We learn so much from traveling around the world. Of course, you learn about yourself, but you also learn about the other travelers, the way they travel, their mentality, etc… For instance, I didn’t know the fear of racism in a country is a selection criterion of many black people, when it comes to choose a destination to go to on vacation. In fact I knew it… but I didn’t know that many black people took this factor into account. When I started to travel long-term on my own, I learned about another phenomenon, or I’d rather say a phobia I was completely unaware of, solomangarephobia.
Huh? What’s that, solomangarephobia? Solomangarephobia could be defined as the fear of eating alone in public (especially at the restaurant). We all know agoraphobia, we all know claustrophobia, but yeah apparently there’s also solomangarephobia. I need to clarify one thing. Those who have solomangarephobia have absolutely no problems eating alone at home, but it’s almost impossible for them to eat alone in public, at the restaurant. But… why!?
People who have solomangarephobia don’t necessarily want to have someone with them to eat. No, the problem comes from what other people might think. Those who have solomangarephobia think people feel like only sad, friendless people, those who got stood up eat alone at the restaurant. Basically the losers, those who are stigmatized. By going alone at the restaurant, those who have solomangarephobia feel like every single person is watching and judging them “Hey look at this guy! He’s alone! I really don’t want to end up like this guy, having dinner by myself!”
Honestly, I never heard about this phobia before. But most importantly, I didn’t know many, many people have solomangarephobia. Many travelers as well. They start to feel nervous and anxious at the idea of eating alone, when they know they’ll be surrounded by groups of friends and couples. Once they’re in the restaurant, it’s a panic, the whole world is looking at them. Going alone to the restaurant is more stressful than forgetting your passport, more frustrating than missing your flight and also very intimidating.
“What are they going to think about me? What do I look like in front of my meal? I’m quite sure those guys over there are staring at me, their little kid is also watching, they think I’m an outcast” The phobic feels uncomfortable and out of place. Therefore to avoid facing this ordeal, sometimes people terrorized at the idea of eating alone in public deprive themselves. They gobble down their food as quick as possible, before scarpering. Or they don’t go to the restaurant they wanted to try because they have no one to go with. Or they make themselves hungry and they don’t eat before going back home in the evening! Even worse, they buy sub-par food they don’t even want to get, just to eat it at the hotel! What a shame!
Why do I write about it? MANY people, and MANY travelers (even solo travelers) won’t dare to go to the restaurant alone, even if they want to. This is something I don’t really understand. The first time I got wind of this phobia, it was in Belgrade, Serbia. A girl from the hostel kept talking about a cool restaurant and she was trying to motivate people in the hostel to go with her. One guy was tired, others had to meet friends, I wanted to work on the blog (yes I’m thinking about you guys! :D), another girl had something to do… In the end, no one was available. I thought the girl would still go to the coveted restaurant. Nope, she stayed at the hostel. Later on I saw her meandering around the hostel, so I asked her “Weren’t you supposed to eat there!?” And she mumbled “Yeah but you know… No one’s available… I want to… But no one can come with me… I don’t know…” I didn’t understand. The first time I saw her at the hostel a few days before, she described herself as a strong, independent woman, who knows what she wants, etc…
I’m not sure but from what I understood, those who have solomangarephobia are less bothered at the idea of eating alone at the fast food or in a pub, where it’s way more frequent to see people eating alone. In this article, I’m talking about eating alone at the restaurant, not at the pub or the night market in Asia. Likewise, it’s more stressful to have dinner alone, than having breakfast, lunch or even a coffee outside alone. Probably because we associate dinners out with romantic dates and celebration parties.
Why this feeling of being judged when you go out to eat on your own? Why being obsessed with what people might think about you? I don’t know, maybe it comes from school, at a time when those were eating alone usually had no friends. You need to know something if you dread eating alone at the restaurant, the other customers are way too focused on their own food and the people they are with, to pay attention to you. I’m gonna repeat myself, people don’t even notice you. Think about the last time you went to a bar/restaurant with someone, with clients seated on the table next to you. They don’t even notice you, although they’re not even four feet away! It’s the same thing when you eat alone.
