8 Reasons It’s Awesome (and Good for You!) to Eat Out Alone

Plus, seven Philly restaurants where you can confidently dine solo.

My college roommates thought I was nuts for habitually schlepping a backpack full of reading material to a cafe near campus, where I would happily inform the hostess that, no, there would be no one else in my party — I was eating alone. It was more than a decade ago, during my college days, when I learned the simple, quiet joy that is dining solo. 

In fact, I honestly hadn’t thought twice about it since — it’s still a ritual these days, but more often with lunch than dinner, thanks to a husband and baby who, well, like having me around — until late last week when I stumbled onto an article over on NPR about how more and more people are opting for a table for one.

To quoth:

Online restaurant reservations provider Open Table — which is owned by Priceline — reported in October that there has been a 62 percent rise in solo reservations over the past two years. And data collected by the Hartman Group, a market research firm, for a report by the Food Marketing Institute, showed that nearly half of all meals in America are now eaten alone — and half of those meals are eaten away from home.

Who knew I was such a trendsetter?

It got me thinking about the reasons I got hooked on dining out alone to begin with, and I realized that almost all of them had more to do with giving myself a mental break than anything else. And what could be better for your body and spirit than a much-needed mental break every now and then?

So here are eight reasons you should hop aboard the eating-out-alone train. (Backpack full of reading material optional.)

You’ll eat more mindfully.
Pretty much every nutritionist I’ve ever spoken to has talked up the benefits of mindful eating — that is, taking the time to actually think about, experience and enjoy the food you’re eating, rather than scarfing down a meal without so much as a pause. Well, consider solo dining your pause button, friends. With nothing but the food to focus on, you’ll notice each and every bite, and appreciate just how delicious (and satisfying!) food can be. From a health standpoint, it’s a good practice because if you’re more in tune with what’s going in your body, you’ll likely make better food choices and learn to listen to your body’s cues that tell you when you’re full. Can see the potential ramifications for weight loss and healthy eating? Thought so.

You’ll get lost in your own thoughts.
Well, duh. But let’s think about why that’s fantastic: Eating alone, quietly, will give you time to think about all the awesome things you’ve accomplished and the cool things you’ve experienced lately. Maybe it’ll spark some ideas or goals for the future. Or maybe your mind will meander its way back to that vacation you took to the Caribbean three years ago, which, come to think of it, was the last time you felt truly, blissfully, 100-percent relaxed, and maybe it’s time you started thinking about where you want to go next, and what about …

See where this can go? Only awesome places.

You’ll eat more slowly.
This one goes hand-in-hand with dinner-table mindfulness. After all, if you’re paying more attention to what you’re eating, you’ll probably end up eating more slowly. (How else are you going to savor each and every bite?) Here’s what’s great about pacing yourself: A 2013 study found that people who eat slowly tend to consume fewer calories. And because they aren’t shoveling in food by the forkful, slow eaters allow their bodies’ satiety response to keep pace with their eating, giving their bodies more time to feel satisfied and full (without feeling too full).

You won’t have meal envy.
You know when you go out to eat with a friend and they totally order better than you, and then you spend the entire time sneaking bites off their plate? Welp, that simply cannot happen when you eat alone.

You can people watch.
And you know how much we love people watching.

You can meet someone new.
I know, I know, the point of eating out is to be alone. But if you’re one of those overly social people who just can’t help talking to the person behind him in the checkout line at the ACME, you can think of solo dining as an opportunity to meet someone new. This is especially easy if you post-up at a bar, where at the very least a bartender can keep you entertained. Bonus points for striking up a conversation with the solo diner next to you.

You can catch up on a good book.
Remember my backpack full of books? So handy! And actually, in this day and age of Kindles and iPads and smartphones, you can haul even less gear to the table and still get a good read on. Note: This probably isn’t the best tactic in a fancy sit-down joint, but at a more casual cafe or diner It. Is. On.

You can boost your self confidence.
I’m adding this point for anyone who feels a pang of awkwardness or even fear at the thought of eating out alone. Once you do it and get over your fear, I guarantee you’ll feel your self-confidence meter jump up a few notches. How do I know? Because it’s what happens any time you conquer a fear. (I should know, having just rappelled down a 31-story skyscraper in Center City and all.) Just think: If you can do this, what other pesky fears can you conquer head on?

7 Philly Restaurants Where You Can Confidently Dine Solo

Ready to make a reservation for one? I asked my solo-dining coworkers here at Philly Mag where they like to eat alone. Below, their answers. 

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Fitler Dining Room is my favorite. You can sit at the bar and the chef serves you himself. It only has four or five seats. My first night there, I sat next to two guys who, of course, knew people I knew because, well, this is Philly.” — Julie Lazarus, art director.

“I like eating alone. It’s easy anywhere as long as you have something to read, but it’s best in diners and bars — places with counters. The main spot I eat alone at is probably Locust Bar.” — Dan McQuade, associate editor.

“I eat by myself at Zavino at least once a month. It hits the sweet spot on what I consider super-important criteria: dim, but not date-night dim (or risk looking like a lonely weirdo); busy, but not chaotic; and the bar is spacious enough that I can bring my iPad, order the house red and spaghetti squash, and still have elbow room.” — Marina Lamanna, custom media assistant editor.

“V Street. Sit at the counter by the window.” — Adjua Fisher, the other half of Be Well Philly. (But you knew that.)

“I always love Parc for a cozy atmosphere. Bonus if you can snag a window seat and watch people passing by on the sidewalk.” — Claudia Gavin, photo editor.

“I love hitting the happy hour at Alma de Cuba solo. They take care of you quite nicely.” — Bryan Buttler, contributing writer and GPhilly editor.

“All Tria locations.” — Arthur Etchells, senior editor and Foobooz editor. (He also points us to this gem of a roundup on where to dine solo in Philly.)

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly — here’s how: