- My mixed restaurant experiences in the Benelux
- The same mixed experience in Copenhagen
- Let the reviews guide you!
- Better experiences in Riga
- Tips for an incredible restaurant experience as a solo traveler
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One aspect of solo travel I don't particularly enjoy is visiting restaurants. It always feels awkward to walk into a restaurant alone.
When dining alone, restaurants often seat you in a corner, and the service you receive tends to be average, at least in my experience.
Here are some of my personal stories and tips to make your solo dining experience more pleasant.
During my camping trip through the Benelux back in 2022, I spent a few days in Hotton, Belgium. It was raining, and the campsite was not big enough to put up my tarp to shelter myself from the rain.
The tavern at the campsite didn't serve food anymore since a recent renovation, so my only option was to walk into town and find a restaurant.
There were supposed to be plenty of good restaurants.
I chose the one that looked the most accessible to me. Upon entering, it was a bit awkward. I was in the French part of Belgium, and my French is limited.
I got a table and ordered food. I got a steak. It was expensive and probably the worst steak I have ever had. I ordered a dessert to ease the pain, and after that, I didn't get served anymore.
All the time, I had the feeling the staff didn't take me seriously. So I left with a strange feeling.
The next day, I opted for the other restaurant of the two that looked interesting. It was busy, and I didn't make a reservation. The young waitress asked me to wait as she ran to the manager. She returned and offered me a table in the backroom, less fancy than the front part of the restaurant, so I didn't know what to expect.
Soon, more people joined me, so I guess it was an unexpectedly busy evening. It might have been a Saturday.
The service was excellent, the food subliminal, and the friendliness of the staff even better. I felt like a king.
These were two completely different experiences within 100 meters of each other.
A few years later, I had a comparable experience in Copenhagen.
I didn't have much success finding a restaurant where I felt comfortable.
In most restaurants, I didn't feel very welcome. The service was poor, and they often placed me at the window on a barstool, with my back facing the restaurant. I constantly felt stared at by people walking by outside.
At one point, I debated avoiding restaurants and only going to street food places — Reffen is a good one.
But I had a completely different experience in the restaurant inside my hotel. The service there was superb, which makes me believe that hotels are the best places to have dinner as a solo traveler. I mean, hotels are accustomed to serving solo travelers or business people. The hotel restaurant was full of people dining alone.
In Copenhagen, something dawned on me — the power of reviews!
When you write a review on TripAdvisor, you can fill in your traveler type — solo, couple, friends. Other people can then filter by traveler type. I use this when I look for a restaurant, and it has been super helpful to me.
When I search for a restaurant, I go to TripAdvisor, filter on solo travelers, and read their experiences in one overview.
I continued this practice during my solo trip to Riga and successfully discovered the best restaurants for me.
When I was alone in Riga for a week, I used all the experience I gained in previous trips. I used TripAdvisor reviews to find a restaurant for my first evening. It had great reviews from fellow solo travelers, and I had a great experience.
But something in Riga was different than Copenhagen. Regardless of which restaurant I visited, I felt welcomed and received the same treatment as everyone else. I felt appreciated.
Maybe this was because Riga is not as touristic as Copenhagen. Or perhaps it was the time of year. It was early September, and it was sunny with a comfortable temperature. The locals were really enjoying this weather. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood.
That last thing felt different in Copenhagen. The Danes seem to be the happiest people on earth, but they definitely do not show that.
The Latvians looked happier to me. Maybe that was because of the weather. Maybe the Latvians enjoy the small things in life more than the Danes.
Something else caught my eye while exploring Riga — the number of people sitting alone at restaurants. They were not alone because their partner went to the toilet. They were eating or just having a drink by themselves.
It became part of my method to find restaurants for the rest of the week and was very successful.
These tips are things I learned from my own experience.
The first and probably the easiest one is to stay in a hotel with a restaurant. These restaurants are familiar with providing service to solo travelers and business people and treat you as a valued hotel guest.
The only thing is, this might not give you the local experience you might be looking for.
If you're looking for a restaurant, look for people eating or drinking alone. Pay attention to signs of a toilet-visiting partner, like handbags and multiple plates or glasses on the table.
If you see someone dining alone and looking happy, it might be a sign that this restaurant is a good fit for you.
Of course, this is easier in summer when everyone is sitting outside.
Avoid tourist places. Most of the restaurants in these places are tourist traps and won't provide the service that you would like to see. They also aim to serve as many people as possible, so they won't be happy if you occupy a four-person table alone. In this case, they will try to make you leave quickly.
A good example is Nyhavn in Copenhagen — a fantastic place to walk around but a horrible place to dine.
Look for reviews on TripAdvisor and filter by solo travelers. Reviews from fellow solo travelers often describe the service they received, and these have been extremely helpful for me in selecting a restaurant.
Also, leaving reviews yourself can help others and is very appreciated.