Apparently, dining out alone is one of the last barriers of self-consciousness that people face.
They have gotten over the embarrassment of taking a selfie in public. They aren’t ashamed to go out in public in their pajamas. But to eat alone? It’s as though they were wearing a sign that said, “I have no friends.”
We all know that’s not the case. We eat alone at our desks. We even eat alone in shared workspaces and cafeterias—and may actually cringe if someone wants to break into our recovery time. So why is it different to ask for a table for one?
As a business traveler, I often find myself going solo in new cities, and I’m not about to order room service when there is a new restaurant to explore! I have learned to make the most of it, without taking out my phone for anything but a food shot or a note or two. I have mastered the art of lingering over a single meal, not rushing to free the table any sooner than I would with a companion, and using the time to really observe my environment and the people surrounding me.
In the process, I have managed to really remember those meals like no others—the taste of the crab stuffing, the amuse bouche that was savored, the delicate dessert that was enhanced with sips of espresso.
My alone-ness is no respecter of location; I eat alone at fast food restaurants, at casual dining, and at fine dine equally. To me, it’s more civilized than take out—my food is hotter, the drink refillable, and the clean-up is totally on someone else. Sure, sometimes I read, sometimes I work, and sometimes I simply enjoy my food.
I spent a number of years as an adjunct teacher at a local university, and one of the assignments in my ethnography class was to either a) attend a movie alone, or b) eat a full restaurant meal alone. It was the most hated assignment each semester, and also the one that generated the best reports.
Student after student would confess, “I hated the thought, but once I did it, I felt free.” For those who were successful, it was as though they found the time to think insightfully, to observe the world, and to get past their own self-consciousness and see the world in a different way.
Companionship during a meal is a good thing. There’s nothing like having a great conversation fueled by good food and service. At the same time, the ability to eat alone and savor both the food and the experience—well, that signifies self-confidence, a love of food, and the embrace of the food itself as the social experience.
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