Single Woman Dining Alone

There is something rather discomfiting about a single woman dining alone. For some odd reason I’ve always followed this obscure and unwritten code of etiquette that forbids that. And I actually have no earthly idea why.

The other day I was at Pier 1 looking around. There is a Ron’s Hamburger restaurant right behind it in The Farm Shopping Center. You know I have no idea why it’s called The Farm Shopping Center. Nothing about it summons up thoughts of a farm.

Woodward Park garden

Anyway, I was hungry. I looked over at Ron’s and decided maybe I’d get one of their burgers for lunch. Typically I will put in an order somewhere, if it isn’t a drive-thru, and take my food home to eat.

Then it occurred to me that in all of my 62 years I had never, that I could recall, gone into a restaurant and eaten a meal by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said that I enjoy eating alone. But it has never really dawned on me to just go into a restaurant and eat there.

Men dine alone all the time. There is no doctrine anywhere that says women must have a companion to dine in an eating establishment.

I had a sudden light bulb flashing in your face moment. And then it occurred to me. Why haven’t I done this before? What was stopping me?

fall trees through gate

I happened to be the first person there, it only being a bit after 11 a.m. So I sat down in a comfy booth, looked at the menu, and ordered a meal.

It wasn’t anything fancy. Just a burger, their scrumptious fries and an iced tea. However it will, in my memory, forever be known as the first meal I ate alone in a restaurant.

Is this an age as well as a gender concept, do you think? I know many of you have remarked that you go to the movies alone. Is it just me who’s felt uncomfortable about doing this?

I have to admit that it felt a bit sophisticated (silly, I know) to sit in that booth in a hamburger joint, albeit a good one, by myself. I did not have a book or a magazine to read. And I don’t use a smart phone, so I wasn’t scrolling that.

I didn’t attempt to look busy to distract from the fact that I was dining without a companion. There was something rather gratifying about it in fact.

leaves

I simply sat there like the older grown up woman that I am, enjoying a meal by myself. With my big girl pants on. Doing something I’d never done before.

I felt like I’d graduated to a new level in my life as a single woman. It wasn’t that I’d had a Helen Reddy hear me roar moment or anything. Maybe it was just something I needed to prove to myself.

I didn’t feel awkward, as I suppose I once assumed I would.

I’m just a 62 year old woman who suddenly realized that there is nothing at all awkward about dining alone in a restaurant. And now I will no longer avoid doing this.

If I’m hungry, I will just walk right in and choose a seat and relax. I won’t need anything to distract from the fact that I’m alone, such as reading a book as I await my meal. No, I will just act like I’ve been doing this all my life.

An older man came in then, their second customer of the day, and sat down a few tables away. He did not look uneasy about being alone. I’m sure it is probably something he’s probably been doing his entire adult life.

leafless tree

So where did I get this idea that a woman eating alone wasn’t acceptable?

I feel rather silly actually. This should never have been a big deal. There’s nothing at all wrong with eating alone in a restaurant. You go in, order, eat your food, put a tip on the table and pay for your meal.

There’s nothing at all grand or unusual about it. Except for years it was. For me anyway. I had inexplicably followed this unwritten rule all my life. That single women look lonely when dining alone.

And it wasn’t that way at all. In fact it was a pleasant experience. And now that the glass ceiling in my head has been broken, I plan to do it again.

46 Comments

  1. I sometimes eat alone in restaurants, although I must say they are fast food restaurants or maybe a place that is one step up from fast food, and still not expensive. I haven’t gone alone to a really nice restaurant that requires a reservation. Haven’t thought to do so, and maybe it’s because of the cost. I probably had my first experience of eating alone in public place way back in college, when I lived in a dorm. I would go to the dorm cafeteria fairly early, before my first class, and I would sit alone at a table while a scattering of other students sat by themselves too. We were all looking over class notes or reading a textbook while eating, and it was quiet and peaceful and a great way to start the day. Eating alone like that seemed like such a treat after eating so many meals with my family while growing up. That experience probably prepared me for being able to eat alone in a restaurant when I got my first job out of college. I had to leave the office and drive around town and to neighboring towns. I often packed a lunch, but if I didn’t have one with me, I enjoyed stopping at a burger place and having a quick meal all by myself, with no one talking to me! Nowadays, I admit, it isn’t quite as much fun because most places have the music up too loud!
    I’m glad you’ve learned you can treat yourself to a meal alone at a restaurant. But I will add that my grandfather would never eat in a restaurant, alone or with someone. He had grown up poor and couldn’t read well, and he was too afraid of trying to order off of the menu. So my grandmother always packed him a lunch, and if they traveled together she packed a picnic basket. After he died, she started going to restaurants with family members, and it was a real treat for her. I don’t know if she ever ate at a restaurant alone. Probably not. She came from a huge family and seemed to need a lot of people around to feel normal!

