Dining Out Alone?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pulling from the archive because between painting, putting furniture together, and so on I haven't had a big chance to post much. Still, I find this topic always brings up some interesting ideas and self reflection in people. ~Garrett

For some reason people have this intense aversion to dining alone. We feel that we stand out as some kind of social pariah, freak, or curious pervert of sorts. We think we are being judged when 10-1 most people don't give us a second thought, or even notice us.

There is apprehension from waiters about if they will utter the phrase "Is the rest of your party coming?" to which we must reply, "No," and hope that the smile they return to us doesn't belie a commiseration for our single dining selves. Or, even worse, pity.

Why is that? Why are we so terrified to dine alone?

Let me clarify that by dining alone, I mean alone with just your thoughts and eyes and inner dialogue. No bringing a book or work as armor, feigning that you're far too busy to be bothered by people. Indeed, the power-intellectual lunch for one is revered, but without these guards we fear being judged by complete strangers.

An interesting thought: How often do you go for a walk alone, rent a movie for a night by yourself, relax with a book in the library, or enjoy a cup of coffee with no one else? How, especially when in a public setting, is this so different?

Probably because we are raised to think of food as a communal thing. Eating lunch with co-workers is the modern potlatch.

Food can be communal, but it doesn't have to be. And does one really need company to treat themselves to a nice meal on the town with no one else?

Not to say I'm immune. I too feel this strange apprehension pull me back from dining alone. It at times feels lonesome and empty, and for some reason part of me is concerned about what others think of me. I know I might give a wayward thought (but little else) if I saw someone in a restaurant just mulling in his own head and noshing away.

I know others who refuse to eat out alone at all, fear and tension wracking them at the mere thought of it. We fear judgement. The word "loner" carved into our foreheads. The lone diner - a spectacle and oddity who must obviously lack the most basic social functions. No one wants to be seen as that.

Still, I think in the next few weeks I'll have to make a reservation for someplace swanky with white tablecloths and see if I can figure this out.

Any thoughts? Ideas?


  1. I don't really know why people think that it's bad to eat alone, but I've found that very few people can comprehend why I would ever choose to eat alone.

    All I have to do is walk into the campus dining hall, get my food, and sit down, and before too long people I don't even know are asking me if I want to sit with them. I usually say no, and then they look at me like I'm some sort of crazy hermit type (which I am, to some degree, but that's not the point).

  2. I'm a mother with 3-yr old in tow so I haven't had to lunch alone in ages. I have a built-in lunch buddy... thank goodness she likes sushi!

    But I know what you mean about eating alone. In college, when I wasn't dating, I often had to grab a meal by myself. It was rare that I would eat where I bought the meal. I'd get it to go and eat on my way to class or on a bench in the sunshine. In the restaurant everyone is talking and interacting and eating alone... well... it's lonely.

    It can be done, I'm sure. But, for most people, the point of dining out is to socialize over good food. So going it alone invites comment.

    Let me know how it goes. :o)

  3. I travel quite a bit for work, and often eat alone.

    A big part of the awkwardness is that there is nothing to do while you're waiting for your food to arrive if you're at a traditional restaurant. I have no problem eating alone on a patio (people watch), or sitting at the bar in a lounge (chat with the bartender), or at a sports bar (watch the tube). But in a traditional restaurant, you're stuck with nothing to do except re-read the wine list. It gets you off on the wrong foot, and you feel awkward, and tend to rush through your meal just to get it over with.

  4. As a single girl who is fairly new to the city, all I can say is, "more power to ya!!!" I vote for Ella or Mulvaney's!! And I have to admit that as a sometimes single diner, I often cop out and eat at the bar instead of at an actual dining table...I guess for fear of being judged. And sometimes, I guess I get a little bored with just my own thoughts. :-)

  5. Although I have no problem eating alone at Denny's, a sushi place, or even Tower Cafe, the idea of dining alone at a fine dining establishment does seem a bit of a stretch. Look forward to hearing of your choice and how it goes.

  6. I like to savor my food, instead of rushing through a meal, and I find that having something else going on really helps. Even when I at at home alone, I never just sit and eat... I pull out a book, or I go to the computer, or I turn on the TV. Otherwise, with nothing to focus on, I wolf down my food. So when I eat out alone, I always bring a book. It's not so much that I'm worried about looking awkward, it's just that I'll enjoy my food more if there's something else I can do while I wait or in between bites.

    I'm curious to hear how your experiment goes! I've never eaten alone at a nice restaurant, and I've never ordered a drink by myself; I could imagine a glass of wine helping me to not rush through a meal as quickly. ;)

  7. I've heard that many top restaurants treat every solo diner as a VIP, under the theory that if someone cares enough about dining well to come solo, they deserve to be well taken care of. An interesting notion. :)

  8. Dining alone is so empowering! I used to travel across the country for work and with part of my meal gratis it would have been blasphemy to deny my inner foodie and get take out! It does feel uncomfortable at first but you just gotta bring out the hutzpah in yourself and smile!

