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The Solo Traveler Blog

Dining Solo: A Confession and a Discovery

photo, image, scallops, clams

One of the most popular dishes at BG’s Boat House: The Half ‘n Half

I have a confession to make.

I have often read comments, both here and on the Solo Travel Society Facebook page, by travelers feeling uncomfortable with dining alone in restaurants, and thought “Huh?”

It seems to be something that has the potential to cause people to avoid traveling solo altogether.

I found this surprising, and had some trouble understanding how it could be such an enormous obstacle that it could prevent someone from enjoying all of the other benefits of solo travel.

Then, I found myself in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I had been on a press trip with a group of other writers for several days, courtesy of New Hampshire Tourism, and now I was on my own for a few days. Suddenly, it occurred to me that it had been a very long time since I had eaten dinner alone in a restaurant.

“How can this be?” I thought. I travel alone all the time, and obviously, I eat wherever I go.

photo, image, sagamore creek, boats

The view of Sagamore Creek from the restaurant deck.

But when I thought about it, I realized that without making a conscious decision to do so, I had begun spending dinner times in different ways. In Paris, I had picked up a baguette, some cheese and a bottle of wine on the way back to my rental apartment, where I would eat as I pored over maps and guides, planning the following day. In Prague, I had eaten a lovely ham sandwich and coffee with milk at a stand-up table in a bakery-cafe while I flipped through schedules and waited for my film to begin at Febio Fest. In New York, I had eaten pizza and beer while watching films underneath the Brooklyn Bridge at the NYC Food Film Festival. And in Barcelona, I had enjoyed paella and crema catalana with other travelers at the end of a cooking class. But sitting at a table by myself in the middle of a restaurant? Not so much.

So I challenged myself to go to a restaurant and dine solo.

I chose BG’s Boat House. I had overheard other travelers and staff talking about it at my hotel. It is an institution in Portsmouth, having been run by the same family since the 70s. They specialize in local fish and seafood-which I love-and have a beautiful deck overlooking Sagamore Creek.

photo, image, clam chowder, beer

Clam chowder and beer-both local, both delicious.

Since it was a lovely summer evening, I decided to sit on the patio. Once I had ordered my meal, I had to figure out what to do with myself. I fussed about with my phone and the menu and flipped through some reading material that I had brought with me. I felt a little awkward as the only solo diner at such a popular place where groups of diners were clearly enjoying themselves. But slowly, I became more aware of my surroundings: the creek before me, the setting sun, the boats docked at the marina, a family of ducks floating by. I actually relaxed into the experience. I enjoyed a local Smutty Nose Shoals Pale Ale. I warmed up with some clam chowder. I worked my way through the biggest, juiciest, freshest fried scallops I had ever had, along with the best tartar sauce ever (apparently the secret is lots of dill pickle).

I had completely forgotten my earlier discomfort. I felt completely at ease and welcome, even when the sun went down and I was the last hold-out on the deck. And I realized how much I had been missing by avoiding dining alone.

photo, image, linda graves

Linda Graves is proud of what her family has accomplished. With good reason.

In speaking with Linda Graves, whose entire family works at BG’s, I made an unexpected discovery. She trains her staff to be sensitive to solo diners who may not be entirely comfortable. They can choose any table in the restaurant-in the center of the room, in a quiet corner, on the open-air deck or covered patio-or they can eat at the bar. Customers are never greeted with “Just one?” or “Only you?”  In addition to catering to new solo diners, this policy is intended to help keep existing customers. BG’s has many loyal local customers who have been with them for years. Linda has seen a lot of these women outlive their husbands, and she wants to make sure that they don’t stop coming to the restaurant just because they are shy about eating on their own.

I couldn’t have had a better experience to ease me back into solo dining.

I understand the trepidation. I know the feeling of needing to be “busy” with a book or a computer in the absence of a dining companion. But I encourage you to push through it. Engage the staff in conversation. Eat at the bar, which will naturally be more social. Get a seat on a patio and people-watch or gaze at a sunset. Or just sit with yourself, soak up the atmosphere and really experience your food. However you do it, enjoying your meals is an important part of solo travel that you don’t want to miss.

 

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  • Linda

    I often dine solo in my hometown and enjoy my meals very much. Sometimes I read, check my phone, check in from the restaurant, or just enjoy the ambiance.