I think you got it, I don’t have solomangarephobia at all. I often ate alone and I never felt uncomfortable alone at the restaurant. I never realized that eating alone at the restaurant was a significant source of stress for many people. Eating is a physiological need (remember Maslow’s pyramid!?). I’m hungry, I eat. I don’t give a fuck about what anyone else thinks! I know that sharing a meal is sacred, it’s a privileged moment, you can exchange with people, you bond over a good meal, but sometimes you have no choice. Especially when you travel solo. Otherwise you can cook a meal at the hostel to feel less lonely. But sometimes you just want to get some fresh air, or try the local food! Then you have to go out!
To me, it’s a first world problem. Not going to the restaurant, and sometimes deprive yourself of food… cause you’re scared of being judged!? Yeah really that’s a first world problem. Look on the bright side! When you eat alone, you can go wherever you want to! Anyway, since I traveled (and ate) a lot on my own, I developed habits when going to a restaurant alone. I get there, I pick a strategic seat, and I just watch. People are more prone to talking to you, you look intriguing, a bit mysterious (it happened in Osaka, Japan). You’re even more mysterious if you take a notebook out of your bag and start to take notes. Some loners eaters act like they’re food critics, they take pictures of their dish, take notes, they look around… I’ve never done this, but sometimes it works, and the staff waits on you hand and foot! 😀
If you think it’s sad to eat alone at the restaurant, tell yourself it’s even worse to eat with a group where each person is glued to their smartphone, with no communication at all between them (yeah I saw that several times, especially in South Korea!). In Hong Kong or Japan, you can see many people eating alone, it seems like it’s more common there. I have to admit I didn’t by myself often in Paris (I’m mostly talking about eating alone when traveling, you’re reading a travel blog!). But I already ate by myself in Paris a few times and I never felt uncomfortable with it.
There’s one real downside when you’re eating alone : when you want to go to the toilets. Cause yeah, you have to leave your table but you’re alone! And let’s face it, you rarely use the toilets mid-meal. So you can go right after ordering but since you left, the table is unoccupied and you risk losing it! Otherwise you can leave your stuff at your table but you risk losing them as well! Another solution : going to the toilets after eating. But the waiter might think you sneaked out without paying “Moreover he was black, I do remember!” Usually I wash my hands after ordering and I let the waiter know I’m going to the toilets. Or I ask “Where are the toilets?” even though I can clearly see they’re just in front of me. This way the waiter remembers me and will not hand my table to someone else. Otherwise I go to the toilets after paying.
Another thing can be annoying, some restaurants don’t like lone eaters. Someone eating alone takes a table for two, and restaurants prefer to take the money of two diners over one! They earn two times less! It means sometimes they seat you with strangers! It’s so stupid, especially when they can seat you at the counter (if there’s a counter!).
Tips for those who have solomangarephobia
I didn’t think I would come to this but since I met so many travelers who are paralyzed at the idea of eating alone at the restaurant, here are a few tips. Hopefully you’ll overcome your solomangarephobia…
- Those who have solomangarephobia mostly dread the opinion of others. As I said earlier, you need to understand the other customers don’t even notice you. And even they spot you, they probably don’t even see you’re there alone, or they couldn’t care less! This might relieve you.
- Stay focused on the food! You’ll forget you’re alone!
- If possible, ask to be seated at the counter. It’s a lot easier to start a conversation with the staff or the person next to you at the counter! Once again, you’ll forget you came here on your own!
- If you don’t eat at the counter, pick a strategic seat to watch the staff and the other customers. I’m telling you, it can be fun. Otherwise pick a seat next to a window and watch what’s going on in the street, people passing by…
- Avoid killing the time using your smartphone (after ordering, waiting for the bill…). Take a book and read! People might walk up to you and start a conversation thanks to the cover of your book “Oh you’re French!?” There’s a good thing about having a book. Instead of being the umpteenth person on your phone, you look more like an “intellectual” person.
- If it’s not peak time, start a conversation (even a short one) with the staff! But do it naturally, don’t look desperate, ask for advice about the menu, etc… I heard about an excellent rooftop just because I had a good conversation with the waitress in Bucharest, Romania.
- At worst, if eating alone at the restaurant is a torture for you, join a food tour.
All right! Now you can forget about your solomangarephobia! Have you ever eaten alone at the restaurant? Are you nervous, stressed at the idea of eating alone in public? Or, just like me, you don’t feel uncomfortable at all? Let me know!
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