Instagram Blogger ‘Ava Lee’
I (Zena) met up with Ava last year to talk all things food and solo dining. I myself love to go out to eat but with more time to kill midweek, there is not always people around. And having to make the effort into organisation and then pleasing other people’s palates and time schedules, let alone lifts and drop offs – it sometimes turns out to be a pain. So ever so often I pop into cafes I feel comfortable in, thus enjoying what I want when I want it. Ava’s a doctor at Norwich Hospital and has taken Solo dining to another gastro level. She has perfected the art and in doing so has created experience after experience of foodie pleasure with a massive boost of confidence in-between.
Ava on Dining Solo
Why go for solo dining
I Personally started Solo dining after having a string of night shifts, I was in no mood to cook and needed a proper good breakfast. I pretty much forced myself into solo dining because friends were either going straight to bed after their night shift or working.
Food preferences are more easily catered for because it’s just yourself, you can choose to go anywhere you want at any time – I don’t know of any place where you can’t be seated you’re more likely to get walk-in for one.
I have to talk a lot at work so when I’m not at work solo dining is bliss! to get bit of quiet time, not having to make the effort, coupled with good food – it’s even better!
What’s the fear with going solo?
- Being alone – you’re not alone! There are plenty of diners around you.
- How to keep busy whilst waiting for food / drink order – chatting to pass the time away with company but not so much as a solo diner. You can bring a book, browse through your phone, bring some work on your device. Or be more braver and go without anything and meditate through watching the people pass you by or just quietly reflect. When was the last time you actually made yourself sit and do nothing without distraction?
- I recommend Window spots they make the best seating areas for solo dining.
How to choose where to go
- Start by going somewhere familiar rather than a brand-new café or restaurant. You would already be familiar with the seating plan and may already have an idea of where to sit that would suit you comfortably.
- Corner areas and window areas – good for people watching and not too surrounded by others
- Bar stools – can be neglected but can be a great view of the bar action or kitchen if you’re lucky. Levels of comfort on bar stools variable. Also, a good place where you can chat to bar staff if they’re not too busy. I had great food recommendations just by talking to them and most are more than willing to take your food order readily.
My top solo dining Places in Norwich
Where– corner area straight to the left as it has an amazing view of the cherry blossom tree across the road. Window seats also not bad.
Service– Whist it is part of a chain, they still have staff who live locally working here which still makes it a good place to visit (speaking from someone who used to live in Cote for breakfast every weekend when living in London). Staff have always been very busy and I did not feel left out even though I was tucked away in a corner. Attentive as always I’ve found as they do take the time to ask how your day is and the food itself is efficiently served as well.
Where– window bar stools
Service– always with a smile. Plated desserts there are something to be admired and worth the experience with a glass of something chosen from their wine menu
Where– bar stools in the corner at the top of the stairs if you don’t want to look at the world too much. Alternatively benches at the back is also a good spot but find that any area is good for a solo diner to feel comfortable with the surroundings
Service– always with a smile! Staff are very helpful when you’re stuck on which food options to go for. Food they serve is clearly inspired by Ottolenghi whom the owner Jamie Garbutt knows well.
Where– window bar stools but you don’t really have a choice when you visit here as a solo diner. If you want one of the main tables with proper chairs to sit on you would need to be in a group.
Service– swift for a solo diner which is not bad if you’re time conscious. The special menus they have are definitely worth venturing into if you have a broad palate range.
Where– window seat at the corner downstairs for the extra vibe. Upstairs might feel lonely for a solo diner.
Service– good attention all round and food comes out timely when not too busy. I definitely do not feel rushed to leave if I’m slowly enjoying my hot green tea. I would recommend the sushi platters – made the proper Japanese way.
Where– corner window seat!
Service– never saw anything less when it comes to their service! I have been on a few occasions for the lunch service which I always find comfortable as it’s not too busy – a good way for me to zone out and enjoy the comforts of good food in a peaceful environment. As simple as the menu looks for lunch it is always much more than what it seems when served to you.
Where– table seats along the wall. Personally, I prefer to sit on the chairs rather than the benches otherwise I feel like I’m sitting too high over the table!
Service– always very busy but I find it worth the wait for the delightful pancakes they serve (thank goodness they abandoned the waffle idea). Cake and tea is also worth going for too. They do seat solo diners wherever they can. I remembered being seated at a 4-table one before and have said to staff to offer the remaining seats to anyone waiting if they didn’t mind sharing a table with me.
Where– anywhere along the walls / windows. Go for the back-corner area if you want to avoid the smell (inducing hunger) from the kitchen!
Service– a no-nonsense service! Proper tea mug whilst waiting for your food to be served. No issues with service at all and again very attentive. Pay attention to the traffic lights at the back corner if you want to know how long you are likely to wait for your food.
Where– the tables right next to the stairs seem to be a great spot. I’m not too keen on the window seats only because of the draft that comes through.
Service– I’ve been solo dining here a few times and the attention is variable but when it does happen it is always with enthusiasm and a smile! I’m always very happy with their small plate options.
Bread Source (Upper St Giles St)
Where– anywhere! They have window seats as well as a long table.
Service– very straight forward. Just select your pastry / pastries and your drink, then settle yourself down. They also do unlimited toast where you have a good range of different breads and condiments to choose from.
How to brave the world of solo dining
- Coffee shop always a good start – eg. Breakfast pastry and hot drink
- Go for lunches – unlike breakfast you’ll be waiting for your food a bit so it will be a test of your comfort in a good way
- Be nice to staff. I went to one restaurant after a long day at work as I did not fancy cooking. I was honest about my tiring day and I got offered a glass of wine on the house when I ordered. It certainly made my day!
- Find a place with wifi access – if you want to keep busy by still being connected
- Bring a book, magazine, iPad, etc. Something that can keep you busy for a short while until your food arrives
- For the ultimate bravery – bring no distractions! You’ll be surprised by how much you can absorb around you through talking to people.
- If you really must talk to someone whilst out solo dining, see what the next table has for food and comment how lovely it looks if it is lovely! However, bear in mind that they have their own company and many might not want to start a long conversation with you (which brings you back to the topic of distractions).
- FINALLY – forget about what other people might think or say about you! You’ll find that many are not that distracted by a solo diner enjoying their meal as much as they are. In fact, you’ll find that you’re more distracted by the food itself which is the point!
There are always disadvantages and the one which stands out for me is the variety of food. More often than not my friends enjoy sharing food with each other and trying different plates. As a solo diner you don’t get that choice without wasting too much food or doggy-bagging most of it away. Some foods require more than one person to enjoy like tapas and dim sum.
Finally, there’s always one or two dishes that require a minimum person order such as large roasts which don’t come any smaller. I remembered being in London having an amazing baked Alaska on the menu which was a minimum two-person order due to the sheer size of the dessert – I ordered it anyway and finished it (so worth it).
Follow Ava over on Instagram –
Many Thanks Ava – inspiration for me to see if I can eat a baked Alaska solo – sounds like a dream. Plus I’ll give some of your suggestions a go – Brilliant, with thanks Zena