to me. This happens less often when you are with someone else, and it is a great way to learn how the locals think.

  31. All of the above. Given years of business travel, I am rarely self conscious anymore about dining alone when I travel solo. Like to take my travel journal with me and do some people watching.

  32. Hey Lucky, I can’t figure out how to vote in the poll, and from the looks of it nobody else can either… 🙂

  33. Hate to admit it, but when dining alone I often turn into one of “those people” and look at my smartphone for awhile. Although in reality, I guess that’s not any more antisocial than reading a magazine or laptop.

    I typically avoid tables for one in the US, but sometimes go for them when traveling internationally. Otherwise, I usually sit at the bar or find a more casual place (i.e. somewhere you order at the counter).

  34. @ John-Paul — Trying to get the tech figured out, for whatever reason my poll feature seems to be broken. Sorry!

  35. In South Korea, this is especially an issue for solo travelers. Eating is considered to be a social activity there, so it’s very awkward to dine alone. I don’t know if there’s any solution to the problem, maybe ask other guests at your hotel or hostel if you want to dine out with them.

  36. Most of the time.

    That is why I prefer delis or outdoor cafes/bistros. My boss says that my expense reports are way below average. I just eat good food and watch my weight. And three star dining, alone, is not that appealing to me.

    The last thing I want is my room smelling like seasoned food or fries, yuck. Unless I am really tired and cant walk any longer.

  37. I generally don’t eat at a bar even locally as I prefer more comfortable table/booth. Never really thought that dining alone is a big deal; in the US I don’t think it’s ever awkward unless it’s Valentine’s Day or something.

    Room service can be rather expensive and generally isn’t 24×7, so if I’m tired and/or don’t feel like sitting down for a long meal, I grab a quick take-out for a café or something like that.

  38. I tried to post when you first wrote this, but got the “you’re posting too fast” message and gave up (have gotten in several times–frustrating). I’ve done all options and my last trip (to Philly, last week) included one meal in hotel restaurant, one in the bar (at a table), one in room (breakfast–ditto to “wake up slowly” poster), and several out and about in town. I would like to know from the men out there: as a woman, I’ve always felt like sitting at the bar meant I wanted to be picked up. Is that wrong? I’d love to have a little socializing with my dinner, but don’t want to give off the wrong vibe (being middle-aged probably makes this much less likely, though ; ). I absolutely agree about the insane cost of room service. And the nerve of adding a blank gratuity line after I’ve paid: too much for the food itself ($6 for coffee? Really?), 20% “service charge” and $5 “delivery fee.” Come on. I guess if they threw in a great massage, I’d add an additional tip, but short of that, no way. I’d really like to second the request for more posts about solo travel. When I went to Chase yesterday to secure my new United Visa the banker could not believe I was about to embark on a 3 week trip ALONE. He must have asked three times “you’re going alone? Really?” Geez.

  39. I totally agree on the ludicrous room service tips on top of fees and service charges – interesting to see some Americans think the same, I thought it was just me being British! 🙂

  40. I’ll eat dinner a hotel restaurant or something local that’s fast/easy. Somehow, sitting at a table by myself in the middle of a bustling, local, social restaurant scene makes me feel sad, even when I’m just traveling alone on business. In a restaurant hotel, I don’t feel out of place because there are usually lots of other solo diners.

    I’ve also been known to order room service to avoid this problem.

    For me, the worst is eating in the bar. I’m either forced to watch sports on their TV, which the bartender expects me to be interested in (I’m not), or I’m seated next to some semi drunk guy who wants to chat.

    For whatever reason, I have no second thoughts about eating breakfast or lunch by myself in any restaurant.

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