“For how many?” the hostess asked?
“Just one” I reply a little sheepishly. A look of pity and understanding flashed across her face before she showed me to a small corner at the bar. If you’ve ever had this experience, and I’m betting you have at least once, you know the stigma associated with eating out in a nice restaurant alone.
Dining alone has an unwarranted reputation. Society has unjustifiably connected eating as an expression of one’s social reach and successfulness. Dining with a large group of friends is like showing off your collection of vintage BMWs, you are announcing to the world your success and status. On more than one occasion, I have personally espoused the view of food being the great unifier, universal language, et cetera, et cetera. You’ve heard it all before.
Despite all my idealistic ranting, eating alone feels comfortable for me. Maybe it’s the only child syndrome kicking in, always alone, always looking out for number one and never sharing. All I know is that eating alone, stigma or not, has benefits which I enjoy immensely.
I get to order what I want. There’s no compromising about the appetizer, there’s no, “oh you order that, I’ll get this, then we can share” and I can order bacon in a bucket for dessert without getting the raised eyebrow and the, “Is that a good idea?” look from my dinner companion. The only judgement I’ll get is from the kitchen, who will probably grin and give me a thumbs up since they share the same fetish for pork products.
I get to enjoy the food. For someone who takes immense pleasure in a simple bite and has a tendency to pull apart and deconstruct every dish, a little quiet time is essential to concentrate on the flavours and textures. As much as a second opinion is useful, developing my own tastes and judgements free from outside influences is a useful trait, especially when I am expected to have an opinion about a variety of food topics.
I get to eavesdrops on the table next to me. Other people’s lives are often far more exciting and far more interesting than the ennui that I am subjected to every day. The awkward conversation and long pauses of the first date at the table next to me, the 2 girls gossiping about the mismatched penis size vs. 6-pack abs of the douchebag that one of them went home with the other night; who needs witty conversation when there’s a world of oddities to entertain?
I usually belly up to the kitchen eating bar and watch the kitchen staff work. I become enthralled with the smells and sights of what is fresh and gain a little insider’s insight on what they would choose to eat. I get the bonus of seeing how a real kitchen functions and observe some techniques, of which I can add to my own repertoire. Most importantly, I get to know the chefs and staff and maybe get slipped a bowl of tasty chicharones.
I can openly flirt with the waitress. OK, maybe I shouldn’t since I have no game and I would like to come back for future visits without having trays of cold water “accidentally” dumped in my lap, but it’s always fun to try my luck. Although my chances of succeeding are incredibly slim, making another contact or friend out of the experience is quite plausible. Knowing more people on the inside can help when I really need to get a table, or need to arrange for something special later down the road.
Although eating alone doesn’t draw as many stares and whispers that it used it, there are still many strikes against doing it. The book, “Never Eat Alone” highlights building business relationships over food; business deals are still done over meals and most first dates usually involved dinner or drinks or some sort. As much as eating is a socially focused activity, eating alone shouldn’t be something that should be shunned, especially if you are someone that is intimately interested in food.
Go out, be confident that eating alone not only gives you time to reflect and relax yourself, but allows you uninterrupted time to enjoy and connect with your food and the people who make your food.