For solo travelers, the most daunting aspect of their trip is often eating alone.
For the uninitiated, the simple act of grabbing a bite between blocks of sightseeing can unleash a spiral of anxiety: You need to eat, but what do you do during the eternity between ordering and the arrival of your plate? Is that woman staring at you? Are you doing it wrong? How can you eat incorrectly?!
However, Paris might be the perfect place to give solo dining a go. Paris is practically synonymous with cafés. Take a walk through practically any quartier, and after acclimating to the elegance of Parisian architecture, what you’ll notice next is the abundance of cafés. With an estimated 20,000 people inhabiting each square kilometer, Parisian lives play out in public, to a certain extent. Birthday parties will be packed into tiny bars, friendly catch-ups take place over a planche mixte, and lovers squeeze in kisses between cigarettes on sprawling terraces.
Yet look closer still, and you’ll notice the abundance of Parisians eating alone in plain sight. The French have elevated solo dining to an art. Eating alone isn’t considered sad, but rather an investment in self-care. You have to eat, so why not eat well? Women sit outside with dogs at their feet and glasses of wine at hand. Old men pore over the daily newspaper with flaky croissants and espresso. While it may be tempting to avoid eating alone in Paris by breaking meals into on-the-go snackable segments, mosey over to a neighborhood café for une table pour un.
Tips for eating alone in Paris
Focus on the food
First things first, while you may be lacking a date, you’re gaining a whole lot of room. Don’t forget that space is at a premium, and trying to fit two dinners onto one round-but-tiny, bistro table becomes akin to a tense game of Jenga. As a solo traveler, you’re less likely to end up spilling your drinks or knocking your silverware to the floor and causing a ruckus.
Dining solo places the emphasis on the food itself. The arrival of each course is an event, rather than something that interrupts the flow of conversation. With each bite, you’re able to savor the flavors, and maybe even let the meal jog memories like Proust’s madeleine.
If you’re feeling nervous about dining solo abroad, or if it’s your first time deciding to eat alone rather than transforming the meal into a snack on the go, bring along some accessories to keep busy in between courses. Invest that extra time into reading a novel, noting observations in your travel journal, or even crunching out a few grammatical exercises to improve your French. You name it—but you’re missing the point of the experience if you don’t look up from your phone.
Settle in and observe
People-watching is the most interesting aspect of solo dining. Undistracted by a conversation partner, there’s so much for you to see. Settle into your rattan chair and focus on the theater unfolding on the street in front of you: the children in duffle coats being shepherded to and from school, the dogs prancing off-leash just ahead of their owners, people toting home produce and flowers wrapped in brown paper from the markets. Why pull out your phone when you’d miss all that?
Top spots for eating alone in Paris
While solo dining can take place at any café, here are a few of the best spots to dine alone, whether you’re looking to get lost in thought or meet someone new.
Make a reservation for Breizh Café, and you won’t regret it. This hip creperie brings the Breton snack to the forefront, offering savory and sweet crepes, bright ciders and even a solid formule.
Join the pack of Parisians who make the Canal Saint-Martin’s Le Petit Cambodge a regular part of their restaurant routine. Affordable and cheerful, Le Petit Cambodge has more than made a comeback after the 2015 Paris attacks. While their menu is varied, their bobun is hard to resist!
Café de Flore might be a tourist trademark, but it’s one of the most interesting cafés for people-watching thanks to its position along Boulevard Saint-Germain and its cross-section of tourists, French celebrities and locals.
The Marais’ Au Petit Fer à Cheval (30 Rue Vieille du Temple) is one of the city’s tiniest cafés, but it’s full of personality. The menu, focusing on French bistro fare, includes dishes like magret de canard, hearty salads and sandwiches.
Finally, Le Loir dans la Théière specializes in delightful afternoon tea, but their lunch service is just as delicious as their tarte citron. The café has a no-laptop policy, so you’ll be in good company as you unplug for a bite.
If you’re kind of over eating alone in Paris and want a surefire way to meet other curious travelers and locals, our Paris food tours are calling your name. Join us for a fun- and food-filled few hours spent devouring the City of Light’s most iconic neighborhoods—namely the bars, restaurants, cafes and shops that make up its heart and soul. Come hungry (and curious!).
Lauren Sarazen is a Paris-based writer and graduate student in literature at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. Falling in love with the French capital during her semester abroad, she has called Paris her home since 2014. She contributes to publications such as The Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Shondaland, and intermittently blogs at her website.