How to dine (blissfully) on your own

Posted on August 27th, 2014

I was prompted to jot down some thoughts on this subject when I recently found myself once again causing a stir among those around me for there I was, a 40-year-old woman in a restaurant very happily dining on her own. Oh, the sideways glances!

If I lived I'm #Killcare I'd be getting down to @bells_at_killcare for locals night... $45, two courses, #local #biodynamic wine . Ps thank you to this whole snapper that has sustained me tonight #respectyourfood

Dinner for one at Bells at Killcare recently: a meal like I mean it (snapper), a modified side and a glass of red.

I was up at Bells at Killcare, a little over an hour north of Sydney having a “Think Week”, or more accurately a “Writing Three Days”. It’s something I do when I start on one of my books (which I’ve just done). It’s an indulgence, but it does the job – I go somewhere where I can have an early morning exercise explosion, be in beautiful sunny surrounds and have food covered*.

So there I was dining solo, in a full dining room of couples and… more couples. I’m so undeterred by this seemingly renegade culinary situation that it’s not until I get the glances that I realize many folk just don’t find it as blissful as I do. I genuinely love it; I find it nourishing and opening and I think I’ve felt most “me” at such times I find myself sitting in a bustling restaurant or café with a glass of wine and a full meal and my thoughts.

For those who are not so sure how it all works, here’s how I do it:

  • Sit at the bar. Or somewhere with high traffic and your back against a wall. Good feng shui.
  • To this end, reflect upon the fact that some of life’s most erudite philosophers came up with their most poignant utterances dining in restaurants and cafes alone, their backs against walls to be able to purvey life.
  • Have a glass of wine. Red is good for getting into the right reflective frame of mind.
  • Order like you mean it. A proper meal. Not just the salad. You are here to nourish (after years of living alone, I do the same at home…I never resort to a tin of tuna on a rice cake!).
  • Befriend a waiter. I’ve learned more about humanity from my chats at bars with waiters than anywhere else. There’s something so satisfying and self-contained to strike up a connection where there’s an appropriate distance that allows a certain unexpected intimacy.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for dining-for-one modifications (a smaller portion of sides or a cheese platter for one). Now that you’ve befriended a waiter, it will be their pleasure. There’s a certain grace and generosity that others will feel toward you and your situation. Allow them this wonderful opportunity to share it with you.
  • Take something to do – a book, a newspaper, a notepad and pen, dare-I-say-it your phone. I don’t normally advocate distractions, but when you dine solo it really is quite a lovely, cosy feeling to submerge into a focused reverie…playing around…sending texts to people you’ve neglected…My favourite acroutement is a map! Oh, the joy I get from navigating a route for the next day’s journey or reflecting over where I’ve been.
xxx

Starting my next book on the balcony at Bells… to focus and be creative and get my priorities and intention just so.

  • But when the meal arrives eat only. Savour. Dining solo is a great time to practice mindful eating. I extract the most stupendous flavours from food on my own because I’m able to give it my full attention. I once cried from the rapture I felt eating a porchini risotto in the South of France. Which is an entirely wanky sentence right there (apologies!).
  • If you feel like it, be the crazy woman. That is, feel free to lean over and throw in a comment to the conversation next to you. Or smile generously at someone across from you and see if it can open up a situation. Why not? You’re in a foreign situation and you’re out on a limb already. Be the renegade. The unique one. The brave one.
  • When you have the urge to leave, sit a little longer, just to be with it all. And to allow yourself to be proud of yourself.
  • Leave with a cosy, self-sufficient, I’m-okay-on-my-own-so-it-doesn’t-matter-what-else-follow feeling.

If you dine solo, please do chime in…

A few of my favourite things: truffles, sweetbreads, peas and broccoli ... Thank you #SteveManfredi

A few of my favourite things: truffles, sweetbreads, peas and broccoli … Thank you Steve Manfredi

For those interested, I stayed at Bells at Killcare because it’s in the bush and right on one of my favourite national parks – Bouddhi NP. Also, I wanted to experience Stephen Manfredi’s menu, built from whatever’s in their large vegetable garden. Bells is part of the Mr & Mrs Smith network and so I received a discount.