  • Lois

    Nice article….I realize that I often dine alone…..and I am never embarrassed or uncomfortable. Who said that one has to dine with someONE in order to dine? I will be in Paris for 3 months …..solo…..glad for the tips shared….they will help!

  • Bron

    I don’t feel awkward about dining alone . When I am dining solo and I see couples not talking to each other or playing on their phones I think how lucky I am to be not at that table. Sit there with confidence I say.

  • Sonya B

    Great post! One thing I do is write when I’m at a restaurant solo. I like to believe the staff thinks I’m a restaurant reviewer and treats me better (whether or not that’s true!). I’ve never had a bad experience dining alone.

  • Sean Ragusa

    Last year, I celebrated my 40th Birthday, traveling solo, from Munich to Marktschellenberg to Milan, Naples, and Rome. It was a great experience, especially the dining. I feel very fortunate that all of my experiences in both Germany and Italy were all positive, with even having the pleasure of meeting a few chefs and restaurant owners, even once being shown the kitchen. I have my second solo Italian trip planned for September, exploring Tuscany.

  • Janis

    Regarding “dining alone blues” this is how I think about it. If I ever see a solo diner, do I think “LOSER!?” No, I don’t even think much of anything about it. Oh, maybe, “wow, that’s great they feel that comfortable to eat alone.” Helps to bring a book or something to read though. The only downside is if it’s “with two, you get an eggroll…”

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    It sounds like you ended up having a wonderful evening, in spite of a not-so-pleasant beginning. :)

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    Thank you – and it was!

  • hollywoodsc

    I dine a lot on my own and will say “One for dinner” before they ask.
    I had one unfortunate experience in Italy. I was celebrating my divorce in Rome for New Year’s Eve. I entered a restaurant, said “Uno” and was seated at a table, but no one ever came over. The waiters stood in the corner looking at me like only some sort of alien would dine alone on a holiday!
    After 15 minutes I got up and walked out. I ended up having a fabulous bbq sandwich and small bottle of wine from a street-side vendor (who had a line for good reason) and people watching. The rest of the evening was fabulous!
    I have a friend who wont go anywhere alone. I couldn’t imagine putting my life on hold simply because someone wasn’t holding my hand.

  • Nicky

    Great article, and the chowder looks amazing!

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  • http://solofriendly.com Gray

    I LOVE that! I wish all restaurants had such sensitive policies in regards to solo diners. Good for them! If I’m ever in Portsmouth, I’ll definitely look them up.

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    That’s great, Audrey!

  • Valerie

    Thanks, Tracey, for relating such an honest and useful account of your visit with us here in Portsmouth.  We’ve all been in that “fiddle with your phone/menu/book” solo-dining situation, and your suggestions will help us all navigate through for a good experience.  We’ll be sure to let Linda Graves and her family and staff at BG’s know about your good words.  Valerie

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    You raise an interesting point, Ele. The unofficial rules of restaurant seating may also be different from place to place. What you describe would probably not be considered unreasonable in North America, although, as you point out, it would be in Lithuania. I would not expect to be allowed to sit alone at a table for 6 in Toronto or New York, unless the restaurant was empty, simply because they’re running a business, and they need to be able to seat large parties as well as small. However, if they put me in a corner…I’m afraid I’m about to start quoting from the film “Dirty Dancing!”  ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Kootvela Ele Pranaityte

    I was very embarrassed in London. I went to this Italian place by the Thames. I sat down at a table and started waiting for a menu. When it didn’t come in reasonable time, I asked for one. I was asked if I was waiting for my friends. I said no. So, they said, I have to move to a smallish table almost in the corner. It was so weird. I didn’t know this is a rule in England. In Lithuania, you can sit alone at a table for 6 if you want unless it’s reserved.  

    Ele

  • http://twitter.com/thatbackpacker Audrey Bergner

    I felt really awkward the first few times I dined solo when I first started travelling. But then it grew on me – especially being able to people watch and take in the surroundings. :)
     

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    It’s discouraging to hear stories like this, Marion. Perhaps some restauranteurs are unaware that 9 million American women traveled solo last year-that’s a pretty big market to be ignoring or alienating. But for every restaurant that doesn’t get it, there will be others that do. Like BG’s!  :)

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    I think that BG’s was recommended to me by just about everyone I encountered in Portsmouth, Dayle. And now I know why! In addition to their popularity with tourists, Linda told me that they actually want to be known best by locals, as they build relationships with them, and they come back throughout the season, and over the years. Lucky you to be able to go anytime you want!