  2. For me, it’s being comfortable in my own skin; I eat out and go to the movies alone and think nothing of it. The first time I went to the movies by myself, I was very self conscious, but I snapped out of it. When the needs call, venture out! I truly don’t think people give you a look like they did years ago; now, its just no big deal. Have a great Monday!

    Carol and Molly
    xoxoxo

  3. When I worked at a family restaurant in high school there was a woman who stopped by every evening after work for her meal, usually soup in winter or 1/2 of a club sandwich in the summer. She loved dining alone but basically held court. Everyone stopped by to say “Hello, Miss Dorthy”. She gave me confidence so that I’ve always enjoyed dining alone and watching people or striking up conversations with waitstaff or other customers.

  4. Isn’t that funny….I’m sure in my lifetime I must have had a meal out on my own, but I can’t recall doing that in many years. Granted, Sweetie takes me out regularly, so when we aren’t having ‘date night’ I kind of prefer to be home in my cozy house. Kudos to you, Brenda!

  5. I am 67 years old and have no problem with walking into a restaurant and eating alone. I guess it comes from years ago working for a large corporation that required me to travel alone sometimes. So if I wanted to eat something good at a nice restaurant I had to eat alone. I do however try to take a small table if available. But if not, I just sit anywhere they seat me or if seating myself, I sit anywhere I may like. I always leave an appropriate tip so I figure my business whether alone or not is as good as any couples who may come in. I am married to my high school sweetheart so I do not always have to eat alone, but if I do, I just enjoy my meal like anyone else. You go Brenda! Good for you! This is your world too, so go out there and enjoy your place in it!

  6. I’ve heard of that rule that somehow isn’t a rule but yet everybody knows and sometimes follows it! Good for you Brenda. You’ve achieved an important milestone by breaking through the “Oh, women just do not DO that!” barrier that has silently kept women in certain “boxes” for ages. Even in this day and age, although it has gotten better, you do not see a lot of women out eating by themselves, or going to a play, or exploring a city. But I’ve been travelling alone since the 1980s and didn’t let the sometimes incredulous stares stop me. I guess I’m the the type of person who likes to cause a stir. It’s actually funny, sometimes, the reaction I’ve gotten as a lone woman doing things that the unspoken rule says women “aren’t supposed to do by herself.” Take Las Vegas. When you go see a show you are often seated by an usher the old-fashioned way, where if you slip the usher a cash tip you can score a seat upgrade. At one show I attended, when I got to the front of the queue and handed the female usher my ticket she said, rather surprised, “Are you alone?” And I smiled and said yes and slipped her a ten. She got this big smile on her own face which told me she was thinking “this woman knows how to roll!” and gave me a great seat at a table right up by the stage shared with a – I kid you not – a group of folks from a “boy band” including some of the singers. Never got so many free drinks in my life. And no – nobody would ever mistake me for a “lady of the night,” ahem. LOL! .From the 1980s through about 2008 or so, people seemed fascinated that I would be out and about BY MYSELF and sometimes stare, but then try to pretend they didn’t notice anything that they thought was unusual, But women travel to and from work every day and nobody thinks twice about it, they shop by themselves all the time, and go to the church by themselves, and nobody thinks twice about it. So I didn’t let the reactions bother me and tried not to notice them. I was never asked to leave anywhere because I was alone or refused to be seated at a dinner table by myself. Fortunately, travelling about and just doing everyday things alone (like going to a restaurant for a meal) as a sole woman no longer attracts as much attention as it used to, although you still might raise some eyebrows going to a fine dining restaurant by yourself. Which is ridiculous, if you think about it. I’m perfectly capable of enjoying a well cooked dish by myself 🙂

  7. Good for you, Brenda. I’m a 65 year old single woman and occasionally I will dine alone. I usually choose a window seat so I can look outside. I am a loner and I do many things alone. I actually enjoy it that way if I shopping or whatever. Enjoy your life. It’s the little treats that make it so sweet and worthwhile.

  8. Let this be the first of many more treats. Even my grandmother would sneak off by bus to sit in a booth at the drugstore and order an ice cream sundae. Haha I loved her so much for it! I enjoy eating with or without someone. As a matter of fact the other day my friend was asking me about a good Indian Restaurant. I recommend one and she said Oh good, that’ll be where I go the next time I want to treat myself!! Live it up!!! I know some men that won’t do it either. They don’t know what they’re missing. Plus I see some couples that look like they’d be happier if they were alone. Ever notice how many old people don’t even talk to each other? And it’s not because they’re looking at a cellphone. They look totally bored with each other. I find that sad.