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  • LizzieG

    I love dining alone and agree that it is restorative.

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  • ordesa

    I too love dining alone and make sure I do it weekly. I think it’s something that every adult should take time to do – be comfortable with just your own company.

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    Jess Reply:

    I completely agree. I used to be so scare of doing it, but I enjoy just thinking….I often more inspired to do my uni work with a clear head.

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  • Angelique

    Yes! It’s just occurred to me that I indulge in this when I am travelling (for work, this was a weekly occurrence) and I loved it for all the reasons you have so articulately put your finger on. Now that I don’t travel for work, I miss this, and I’ve just realised it. For some reason, if the excuse isn’t there (i.e travelling), it would feel a bit odd, but I’m going to get over that and embrace it.

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  • amberlou

    dining alone is fantastic. And to be honest, i never feel the sideways glances. It’s such great thinking time!

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  • I recently was in Florence alone and loved dining solo, I found I always walked away having made friends with the staff, who I think often felt sorry for me being on my own, but I loved it. They gave me little tasters of things and halved the portions.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    ah, yes, Italian waiters!

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  • momx4inArizona

    As a mother of four…I truly treasure my alone time- and my favorite thing to do is treat myself to a great lunch while the kids are in school! Peace, quiet and good food 🙂

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  • Tammy

    I sense a similar stirring of curiosity when watching films solo.

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  • Sandra

    Beautiful post! But also…you’re 40???? I thought you were in your late 20’s!!!

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    now, that’s just being ridiculous! x

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  • JazzyCat

    The word ‘restaurant’ comes from the French word ‘to restore ourselves, to nourish’. And it should be done regularly, of course 🙂

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    LOVE that x

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    mw Reply:

    me too !

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  • Bec

    Sometimes you describe me so perfectly! I’m only 22 and I’ve dined solo since I was 18 (a whopping 4 years). I crave my own company, and there’s nothing more restorative than dinner out alone. (Yes, I have friends, family, and a boyfriend, no, I’m not going to stay home because no one else feels like going out). The thing that perplexes me is the looks of pity you receive dining alone-like your date hasn’t shown up, or you’re lonely. I find it exhausting to socialise for long periods of time, sometimes (often) one just needs peace and quiet, to get away from all the incessant smiling and humouring of others.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    I like your youthful style Bec

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    Vicki Hill Reply:

    I feel EXACTLY the same Bec. I can also feel more lonely in a crowd of people that I know than on my own. I enjoy my own company as I can daydream and plan. I went to Europe by myself twice when I was 20 and again at 23 both times on one way tickets. I met so many wonderful people from all walks of life and from all over the world. I dined out on my own in restaurants, inns and pubs. I ended up in Munich needing an urgent operation and was in hospital for eight days and I loved it because I was spoilt rotten by everyone in the hospital including the relatives of patients who brought me wine and beer and pretzels, english books etc. When I was nearly ready to be discharged a patient’s boyfriend took me to the Octoberfest !!

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  • Lucy Travers

    No one looks twice when you dine alone in New York, and I do it quite often. I actually prefer it – I can eat when and where I want, and make friends with all the wait staff, who remember my order and what I like to eat!

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  • Daniel L

    “… be the crazy woman. That is, feel free to lean over and throw in a
    comment to the conversation next to you. Or smile generously at someone across from you and see if it can open up a situation. Why not? You’re in a foreign situation and you’re out on a limb already.

    Be the renegade. The unique
    one. The brave one.”

    The best ! 🙂

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  • Skim

    I love dining alone. I also live by myself at the moment, at the end of the year I will move to the country to be with my partner and in January, will give birth. So my dining alone experiences have become even more precious to me as I can see their days dwindling. I rarely travel alone anymore, so its local alone dining for me. Love it!

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  • Kerry

    Ha ha.This is EXACTLY what I do too. I love how you can articulate things Sarah. I love just sitting back, sipping on a wine soaking up the buzz and pondering. Thank you (-:

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  • Debra Sinclair

    I completely agree Sarah. I love dining alone. It’s a wonderful time to sit back, enjoy beautiful food, take in the surroundings and reflect. I agree with Lizzie, it feels restorative as well. Beautiful post.

