What’s Your Style?
Are you after fine dining, a food experience or a social event? If you want company then choose somewhere with communal tables. Wagamama style, a food court, a train dining car or a market. I've made lots of friends this way.
Markets are often a great place to get good fresh food at reasonable prices. Especially if there are seafood restaurants around the fish stalls - you can often choose your own food from the catch. Sometimes, in places like Korea, you pick from the tank. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language. People are generally happy to make a sale. Many restaurants have pictures of dishes you can refer to. Though sadly sometimes what you get looks nothing like the picture. In others just point at what’s on display.
Trip Advisor is helpful for choosing a restaurant or bar. The concierge or someone else working at your accommodation is probably even better. They will often make a reservation for you.
In countries like Japan, dining alone is the norm, and restaurants are organised for an easy life. There are solo booths and tick sheets to order. Or opt for a sushi conveyor belt- just remove what you want, and the waiter tots up the bill using the coloured rings on the plates you have stacked up. Press a button for a drink or to order something specially made.
Just a Drink?
Bookshop cafes are great for browsing and watching the world go by.
If you want a cocktail or beer try and choose an outside, patio or window table – again so you have inbuilt entertainment. Never leave your glass unattended and know your tolerance for alcohol. You always need to be in control.
Take Something to Do
If you’re not into people watching, or it's not an option, then take something to do. Some good restaurants will offer you reading material, or bring your own. I often prop my Kindle up on the table. Take your postcards, diary or even your laptop. (I often do that too and write my blogs while I’m drinking – you can probably tell........)
Not all restaurants treat single women well, so be prepared. I’ve found that sometimes when I book online and enter one in the number of persons the reservation is declined. If this happens try putting two in the box instead. And when you turn up tell them your partner or friend is, sadly, ill. They will have to accept you with good grace.
Women on their own often get given poor tables. In a dark corner, by the toilet. Smile at the maitre d’ and ask politely if all the tables with views are reserved. They will often do their best to move you, especially if you tell them you eat quickly. Otherwise vote with your feet.
Is it fun dining alone? It’s just like exploring on your own. There’s no-one to distract from the flavours and aromas – you can really savour and enjoy every mouthful.
Tipping can be a headache. Check to see what the local practice is - use the internet. Very few waiters are going to be upset by being given a tip, though it is not the custom in all countries, like Australia. Some hotels and restaurants add a tipping option to the bill, even when service is included. (Naughty). If it's unclear if service is included then ask. It often is, in Europe. I also often check whether the tip goes to the waiter or not. Sometimes tips/service charges are shared by all staff, which is fine. Sometimes, when added to the credit card bill they just go to management, which is not - so I leave cash instead. Whatever, rounding up, as an extra, is always appreciated.
In places like America, where pay is very low and staff are reliant on tips, they are going to be very upset if they don’t get one and if it isn’t large enough. Many restaurants here now even give you a set of tipping options with a percentage sliding scale at the bottom of the bill. Fortunately, the service is usually good as the waiters understand cause and effect and it's no problem to tip.
Otherwise, don’t feel coerced and go with your instincts. If you want to reward good service go ahead. Especially if you might return to the same eating place during your stay. But don’t over tip as it raises expectations of future diners/travellers. Don’t tip for bad service - as long as it is the waiter’s fault and not a problem caused by the restaurant (not enough staff) or a slow kitchen. And don’t let your credit card out of sight. One waiter in New York who considered I had undertipped added an extra ten percent himself.
Not in the Mood for Eating Out?
Get a takeaway or the ingredients for one from the local stalls, supermarket or 7-11 and take it back to your room. I pack a set of cheap cutlery, as eating with the teaspoons in the room (if you’re lucky) isn’t much fun. Chicken and chips is my ubiquitous and standard fallback position. Or there's always the picnic option.