To many young people, the idea of dining out at a restaurant alone might seem intimidating and unnecessary, but with the right mindset, it can be an irreplaceable asset to your self care routine.
The main benefit of dining out by oneself is quality alone time, without the seclusion that may cause loneliness. While loneliness can be detrimental to mental health, simple solitude is not.
According to Hara Estroff Marano, writing for Psychology Today, “We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves.”
Marano said solitude, unlike loneliness, restores the body and mind.
While solitude at home may lead to feelings of isolation, for some, dining out alone can strike a delicate balance between being alone and having human interaction.
“When I eat out instead of eating at home, I can still enjoy the benefits of being alone without feeling isolated in my apartment,” said Kaitlyn Tew, a graduate student at the University of North Alabama.
Tew said she tends to be introverted, so that alone time helps to re-energize her. She also uses that time to catch up on schoolwork without having to stay secluded from others for long periods of time, she said.
Relaxation doesn’t always have to mean procrastination; homework and other activities that require lots of brainpower, like reading or creative thought, can be a useful way to stay busy without the company of others.
“Taking homework to coffee shops and other restaurants can make doing schoolwork or studying much more enjoyable,” she said.
One of Tew’s favorite places to go for a meal and study session is Rivertown Coffee Co. in downtown Florence, Alabama.
“I feel like I can go and stay for hours without feeling like I am in the way,” she said.
Coffee shops are a great option if you want to bring along homework, a book or even a laptop to accompany you while relaxing alone, but you may find that you prefer a more lively setting such as a bar or restaurant.
“I like sitting at bars because I can have a nice conversation with the bartender, people watch and get some food without having to take up a whole table,” said Pariss Cruce, a lifelong Shoals resident.
She said eating alone alleviates pressures that dining with others might impose.
“As opposed to having to worry about what I’m wearing, what I’m going to say or how much I should eat,” she said, “I can just go and enjoy myself, which is cleansing for me.”
Both coffee shops and bars can be inviting places for beginning single-diners to build their confidence, but restaurants may still seem off the menu even for those with experience.
UNA student Jessica Lenz said those just beginning to go out alone for meals may want to start at restaurants where they know some of the employees.
“If you know your friend is going to be there, it makes it easier to go out alone,” she said. “You can talk to them a little to make the experience more comfortable if you need to.”
Lenz says she eats out alone as a break from the stresses of college life and as a treat to herself every once in a while.
The emotional health benefits of dining out alone will vary for everyone, but for some the experience can build confidence, promote self-awareness or relieve stress.
“Students often have a lot going on in their lives, including school work, extracurricular activities, jobs, relationships and decisions about the future,” Tew, who studies mental health counseling, said. “Undoubtedly, this leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. It is good to get time away alone once in a while to slow down and enjoy a meal alone.”
The solitude of dining alone can be beneficial to college students who want to refresh after dealing with school stresses. While dining out alone may not be for everyone, if you give it a try, you just might find that you are the only company you need.
Did you know?
- 10% of Americans eat out alone at least once per week
- There are more than 31,500 coffee shops in the U.S.
- Fast Casual restaurants make it easy to dine out alone