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  • I am right there with you sista! I’m 38 and single…and thoroughly enjoy my blissful, party-of-one dinners. Even better are those along the beach (I live in SoCal), so I can watch the sunset. While everyone else is getting all cuddly-romantic, I’m breathing, mindful and taking it ALL in.

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  • J.

    Before starting my first professional job after university graduation, I left the US and traveled around Italy for one month—by myself. As an almost-21-year-old then, I have to say it was the best experience I could have ever had before becoming “an adult”. (And kudos to my parents for not freaking out when I told them I was going—this was way before smartphones!).

    My friends thought I was crazy (as did the Italians I met along the way), but there was something so nourishing, so right, so blessed about exploring all day on my own and then settling into a beautiful restaurant or cafe (with my back to the wall!) to enjoy the view, a hearty dinner, write in my journal, read my guidebook or relive what I had done that day via the pictures on my digital camera. It’s also a treat to know you don’t have to share dessert with anyone ;).

    So many good things happen when you let yourself be open and vulnerable.

    (Especially for me—I met my now-husband during the last stop of that trip! 😛 ).

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  • Emma

    Oh how I miss eating out alone. Good book, glass of wine and 3 courses. Never actually thought if any pitying glances, and having worked as a waitress for years when studying I don’t think I ever felt sorry for customers dining alone.
    Anyway, when the kids are older I’ll enjoy it again.

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  • San

    This is such a good idea. I love dining alone and I have had many good experiences. When I am on a busy trip and maybe nervously thinking about the day ahead I like getting up early and have my hotel breakfast alone before my colleagues get up and join.

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  • Dell

    If I saw you at a restaurant I might look too. “Ahh, it’s Sarah Wilson, love her!

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    San Reply:

    I’d look, too, thinking what a beautiful/confident/serene (whatever I think at that moment) woman!

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  • Joanna Roy

    I dine alone, as well as do lots of stuff alone! Sometimes I am nervous and self conscious sometimes I like being the ‘odd’ one. I do have to coach myself to sit a little longer and not rush out the door! Its liberating. i often use it as my do one thing a day that scares you!! thanks for sharing, I will feel braver now!

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  • Yes to all of the above… Love solo dining. It didn’t work so well in the French Pacific Islands where I used to travel for work back in cosmetics days… French men would offer to ‘save me’ all the time. Quite insistantly, too. Solo dining is one of the reasons I love taking a little holiday every year without my family. Sitting, eating something delicious, people watching, chatting to waiters… It’s one of my favourite ways to feel indulged and recharged.

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  • Anna G

    Yes definitely enjoy the dine along experience…the last time I was visiting in New York and waiting for my sister to finish work; I spent two hours reading, eating and drinking (too much) wine….at some point the waitress came up to me and said “I am so envious of the afternoon you’re having!”

    It takes being out of my normal routine to do it, on holidays usually, but being alone and savouring food and wine is usually one of my favourite memories of holidays gone. Great post x

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  • I agree with the sitting-against-a-wall thing. I love to sit back where I can see everything and sip an espresso as I go between being engaged in my own business and watching others in the cafe. So rejuvenating!

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  • I’ll never forget the time I heard a guy who worked at a restaurant talk about how sexy this one woman was who regularly came in alone, ordered a steak and a glass of red wine.

    The image of that woman was who inspired me to start dining alone! I love it as well.

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  • Kristen

    Love your tips, I dine alone 3-4 days per week as I travel for work. Its one of my favourite parts of being away. Choosing exactly where I’ll go and what to eat, without worrying about anyone else, and sitting as long as I feel like is great! I just love the calm and quiet of being happy in my own company. Along with loving food!

