The fine art of dining alone (and a rather hilarious start to the practice)

posted on: Sunday, 28 January 2018

The very first time I ate dinner by myself, I was petrified. I was shaking before I even walked into the restaurant and had spent the entire journey to the hotel thinking about how I would act at the table, and how I would distract myself. I imagined what other people would think of me? What were the stories they’d be crafting in their minds as I sat there solo? Turns out, what I was about to experience was a level of humiliation I had never even conjured up. They always say not to bother worrying as it’s never the things you worry about that hit you, it’s something completely unexpected. Well, this "unexpected" took place at a hotel in the Cotswolds. I was working with a retailer in the area and they had organised dinner for me in a rather famous pub, but it was famous for a reason I hadn’t expected. It’s mascot was a bear. Simple enough, right? Nothing out of the ordinary. Only this bear mascot also came in the form of a four foot teddy bear that was sitting next to the fire place as I entered the eatery. Wait, just wait for it...

The server welcomed me the restaurant and sat me at a table for two, overlooking the rest of the patrons, who were all mid-meal. Then, the manager came over to the table and explained that he couldn’t imagine me sitting there alone for the night. My first thought was, “now I really do want to be eating solo, rather than trying to make awkward conversation for the next few hours.” Only, he wasn’t suggesting himself. The server then came back with the aforementioned 4-foot bear under one arm and proceeded to plop him down in the chair opposite me. “Mr. Bear will eat with you tonight so you are not lonely,” he said in a French accent. I turned fifty shades of flushed and wished I could bury myself under the table. Now I wasn’t the girl eating alone. I was the girl eating with a giant stuffed bear. Honestly, if there were ever a way to make any future “dining alone” experiences a breeze, this was it. On this evening I also learned that really the only people that are uncomfortable with people dining alone are staff in the restaurant.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t truly eaten on my own more than a handful of times since the bear incident. But, every single time I’ve become better at it. I remember a travel writer friend of mine once telling me that eating alone was her greatest pleasure in life. She was a wife and mother and she travelled once or twice a month for work. She used to travel all the time, but having a family had changed her. Now, travel was truly decadent behaviour. So, when she had a table without a husband needing to discuss this or that, or children needing her attention and assistance every second of the meal, she took full advantage of it. She sat there and just took in everything around her, from chatting couples to raging party tables. She’d sip her glass of wine and be content to just sit there. That was her zen place. I have to be honest. I have not found that zen. But here’s what I have discovered.

There is a process to learning to eat alone, in a restaurant. There are certain hurdles you must overcome as an individual, and yes, there will always be people that are wondering why you are eating alone. Hell, a few might even come up to your table and ask after what the reason is that you are sitting there all by your lonesome. In my experience, these are never people you want to continue to have a conversation with. But, that’s just my experience. I still dream of the day a Brad Pitt look alike approaches me on a solo supper. It hasn’t happened yet. I mostly just get dad types that are concerned or drunk twenty somethings that are too drunk to realise that I’m old enough to at least be there much wiser and older sister. Let’s just say I’m old enough to know better.

So, how do you overcome the eating alone scenario and just get on with it? Sorry, got off track there. The easy first step is to bring distractions with you to the table. A laptop, cell phone or book will do. Not all three however, as you’ll look like you’re setting up an office alongside your steak frites. Work or read between courses. Heck, you can even do what I did on my second dinner alone, which was to flip through emails and texts and pretend to be enjoying myself immensely, laughing and snickering as I went. My god, sometimes I do disgust myself with this antisocial behaviour. Once the food comes, however, don’t multitask. You’ve chosen this restaurant to enjoy food, so enjoy it. This is the time to eat and observe. Take in the atmosphere, sip wine like an absolute goddess and feel the power of being strong enough to sit there on your own. I mean, let’s be honest, the majority of couples that eat together these days don’t talk to each other over meals, so what’s the big difference? Harsh, I know, but it truly disturbs me seeing so many couples that simply sit together in silence as they enjoy nights out. How have you run out of things to say to each other? You’re 21! Rant over.

Slowly start to lose the props with each solo dinner you attend and find yourself blissfully sitting with only one trick up your sleeve. My pet passion for solo dinners is found with a great book. But, I have also promised to read over 100 books this year so I’m using every opportunity I can. As much as we are a phone culture these days, there is always time to put it away and enjoy something more important – the beauty of literature. My eighth grade English teacher would be so proud of me for saying that. Honestly though, I see a person sitting at a dinner table with only their meal and a book and I think to myself, “that person has it figured out.

However, you know the people who don’t think “that person has it figured out,” and never will? THE STAFF AT RESTAURANTS. Without fail, whenever I eat alone, I cannot put a fork full of food into my mouth without another member of staff showing up to ask me if everything is alright or if I need anything. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for feeling uncomfortable for me. But, dear wait staff and managers, people who choose to eat alone are making that choice. There’s no need to feel sorry for us and we don’t need additional attention. After all, we aren’t going to be as big a tip for you as we are a party of one, which means half the food order. Do the math. We aren’t worth the extra time and effort.

Ignoring the need for props, the potential for eating with stuffed bears and the overbearing staff, eating solo has become a favourite pastime of mine. It’s also become somewhat of a necessity these days as, alas, I am a single girl once again. So, the need to be comfortable enough to dine as one is more important than ever. I do, however, think it is a skill that every individual should master at some point in their life. Go forth and slurp your spaghetti solo this week. Let the lookers look, the talkers look and the waiters wait. You are enough company for yourself, always and forever!