  9. For some reason, reading what you write about women eating in a restaurant alone, the thought pops into my mind that sometime back in the thirties or forties it was actually considered improper for a woman to go many places alone, including to a restaurant to eat. I don’t know why this era came to mind and perhaps it was that this rule of conduct for women was only beginning to be broken in the thirties and forties. But I can imagine my mother and grandmother mentioning this “rule”. I’m guessing it was just part of the whole concensus held for years and years that women couldn’t or shouldn’t do a lot of things on their own.

    Yay, for you, Brenda for breaking the rule–even if it was only in your head! I’m glad you enjoyed that meal all by yourself and that you feel less fettered by convention or whatever held you back before.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten alone in a restaurant. I never go out to eat unless it’s to spend time with friends, I guess. Also, I don’t feel I can afford to eat out alone. I’d rather save the money to do that when I have the opportunity to do it with a friend, I guess. Maybe I should do it just to have the experience and see how I feel about it!

    As usual, your photo images today are wonderful. I especially like the one with the leaves looking through the iron fence. I pinned that one.

  10. Brenda, never in my life had I gone to a restaurant or coffee house, until this past year! I, too, think there is some kind of unwritten archaic rule we older gals go by! Now, if I want to go do something, then I go! I used to wait to see what my husband wanted to do which usually consisted of sitting on the couch, glued to the tv. He is not the type to go and do unless it has to do with cars, fishing or hunting. So…I decided I had spent enough time just sitting around. I go out to eat, festivals and flea markets, alone! In fact, I just joined an African Drum Circle and have been doing that without my husband. I feel like I’ve accomplished a very important step in finally being free of the stigma of Wife and Mom…not that there is anything wrong with that. My biggest joys in life are those things but for once I am doing things for me…and I love it! Keep doing what you’re doing! Go, See, Do!

    Grace & Peace,
    Pam

  11. Congratulations, Brenda! That is a huge barrier to break! I’ve never felt uncomfortable eating out alone; I guess I’m one of the lucky ones….
    I enjoy the people watching; sometimes I will have a book or newspaper with me, sometimes not.

  12. I am 70 yrs young and enjoy eating out by myself. Certainly I would enjoy company but most of the time I am by myself. Another interesting point…. when eating at home alone (which is 99% of the time) I don’t eat at the kitchen table. I take my food into the living room, sit down in my recliner and eat while I watch tv. Does anyone else do that?

  13. Brenda, Congratulations! I am so excited that you enjoyed your solo lunch. I am not sure where that “rule” came from but it think it is something ingrained in our minds from the time when it was not allowed for women of “substance” to do anything alone.

    I have traveled Western Europe and the US alone since I was 16 and frankly if sometimes it is uncomfortable. For the last 20 years I have lived in a different state than my family and my husband travels for work so as another comment above mentioned, if I don’t go alone I am not going with anyone, that is not to say I do not have friends but they are not with me all of the time.

    I like eating out alone and going to the movies because I am on my own time schedule and I don’t have to share my desert.

    Have a great night!

  14. I’m older than you and I would love to have the occasional meal alone out. My husband stops off after an appointment at ihop or where ever but I usually rush home to take care of our handicapped daughter, or we take her. Once I went thru a drive thru and ate in the car. Pure heaven.

  15. I am married and eat alone, usually breakfast or lunch while running errands. I think nothing of it. My husband wouldn’t do it and can’t understand why I do it.

  16. Between Husband #1 and Husband #2, I mostly ate alone at restaurants. I traveled a lot, so restaurants were necessary. It didn’t bother me to eat alone, but sometimes it bothered the restaurants. In Copenhagen, I was refused at a half-empty place because I was alone. Copenhagen! I went elsewhere and left a big tip. I got a cold reception at a kind of fancy place in Normandy–they stuck me next to the kitchen door. But the food was beyond divine, and I guess my face showed it. By the end of the meal, the staff was around my table, explaining how everything was made. And I made sure to leave a big tip. Just to make them think, “Oooh, those solo female diners are great customers!”

  17. Bravo Brenda! I’m also 62, and being the introvert that I am, I’ve eaten in restaurants alone, gone to movies and concerts alone for years since I became single. My best friend was shocked to learn that I went to a movie alone, saying “There is nothing in me that would allow me to sit in a theater alone.” We no longer live in the same state, But she now ventures out on her own regularly. I prefer going places alone. I can take a book or a knitting project, enjoy the event, people watch and maybe have a conversation with a stranger.