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  • Naomi

    I just love how indulgent it feels… and a little bit naughty. Can order whatever I want without judgement or opinion, and just really taste every bite… Great way to reconnect with self. Great post. xx

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  • sanja

    Sarah. Is there anyway you can post advice on travelling alone and not being mistaken for the ‘eat pray love’ female traveller. I want to travel solo next year but dont want to be mistken for the clich. Love your blog…. Sanja

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  • Mia

    This could not have come at a better time, i’m travelling to the US on my own in a week and plan on enjoying lots of meals at nice restaurants on my own. This has just made me feel a whole lot better about doing this.

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  • niki

    I tend to bookend trips with friends with a few days solo travel, and the most memorable experiences I’ve had, no matter which country, were the ones where I was on my own. I’ve befriended waiters in Rome, Bogota, Valencia, New York City etc – it’s amazing how quickly you become a mate for no other reason than you’re solo. Have to underline the Italian waiters thing too – Italian men get a bad rap for being pushy/sleazy but these guys had such a great sense of humour and were just the right amount of playful and accommodating and respectful of my space/need for alone time.

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  • StephW

    I’ve always had breakfast by myself on a Saturday morning, it’s my
    favourite time of the week – I actually make myself unavailable for
    plans until after I’ve had breakfast on my own.

    Dinner is a step
    up though – it’s less expected. I actually used your Byron guide a
    couple of years ago and spent 5 days there by myself. The guys at St
    Elmo’s could not have been more like the wait staff in your post. They
    rejigged their serves, suggested cocktails, brought over wine tastings
    just for fun, and generally just hung out with me, which was perfect
    after four days on my own.

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  • Sonia

    Totally agree with you but have to say the sideways glances are probably more that you are a gorgeous looking young woman who is a bit of a celebrity! I am actually dining on my own at the moment whilst reading your articles. Love it!

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  • Amy Landry

    I love this Sarah. Well put!

    “sending texts to people you’ve neglected” – I do this exactly. Or respond to emails I’ve neglected. I love dining alone. In fact, I love doing a lot of things alone. It gives me space and time.. to think, be still, and so on. Talking over a meal can be draining and distraction generally.

    In Ayurveda it is said one should not talk at all during a meal, so as to really saviour the flavour, the scent of the food, and the visual beauty of the food – and in doing so the digestion gets a clear message to get working immediately and efficiently!

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  • Leonie

    I love dining alone and have been doing so for many years. When I first started doing this as a woman in my 20’s, i was rarely left to my own devices as people would feel “sorry” for me and try to invite me to their table or a waiter wouldn’t leave me alone. Now 20 years later, no one seems to find me out of place, which is lovely.
    Sarah, I am however cautious when I sit up at the bar though as that seems like an invitation to men for some reason and I have had to be quite firm with some of them which makes me uncomfortable, specially when I leave a restaurant alone later.
    How do you cope with that?

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  • Kelly

    Dining alone is divine! My fave is a weekend breakfast with the papers. I also love going to the movies alone, and shopping solo. Great post!

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  • Ruthie

    I have a dining alone phobia. But your post has encouraged me to give it a go. Dining out for me at the best of times can pose a risk as I am gluten, dairy & sugar free (all due to health issues). But you inspire me Sarah. This shall have to be my next out there goal.

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  • Nicola

    Dining solo is an art I have come to master after years of work travel. I refuse to order room service, so have grown accustomed to the often suprised response from the waiter when you request a table ‘for one’. There is nothing like eating in a peaceful, mindful state while others are deep in conversation surrounding you, so I can now say it is an experience I have come to enjoy and appreciate, as well as enhancing the experience whilst dining when I am with friends and family.

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  • Lynda

    This brought a smile…its funny what can cause a stir. Space to ponder is just bliss.

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  • Ed Car

    Going to a reasonably priced cafe and having a nutritious meal made from fresh produce and served to you not that expensive or an indulgence compared to if you tried to buy all the ingredients yourself and cook. Then the’s washing up part…

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  • Rebekah

    Once I took myself out for dessert alone and was very contentedly watching the world go by when a guy my own age walked over, asked if I was all right, then parked himself next to me and started to make conversation. I couldn’t seem to get across to him the idea that I was by myself because I didn’t need any conversation.

    I like to think that getting confused looks from waiters just means there’ll be less of them given to the next person dining alone.