  9. I have to agree with Anita (Married... with dinner), I haven't experienced this extra special service in Sac, but not too long ago I did get that extra special service at Mina in San Francisco.

    Just this past Saturday night I walked into Mulvaneys alone and sat at the bar. You kind of have a build in conversation buddy with the bar tender, but you also have the opportunity to look around and really take everything in. You can see the kitchen (open parts and closed off parts) and have a nice view outside.

    I've dined alone for years (even after I got married) and enjoy the ability to really focus on the food and not be distracted by that pesky conversation. hee hee

  10. I'm married, so I almost always have a dining buddy, but I dined alone in L.A. last week while there on business. At first, I started out at a small table in the lounge section of the hotel restaurant. At first it was kind of nice, listening to the jazz pianist, sipping my wine, enjoying the atmosphere. But pretty soon I started to feel awkward. I was getting a lot of pitying looks from other diners, as if they were wondering if I'd been stood up or something. So I smiled sheepishly at the waitress and asked her to serve my entree at the bar, where the TV was on and I could make a pretense of being absorbed in that. :)

    You raise an interesting question, however, and I shall have to try the dining along thing again sometime...

  11. There is something awkward about just sitting there at a restaurant--like you said, without a book or a magazine. I find that I end up staring at other people and then it's awkward too.

    When I eat out alone, whether in my home town or while traveling for business, I do tend to find lively restaurants where I can eat at the bar. But I like your idea of dining in a nice restaurant alone.

    The only other downer? Aside from lack of conversation? You can't try many dishes! You can only order as much as you can eat, and it doesn't allow you to sample more of the menu.

    Keep us posted on how your experiment goes.

  12. How interesting...
    I have to admit that when I'm dining alone at a restaurant, I usually have a book, but mainly to have something to do. Unless it's at a nice patio, with the sun shining on my face; then I'm all to my contemplation of... my mind :)
    I ate once at a nice restaurant, alone, and it felt awkward only because I wasn't supposed to be alone that night, but decided to go to the restaurant anyway. It wasn't the other people that bothered me, but mainly the thought that it might have been nice to eat with somebody. I was happy though that it was a paper tablecloth; I draw a little on it while waiting :P

  13. i think it takes courage to eat alone at a nice restaurant....but once you do, it can be so liberating. Enjoy the wine, smile at other diners, lean back and enjoy the night. It took me until I was in my 40's to feel comfortable enough to eat alone in a nice restaurant and not give a crap what other diners thought....or, to worry about being hit on because I was a woman dining alone. I say "go for it" and enjoy!!!!

  14. I am one of those book diners because I get so bored when I just sit there. I know, I know, why can't I just relax and enjoy my meal? But I feel like everyone is staring at me... Obviously, I am insane :) But I'd go and eat out by myself at certain places, like the Thai restaurants on Broadway or Sushi Cafe or Cafe Bernardo. I don't know about fine dining places, that would be hard!

  15. I only dine out alone when necessary, usually when I'm on a business trip. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, it's just something I don't think about doing.

  16. I learned to dine alone, see movies alone, shop alone and enjoy solitude as well as I stayed in a Hostel for sometime, and many times I would have a day off and most of my friends would be working!! In fact I enjoy seeing movies alone better:) It is better because I can spread a napkin open, sneeze and cry and emote while watching!! He he:)

  17. I went out alone on my 30th birthday alone... sat at a table and had myself a great meal. The best part? I didn't have to share a bite of it!

    I agree that it can be awkward to dine alone sometimes, but a good restaurant and a good server should be able to make you feel at ease...

    My vote... Waterboy.

  18. I do agree, the most awkward part is after you have ordered and are then waiting for the food to arrive.

    I'm married, but my husband is in the military, so he is gone for a while. At first, it was hard to go out by myself. But now, I kind of like it!

  19. I love dining alone in nice restaurants. Wine optional. I do bring a book or a magazine along. Not as the cliqued armour, but because I read when I read alone at home too.

    Yes, I do often get those odd pitying stares suggesting that there HAS to be something wrong with me. Meh. I enjoy my meal, reading material and people watching.

    I've never made a reservation for one, yet. An interesting idea I will have to think about. Can't wait for your report on your next dining adventure!

  20. Sounds like a thought from an old episode of Sex in the City.

  21. This is all very weird to me. I've never felt uncomfortable eating alone. In fact I relish it. I'm a very happily married man who enjoys the company of my wife. However, there are times when she's at work (nights) and I get bored so I treat myself to a meal at someplace I've always wanted to try. if it's great i bring my wife back to it. If it's not so great then I'm only out the price of one meal not two.
    I've never noticed anyone looking at me or giving me pity stares. I consider dining alone a great, relaxing escape.

  22. I like eating alone at a restaurant. Especially if this is a first visit, I get to focus on everything going on in the place. I like that. Once a week, we do our separate thing and if I am not working late, I'll go scout a new place in town.