    May you find more opportunities for dining out alone.

  18. I can remember years ago coming to Tulsa with my parents to shop and all of the area south of 51st and Memorial and Sheridan was farm land. I am supposing this was why the small shopping center was named The Farm. It is just amazing to see how everything has expanded and grown to the south.

  19. Good for you, Brenda! It sounds like a lovely meal and I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. And FYI if you’re wondering if it’s an age or generational thing…I just asked a few twenty something ladies here and they all sort of cringed when I mentioned it. They said they could do it, but the word awkward was tossed about. A lot. And I guarantee you that every single one of them would be glued to their phones through the entire meal!

  20. Way to go Brenda! Although I do not often eat out alone, I have done so and enjoyed the outing each time. And, each time I have dined alone, I always see other women (young and old) dining alone. Hopefully us older women are coming into our own!

  21. I have been single and mostly uncoupled my whole adult life and broke that particular “glass ceiling” a long time ago (I’m now 56). I usually go out with a friend who lives nearby and broke that pattern recently. I had forgotten how freeing it is and what a pleasure to enjoy my own company. To me, the single, independent life is a naturally comfortable one though I would welcome a spouse and more friends into the mix. One is definitely not the loneliest number!

  22. Before I retired, I often ate in a restaurant alone and thought nothing of it. I usually had a book with me and enjoyed my time alone. Since I am not working now, I never go out to eat by myself. No particular reason why I don’t. I’m not uncomfortable doing so; I just never think about it. If my husband has a meeting, I usually have leftovers or I will go get a hamburger at the drive-in and bring it home. Good for you for venturing out!

  23. Good for you! Even though I am married I do not mind going in a restaurant and eating alone. Maybe because before I retired I would often eat lunch alone although usually in a fast food place. Now I have not gone in a really fancy restaurant alone but then it is rare that I would go to such a place anyway. Generally the more formal places I have only gone to with family when celebrating a birthday or something. I love eating out because I get so tired of cooking and cleaning up afterwards. I think for me it is more a matter of the cost keeping me from doing it more often. But yes Brenda – you have broken your own glass ceiling and that is great!

  24. I have never been concerned about eating alone nor have my women friends avoided solo dining. Before I retired, my job involved traveling and eating alone was a part of the drill. I found that the nicer the restaurant the better the experience since I was given more attention and on occasion complimentary extras. If I frequented an establishment, the staff became friends and knew my preferences. Eating alone just takes practice and will become rewarding, I promise.

  25. I traveled on business so much that eating in hotel rooms was Not fun at all. I loved going to restaurants and ordering poached salmon, salad and fresh raspberries. I was not in a position to do this financially otherwise. As long as I kept under my expense account, I was fine and I had a chance to be in some really nice restaurants. It was a treat for me so I guess I was looking at it differently.

    Good for you, stepping out!! I love picking out a cozy spot and enjoying the service. You deserve it.

    1. That’s when I first started eating alone, at business conferences. I love eating alone in a restaurant. You can do such great people watching. And really enjoy your food, not having to worry about making conversation. I find it very relaxing.

  26. I’m glad you did this. Intellectually I know there is nothing wrong with a women eating alone, But emotionally I don’t want to do that. I guess I have emotional issues with being alone period. Has to do with my low self esteem I’m sure. I feel like eating by myself I ‘m wearing a sign that says
    “nobody wants her” I know that’s a terrible way to think but it is what it is.
    Very proud of you for taking that leap!

  27. BECAUSE I.KNOW YOU DON’T LIKE CROWDS, TRY TO GO EARLY LIKE YOU DID OR AFTER THE PEAK SEATING TIME. ALSO UNLESS YOU WANT TO SIT AT A SMALL TABLE FOR TWO, ASK TO SIT WHERE YOU WANT. YOU NEED TO BE COMFORTABLE. I HAVE ONLY ONCE BEEN DENIED SITTING IN A BOOTH THAT SEATS 4 . . . I.LEFT THE RESTAURANT. I CALLED LATER AND SPOKE TO MANAGER. I WAS ASK TO RETURN AT A TIME OF MY CHOOSING, SEATED WHERE I WANTED AND GIVEN A FREE MEAL.
    GLAD TO HEAR YOUR SPREAD YOUR WINGS AND FLEW !