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    Oh, you really should stop in if you’re in the area, Lee-and sit on the patio if the weather cooperates. They have parking for cars, boats and kayaks! Please tell Linda that I send my regards. I can still taste those scallops!

  • Marion

    I have traveled many times on my own, even driving across the US over a two week period while moving myself from the west to east coast.  the one part that I don’t enjoy is eating dinner alone.  Sometimes I have been treated very well and had a great chat with a waiter, bartender, or fellow diners, but sometimes I have been made to feel like I am wasting a table (generally I prefer to sit at the bar for this reason). One time I walked into an empty restaurant in the off season, and when I asked to sit by the window for an ocean view, I was told “we don’t allow singles to sit at the window”.  There was no one else in there and I did not want to give them my money for such a stupid rule, so I left.  I only regret I didn’t say why. 

  • Dayle S

    Hi Janice,  I wanted to let you know that as a native from NH you could not have picked a better place to sit on the deck and enjoy a drink and a meal.  I have been going to BG’s for a long time and its on of those undiscovered gems (ssshhhh) that it is such a great find.  I bring my friends and family there a lot and everyone has enjoyed it tremendously.  BG’s is always a comfortable place to eat with friends, family or solo and as you mentioned they strive to make it so for everyone.  Also wanted to mention that you also to a great job of help us all who travel alone more comfortable in doing so.  Keep up the great work!!!  Travel on!

  • Leelaurino

    bravo!   a restaurant who understands that some of us find it almost impossible to eat out!   And we do miss a great deal when this happens.

    now that i have read this i am off to eat fish at a local hang out in Calabash NC, not a fancy sit down place but i assure you I will be the ONLY SOLO PERSON THERE> 
    thank goodness my brother in law lets me stay at his condo where i can cook or it would be fast food for a week at a time!   

    or eating with the nearly deads at 4:30 in the afternoon!   i hate becoming old in such a memorable way! 

    cant wait to stop and meet Linda on my trip North ….

    thanks Janice        LL 

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    You’ve got it down pat, Julie – thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    She really is-it was lovely to speak with her. I even met some of her family as I waited for my hotel shuttle to pick me up after dinner!

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    I agree, Melissa. I was very impressed with their policy, and think it should be a model for other restaurants.

  • http://twitter.com/avalonmel Melissa Hogan

    I love the idea that restaurant staff are trained to be sensitive to solo diners. I hate it when I get “just one?” while waiting for a table. It makes me want to say “I have friends, I swear but I’m travelling solo.” which I shouldn’t need to do. I hope more restaurants do this in the future.

  • http://www.travelandtraditions.com/ Aude

    Great post! So true. I love Linda’s way to cater to solo diners – she seems to be an amazing lady!

  • http://www.traveling-through.com/ julie farrar

    Very timely since I was spending two weeks alone in France before my husband arrived.  When I travel solo in the U.S. it’s not much of an issue because it’s so easy to strike up a conversation with the server or diners at nearby tables.  However, it’s not like that in other countries.  If I decide to go out to dinner instead of eating at my apartment or in my hotel I choose a restaurant that would engage me in some way.  If it there is a sidewalk table that’s great because I just use the time to people watch.  If there isn’t, I see if I can find a restaurant with a big window onto the street or any other features (like music) to distract me until my food arrives.  I choose less formal restaurants when eating alone and feel quite comfortable pulling out my e-reader or my travel notebook or my camera (taking picture of menu or checking recent shots).  I like your suggestion about eating at the bar.  In American restaurants I do that all the time because 1) service is frequently faster and 2) something comes up to entertain you.

  • http://www.solotravelerblog.com/ Tracey Nesbitt

    Thanks very much!  :)

  • http://www.awanderfullife.com/ Deborah Harmes

    What a charming article. I’m sure that this will resonate with quite a few intentional or unintentional single diners. Well done!

About Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt

I'm an author, blogger, speaker and traveler. I became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time. And then, I became Solo Traveler... Here's the full story. >>

Tracey Nesbitt I’m a writer, editor, food and wine fanatic, and traveler. On my very first trip abroad I learned that solo travel was for me. Here's the full story. >>

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