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  • i’d say they weren’t looking at you because you were dining solo Sarah, i’d be thinking they were going ‘wow it’s Sarah Wilson and she’s here eating dinner near us, let’s see what she orders’!! Maybe they were a bit star struck!

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  • maria

    good one Sarah. I totally agree with you. Ive joined the singles club and have every intention on spoiling myself.

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  • anaree

    The reason people may be glancing at you is simply because they are envious 🙂

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  • lilybetcad

    I eat alone all the time, especially when travelling for work- I’ve even been to a concert by myself!

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  • Sarah

    I love this post. I love to dine alone. But perhaps the thing that grabbed me the most about this article is that you mentioned that you too love sweetbreads. These are one of my favourite foods, and I am so excited that someone else (besides my family) knows what they are and LIKES to eat them!

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  • james fly

    Finally, Sarah articulated what I have felt strongly for years. It truly is a wonderful experience for all the senses!
    –Jqmes Fly

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  • Jo

    I think those sideways glances are because YOU ARE FAMOUS! I too love dining alone especially when on holiday and switched off from the world.

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  • bella bella

    i love traveling and dining on my own too! it’s the best- and i agree, sit at the bar. it’s the ideal vantage point for an ideal experience.

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  • feliss

    My husband and I have just come back from France where it’s very common to see people – men and women – dining unapologetically alone. In Paris and in Perigeux, Sarlat, Domme and Beynac, we saw people calmly and happily enjoying their three courses, often with wine, alone. It was so civilised. They didn’t rush but took the time to savour their lunch or dinner. The French have got a lot right.

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  • Miranda Partridge

    Oh Sarah, you really are my spirit animal!xx

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  • Ash

    I have always been ok with having lunch on my own or a coffee, although three months travelling by myself I have no advanced to dining alone and even being ok to stop and have a wine on my own and happily watch the world go by. It is funny talkng to many other travellers though and the varrying opinions on being able to do this.. Each to their own! 🙂

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  • Marthe Hagen

    I had my turning point in life the first time I dined solo in New York City. I was on a month-long vacation with my boyfriend when he out-of-the-blue (at least for me…) announced that he was leaving after 7 years together. My reaction? I went out to dine alone. The confidence I gained from dining solo became my rock during the challenging time in NYC before I returned home to build a life on my own for the first time of my life. Now I dine solo all the time and I love it!

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  • Ron

    Count me in too, Sarah. Love dining alone, and you nailed the reasons why. Do it whenever I can to recharge, ponder, read the latest issue of Spirituality & Health. Yes, “purvey life!”

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  • Pingback: My favourite trick for having a Small Moment of One’s Own | Sarah Wilson()

  • KatrinaF

    I agree, I love my own company! I couldn’t care less about what people think

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  • Prue

    On my Paris solo trip I ate alone a bit, but my best was a degustation with matching wines at a 2-hat restaurant. It was uncomfortable at first but I loved the indulgence, the ‘foreignness’, the service and of course, the food. It was really special and one of my favourite things I’ve done.

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  • Kevin

    My favourite part of solo travel.

    As I read this, “I am not alone” is the contradictory, cognitively dissonant statement that came to mind & rocked my face into smiley mode.

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  • Eliza

    I take myself to cafes in Fremantle on a weekly basis, with a book, the paper, cross words, text books for study. It’s bliss!

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  • Yes! It is such a treat. And there is nothing sillier than the question “just one?” when being seated solo. I have come to enjoy the flutters when I do it. Love all these tips- thank you for sharing them.

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  • Bec Long

    When I lived in Paris, I dined alone often. I feel as it is more “accepted” in European cultures. I loved it. Dining alone allowed me to fully immerse myself in the culture. I too spoke to the waiters to practice my French, watched others in restaurant and basked in the romantic atmosphere that is Paris.

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  • Jo

    Love, love, love dining alone. There is something soulful about taking yourself out. I have been in a relationship for close to a decade now, but the dining alone thing has never died, and never will. I actually don’t think you are fully adult until you are able to comfortably enjoy a meal in a restaurant on your own.

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