  28. First, I want to congratulate you, dear Brenda! Reading this, I thought of International Women’s Day, and how you celebrated that (even if you didn’t realize it at that time) ….. Now, as for my own history with this The years that were heavily peopled – especially when i was working – I really, REALLY loved dining alone! Besides, I usually talked to the server (s), so I never truly felt alone. Now, in these years where so much time on my hands is alone, I don’t care for it as much … would rather do takeout and bring it home, even if i have to reheat it in the micro, because as someone else stated above – at least I don’t have to cook and clean the kitchen 😉

  29. I’m 59 and I didn’t know about the rule of women eating alone so I have blissfully ignored it all this time. About once a month I will have a hamburger at my local Dairy Queen. I’ll get a booth by the window and if I don’t have a book with me I will just stare out the window until my burger arrives. I have noticed that quite a few older people eat there alone. Sometimes I will go to a regular restaurant when I want to treat myself. When the hostess asks, “Just one?”, I reply, “Yes, party of one! Yippee!” I say this with genuine humor, not sarcasm. Nearby diners chuckle when they hear me.

  30. I am glad you treated yourself to this pleasure! I eat out alone most of the time and do not feel at all uncomfortable about it.

  31. It still is a little uncomfortable for me to eat alone so I always bring a book. However I love going to the movies by myself! I like the fact I don’t have to worry about the other person enjoying the movie I picked and I don’t have to share my popcorn ?

  32. For years I have eaten alone. When I go to a restaurant and they ask how many I cheerfully say “Just one!” Sometimes I even ask for a cozy place. There is novelty in the situations, too. I can ask to face the room or look away from it. My favorite spot is by a wall, though.
    Congratulations for taking that first step.

  33. I have been a widow 13 years next month,I have tried eating
    alone in casual restaurants a few times but it’s not something I’m comfortable with,couldn’t explain why either.
    I almost always do the takeout thing,but it’s just usually pizza or chinese.
    Old habits die hard I guess and I’m pretty much introverted and most of my lady friends are married so doesn’t give me a lot of choices in dining p artners,lol

  34. I’ve felt like you for ever myself. When husband had surgery, and in the hospital for a week, I picked up food to eat at home. I don’t know why, but the idea of eating out, alone made me uncomfortable, as it did for you. Because husband and I are always together when we do go out to eat, I really don’t think of going alone. Also, husband is not a fan of going to the movies, and I wish he was. He has said to me, to just go alone, but I have not done that either. Funny, how something like that has always been the way..and at my age, 80 in September, you would think I would get over it. Maybe some day..Ha, doubt it tho.

  35. Even when I was married my husband traveled all the time for business and was never home. I realized in short order that if I didn’t go out and do stuff alone I would never do anything! Especially when I moved cross country and didn’t know a soul. I rather enjoy being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and like spending time with them. I wish I had a significant other, but alas, it is not to be. But today I am driving over an hour into North Portland, will shop an errand by myself, probably grab lunch, and drive home solo. I have a book on CD to enjoy on the drive — it’s sunny, if a bit cold, and I’m off for an adventure. People are too concerned about themselves to pay much attention to me or anyone else so I don’t worry about what anyone thinks of me. Life is short. Get out and enjoy it!

    1. Sandy, I agree. I have a husband who is a homebody/hermit (I call him) so I go and do all the time without him. I go to movies, eat out alone, visit two hours away overnight or five hours away for the weekend. He doesn’t mind me doing all those things as long as he doesn’t have to go! lol
      I told him early on it wasn’t my personality to sit around everyday all day!

  36. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to do things, and go places, by myself! I’m still not especially comfortable going out to eat by myself, but I’ve done it, and will continue! Good for you!!

  37. There is absolutely no reason you should not go out and enjoy a meal alone. Eating is one of the most enjoyable things we do so why not enjoy it in a restaurant with someone waiting on you.
    I am glad you did this and proved to yourself you can do fun things alone too.
    Happy Sunday,
    Kris

  38. I don’t remember ever going in someplace to eat alone either. And there were certainly months at a time I was alone when my hubby was in the Navy, though I was busy saving all the money I could while he was at sea, so we had more when he was home (I do NOT recommend that however, because later, whenever he wanted money for something, I was expected to find it). Plus when my kids were gone, or in school, plenty of times I COULD have. But like you, if I ever got anything to eat at a drivein or something…I went home to eat it. Glad you enjoyed your meal!!

  39. I enjoy eating out very much, but since my husband passed away 5 years ago, I eat alone. Not much fun, but life is what it is. Like you, I will sometimes just use the drive-thru, but it is nice to have a sit down meal that you don’t have to prepare! There is one thing that really bothers me, when the hostess asks, “only one”. Yes, only me….wish it was not that way, but my husband is no longer here with me. Sometimes I get a little teary eyed, but have to except that people don’t know your situation. Keep up the dining out and trying new places….it will be fun!

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