Forever alone? Tips to dining solo in Singapore for the self-conscious

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I have to profess that I enjoy eating alone. It wasn't always the case and the change didn't happen overnight.

When I was younger, I took great pains to ensure that even if I ate alone, I wouldn't be spotted by anyone I knew — to avoid their sad, pitying glances, of course.

But as I got older, whether due to a more assured sense of self or the hectic duties of motherhood and life in general, eating alone became my refuge. It was time I could claim as my own.

Dining alone is so common in Japan, the Japanese have come up with original ideas to cater to the solo diner — from individual booth seats at ramen shops (Ichiran, anyone?), to 'anti-loneliness' cafes that provide soft toys for company.

But what about dining alone in Singapore with no such options? Despite a growing trend of solo diners, eating alone can still be a daunting experience for some.

There are also the obvious logistical inconveniences to circumnavigate — like getting a seat without someone to chope it for you, especially at foodcourts during mealtimes. 

While eating is seen to be a social activity, having company for meals is not a given and a solo lunch or dinner is often a necessity.

In such cases, ordering a takeaway meal is often preferred over enduring curious stares — imagined or otherwise — from fellow diners. But won't you rather have your meal freshly prepared and onto your plate? A less hurried meal wouldn't hurt as well.

And who says you can't have an enjoyable meal for one? For some, eating alone is an opportunity to pamper yourself. 

Said one colleague in her 20s, who would go to casual restaurants she enjoys that others may not: "I tend to treat myself when I eat alone, to be honest. With friends or with my boyfriend, it’ll be something more budget-friendly like hawker food or zi char." 

Another young colleague of ours who loves ma la steamboat has no issue zipping out for a quick hotpot lunch, alone. 

So if you're ready to shrug off the social stigma of being seen as "sad" or "lonely" while eating alone, here are some tips on what you can do to make a date with yourself a little more pleasurable. Who knows, you may even grow to love it.

Pick a less popular restaurant
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This is a no-brainer. When we have to dine alone, queuing in line and waiting an hour for our food to come is pretty much the last thing we want to do. 

It is nice to lounge in a less crowded restaurant with a good ambience, never mind if the food quality is not top-notch. 

Go al fresco
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Dining indoors can be claustrophobic, and the noisy chatter may get to even the most zen of solo diners. 

Pick the al fresco option, if there is one, for a less stressful meal.

Outdoors is usually where there are more empty seats anyway, if you can bear with the heat in humid Singapore.

Eat before or after proper meal times
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One sure way to enjoy a solo lunch if you're self-conscious is to eat during 'off-peak' hours. Either before 12pm or after 2pm for weekday lunches, and before 6pm or after 8pm for weekday dinners.

This is when restaurants are most empty, which would help eliminate some fears about dining alone.

Have a buffet
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This sounds like an odd choice, but hear me out.

It may actually be a good option for those who are not in a hurry and considering a leisurely, luxurious meal.

Firstly, every single diner in the restaurant is probably too busy going around the food stations to pay you any attention. And even if you do have a dining partner, you are eating alone at least a portion of the time anyway. 

Also, being able to select your own portion means you are not restricted by one-dish meals or worrying about not being able to finish dessert all on your own. 

But of course, if the thought of having an hour-long meal (or two) by yourself sounds like torture, this is probably not for you.

Restaurants ideal for solo dining
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Some high-end restaurants do have preferred seating arrangements for solo diners, such as seats in a cosy corner or those with a bird's eye view of the whole restaurant. 

But otherwise, getting a seat by the window is a good choice. You get a nice view (hopefully), especially if you're on a high floor. You can also be absorbed by the view outside, instead of pretending to be busy by fiddling with your phone while eating.

If available, you can pick a counter seat — Japanese ramen shops, some cafes and yakitori joints are a good bet. So are conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

This way, your eyes are trained in front of you and you won't have to worry about any curious glances. 

For some restaurants great for dining alone, click here.

Know of other tips or places that are good for dining alone? Let us know!