  23. I enjoy dining alone, you can look around and covertly check others out..but that being said, I always would bring a book or newspaper..reading kills the time in between ordering and being served. I had a girlfriend who told me she was scared to eat alone, she always thought people would stare at her and pity her. Seriously~that is the LAST thing I would do if I spied a single diner...but she never took my advice and just "did it". What a mouse.

  24. I go to movies alone, dine alone, go on walk alone. I like it.

    I did the white tablecloth thing a while back in Saratoga. I was treated very well..and the wild mushroom ragout was sinfully good.

    I enjoy sipping on a glass of wine and people-watching while I wait for my dinner. I make up stories about the people..in my head of course.

  25. I love to dine alone, and the nicer the restaurant the better. I love to bring a wonderful book to read, order sumptuous dishes and great wine, and just relax and be pampered. I think the trick to being comfortable with this is to being comfortable in your own skin and enjoying your won company.

  26. I recently learned to eat alone while I was traveling for job interviews. I forced myself to leave my book in the hotel so that I could get over my fear of dining alone. After a few meals, I learned to enjoy it. It's really nice to occasionally focus on the food without talking to others, reading, or being preoccupied with anything else.

  27. I still have a hard time with it, but I think it's mostly because I have a hard time doing anything that involves waiting without some sort of distraction. I don't know what to do with my hands or eyes and I end up feeling flustered!

  28. I'm not averse to dining alone at all. 99% of the time I do everything alone, especially when I was in med school (not with my family) and now, as I'm in the States job-hunting. I don't have armor either; I'm perfectly satisfied being alone with my thoughts, and being alone with my food :) I don't just rent movies alone-- I watch them at the cinema alone too.

    It's not that I don't like people-- in fact, I love other people and I love hanging out-- but I can't let the unavailability of other people stop me from enjoying life. I have no fears or insecurities about being alone when I'm out.

    Always proudly, and with a smile: "It's just me- can I sit at the bar? Thanks!"

    Have fun remodeling! :)

    Eerie word verification: bartab

  29. I LOVE to eat alone. It has always been a private luxury: stolen moments when I do not have to listen, to converse, to think, to respond. The extravagance of treating myself to a meal (I also love to pack my own lunch and nibble it alone while hiding in my office) where I want to eat - not having to make a communal compromise or a concession - is an expression of wealth for me. BUT. In truth, I always have a book. I read while I wait for the menu, while I wait for the waiter, for the food, for the check. Whenever possible, I also read while I eat. Sounds antisocial as I type, but maybe antisocial is okay as a private vice. I know I've considered worse...

  30. Great topic to think about.

    I eat/dine alone 95% of the time. Not all of it is in a restaurant, but when I do, I use a book or my iPhone as a crutch. I haven't been to an upscale restaurant alone in a long time, but if I did want to treat myself and go it alone, I may just pretend my life is a little different -- make up an alternate life: Eccentric, wealthy author in town doing research for the next Great American Novel.

  31. I'm comfortable dining alone, but that being said, I do usually choose the bar over a table. I agree that food is a communal thing, and like AiSF said, the downfall is that you don't get to try as many different things.

    Just this week I had lunch at a bar and the bartender wasn't particularly chatty. It was a late lunch, and after awhile the chef sat down for lunch. Him & the bartender were chatting business, and he turns to me and says "so, how did you like your lunch?" The bartender then interrupts and continues talking business to the chef. The chef maintained his focus on me and waited for my answer. Kudos to him for doing this ;-) I expressed my opinions, and then I became a part of an ongoing conversation between him, the bartender and the chef's wife. They'd just interviewed a new pastry chef (she worked at Jean Georges) and they were pleased with her. We then talked cocktails and other restaurants & food, etc. All of this wouldn't have happened if I'd been sitting at a table.

    I moved here in October, and haven't really met the socially active foodie people yet. If I didn't eat out alone I wouldn't be eating out at all. As a foodie, I just can't imagine that.

  32. I LOVE eating out alone. I mostly do it on business trips. I once preempted the awkward question by asking, "Do you have room for just one?" and it got the biggest smile out of the maitre de. That was one of the best solo dinners in a fine eating establishment I have ever had. I also really don't mind just sitting there since it gives me a chance to unwind and not really think about anything. Throw down your crutches, people, and embrace the solo dining experience! :)

  33. Great commentary!

    Here's a tip:

    Make a reservation. Just the act of doing so will set you apart as a discerning solo deserving of good service. Unfortunately, few solo diners take the time to do so.

  34. I will occasionally go out and dine alone. I like to take myself out! I enjoy going to a movie alone and then eating at a nice place and just relaxing with my food. It's a zen, happy place for me.

    The most awkward time I did this though was when I went in to a local, upscale pizza place (Crust in Chicago) and I knew the seating hostess. After exchanging hellos she asked if I was alone, I said yes, and this was followed up by an "awwww, so sad!"

    I stand by my alone time, but I do avoid that place now!

  35. Fantastic blog. I'd rather eat crappy drive-thru food than sit in a restaurant staring at other people. And other people stare at me...agh...here's my video blog on the subject. Hope ya like! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXclfWyMskE


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