I recently read an article on Serious Eats about the virtues of eating alone, which has impelled me to write my own account of this solo venture. I would first like to note that I am by no means a quiet, reclusive type who would choose an evening in alone over a night out with the girls. But there is a certain guilty pleasure and freedom that comes from eating alone. After living in Rome for 6 months—a place where nothing can ever be done too slowly—I have come to realise that most of us move at such as fast pace and rarely have time to sit quietly and reflect. My dad once told me about a time when he visited a friend and found his sitting in his armchair, television screen black, no music blaring form the radio, no newspaper in his hands, just sitting silently. My dad found this quite bizarre—as would most of us—and wondered what on earth his friend was doing. Was he okay? These days, we always have to be doing something. I digress slightly, but I do have a point. Quite because I am a sociable, busy type of person is why I enjoy spending time with me, myself and I every once in a while. And what better way to spend this time that eating. Dining alone means that you can go wherever you please, eat as little or as much as your want (usually the latter in my case), and not have to worry about pleasing the fancies of anyone else.
Solo dining doesn’t necessarily mean eating entirely alone, without conversation. Communal dining—such as that at Le Pain Quotidien in London—is on the rise, and many restaurants have a bar area where you can perch for a quick bite. In fact, I have found that eating alone seems to invite conversation. I often develop a rapport with the waiter, which can lead to a free post-meal tipple if you smile widely enough, and I have been known to find my way into the kitchen and prepare my very own off-the-menu meal (this occurred in Rome after I went to take photos of the open kitchen and got chatting with the chef about his lovely selection of wild meats!)
If you’re not so chatty and just want come quiet head space, there are many tactics you can employ to ward off any unwanted tête-à-tête. Avoid looking around too often, be polite, but concise when ordering and take a magazine or book in which you can bury your head. Personally, I find the challenge of holding open the pages of a book while trying to slice up a steak rather too difficult to execute. People-watching is more my thing. I find a nice two-top table by the window, preferably tucked away in the corner, where I can stare blankly into the distance until my food arrives, at which point I can turn my undivided attention to the plate, without the distraction of maintaining conversation with a dining companion.
Don’t get my wrong, I have had some of my best dining experiences with the company of others. Growing up in China where sharing dishes is the only way to eat, I rarely ate my own plate of food, let alone heading to a restaurant alone, and I am all for picking out a selection of mains with a friend and sharing—this means I can try lots more on the menu! But for all you solo dining novices, there is nothing to fear. Venture out alone, head high and appetite brewing. You never know, you might meet someone… Bon appétit!