Rochelle Peachey, the founder of the dating site I Love Your Accent, is sitting alone in a restaurant, gabbing away on her cellphone, when a few minutes into the conversation, the phone she's talking into starts to ring. Busted!
Such is the length Peachey once went to in order to battle the embarrassment and awkwardness she -- and so many female business travelers like her -- feels when dining alone.
"I detest walking into a restaurant to request the dreaded table for one," says Peachey, who typically makes three or four business trips a month. "When I walk into a restaurant or bar alone, I feel others see me as either a woman out to pick up men or a sad, lonely spinster."
Catharine Curran, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has gotten used to eating by herself, but admits, "When I first started traveling, eating alone was the most difficult part. It is just awkward, and many of us adapt by eating very early, sitting at the back of the restaurant, bringing a book, or simply ordering room service."
Andrea Banfi confesses that she's skipped meals altogether to avoid eating alone. "If no colleagues or business partners are around, I just don't eat. I can't remember when I last had a meal out on my own," says Banfi, head of records management and operations at Guinness World Records.
A new website called Invite For a Bite aims to change all that. The site serves as a sort of meeting place where women who hate supping solo can post invites and make plans to dine together.
Invite for a Bite founder Cressida Howard hopes to make dining out easier for female solo travelers.
Courtesy Cressida Howard
Cressida Howard, of Gloucestershire, England, came up with the idea for "the site I wanted to join but couldn't find."
"I was in my kitchen making tea and heard a few minutes of a BBC radio program that involved an interview with women who traveled alone for business or pleasure. They were all strong women who had no problem traveling alone, but the one thing they all got very animated about was how they hated eating alone," Howard said.
Less than two months old, Invite For a Bite has already seen invites for get-togethers in places from New York City to Addis Ababa.
"I'm hugely encouraged by the response I've had from women telling me how much they love the idea," says Howard, who had never even texted before she started the Invite For a Bite site. "One example is a message I received from a lady in Germany who wrote: 'I just remember myself on my latest travels for work sitting in a restaurant alone and would be so happy if those times were over!'"
"Men seem to have no such obstacles," suggests Peachey of the stigma of eating alone. "My husband happily walks into any place in any city for a drink or some food. So why do I scurry in and act like a lunatic?"
For one, in some countries it is frowned upon for women to be out on their own, says Howard. And it can even be dangerous.
Not that meeting strangers from a strange city in a strange place via the Invite For a Bite website doesn't bring up its own issues. Which is why Howard has devoted an entire page on the site to safety tips.
"We urge all users to exercise normal caution when meeting people they don't know. Meet in a busy place, don't get into vehicles, watch out for your belongings, etc.," she advises. "You can also check out people's profiles before you meet them, and anyone can be reported or removed from the site before or after an event."
Another issue addressed on the Invite For a Bite site is why it is for women only.
"As soon as you introduce the idea of men and women meeting for meals, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish it from a dating site," says Howard. "No matter how many times you explained that it wasn't, common sense dictates that it would be treated as such by some people.
"This is simply not what most women want when they are traveling on business. They simply want to unwind and have a bit of a laugh or a chat with another woman without worrying that it might be taken the wrong way or that they are putting themselves at risk."
And, if you're a woman like Katy Donoghue, a hospitality company executive who overheard customers at the next table commenting on how sad it was that she was on vacation alone, it means you won't have to face the scorn or sympathy of fellow diners.
"They even went so far as to comment that I was single, because I had no ring on and I was obviously trying to stay in shape by eating a salad so that I could attract a man," laughed Donoghue.
What do you think? Do men have it easier in the dining-solo arena? Share your tips for eating out alone in the comments section below.