Dining Alone - The Experiment

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Having been sitting on my own musings for a while on the concept of eating alone I finally decided to go out and explore it. Eating alone comes with a certain stigma - we fear being judged lonely or single. Pariahs. That there is a reason that one dines alone and it is not of our own choosing. 

With finals over and finally having a chance to sit down and read a book for fun on my own accord I decided it was a perfect chance to go and put the theory to the test. I made reservations at a relatively nice restaurant and decided to be irresponsible and splurge a tincey bit. A night for me. To celebrate me. Just for me. It may sound a bit conceited but I find it necessary to take time for oneself and even spoil yourself once in a while. Otherwise one goes crazy; the longest icicle doesn't form in a single snow, stress builds slowly over time until it finally just makes you break. This was a chance to just... BE.

As I quickly strolled down the dark wet sidewalks of downtown Sacramento, my gait wide in an attempt to warm myself in the shiver-inducing, brisk winter air, I glanced at those passing by and silently observed their habits and walks and listened to snippits of their conversations. Checking my watch I noticed I was running a bit early as traffic had been better than anticipated. Ginger's was only another block east; tucking my book and umbrella underarm I dashed across the street. 

We quickly chatted about Christmas plans, both personal and business over a few macarons and played a bit of catch up. Soon it was time and back through the cold air I dashed arriving shortly at the door to Mulvaney's.

"Hi, I'm a bit early. I made a reservation for one at 6:30? It's under McCord."

She confirmed and smiled a coquettish grin, "Would you like a table or sit at the chefs table to watch some preparation."

"The chefs table sounds great actually." The hostess led me through the cozy dining room, the beams decorated tastefully with lights and artfully crafted silk birds in vermillion and gold. She sat me at the bench where I removed my scarf and jacket delicately putting them over the back of the stool-back.

I looked around at the other people dining, in the back an elderly couple seemed to quietly chat over whatever people have left to talk about after how many years of marriage. A first date in the corner was obviously boring the lady in the scarlet dress as she twirled her hair and let her eyes wander aimlessly. A party or two on this side or that, but for the most part it was still empty. And then there was me. 

And I didn't mind. It seemed everyone was too busy with themselves and their dining guests to pay any mind to the single twenty-something at the bar table with a book. I suppose a stray thought or two may have entered their consciousness upon seeing me but I seemed to be by my self with no other minds to consider. 

I ordered a carrot and vanilla soup, the striped sea bass with mushrooms and pesto, and a glass of white wine. Simple and easy food that was light and tasty. My waitress seemed perky and sweet, assisting me perfectly through the night. 

"So enjoying your night out?" she queried as she removed my soup bowl.

"Yeah, actually. Just enjoying a night out for me." I smiled.

I took pause from my book to watch Chef Mulvaney work. We had met once or twice before, but always in passing and never enough of a conversation to impress upon his memory it seemed. Silently observing from my perch like a curious owl I was mesmerized by the method and pace that took place before me, all done in quiet meditation as one might undertake for serenity. His fingers, stained crimson from beets that must have been utilized early, slowly work and flattened bits of shortbread dough, each mound being rolled out with a bottle of brandy. The dough was the layered with a thin piece of candied fennel and a bit of pomegranate syrup. Each one was meticulously put together in silent solitude and dedication, paying to mind to what was going on around him. He paused only to explain something to one of the wait staff.

There was a moment when he introduced himself to a couple next to me and showed them some porcini mushrooms which he then whipped up into a special dish with them. He, the couple and the waitress then discussed and tasted a fine French wine the couple in question had ordered, something hitting $80. I was a bit jealous at the attention, I admit, but regardless who you are a 10 minute discussion on the nuances of so-and-so wine rings a bit snobby to me. Still, they all seemed to know what they were talking about and there was no air of pomp about them; it all seemed genuine. So whatever.

As I finished my wine and my chapter I paid my bill, leaving a healthy 20%. The night had been unexpectedly simple. I assumed there would be questioning, looks, drama, curiosity. Indeed the night was mundane if you had been watching me. However, I found it relaxing. Ohm-like. Simple. Without a dining companion I could focus on my reading, my own thoughts, the flavors of the food. Each without distraction. The night rang clear as a bell. 

It wasn't the grandest experiment, I'll grant you that. It was, however, enlightening. More than that, it was relaxing. Necessary. 

I highly suggest you all do the same. 


  1. I've always enjoyed dinning alone. With a book or without, I have never felt uncomfortable about it. I even took up the habit of sitting at the bar in nice pubs alone reading while in college. I don't get to dine out alone much now that I'm married, but I think people should try it more. And as a former waitress, I never thought twice about single diners.

  2. I love that you do that. I'm the type of person that finds dining alone unbearable - unless I'm in the mood and then it's delectable.

    I must add that I love MB&L - they catered my wedding and Patrick's genuine nature and pure love of food are what infuses both the restaurant and the catering company with success.

  3. I don't think that dining alone is something I care to do all of the time, but once in a while, it is nice. I recently went away for the weekend by myself and treated myself to a really nice dinner at a 5 star restaurant. I could have just done fast food since I was by myself, but then I would have missed out on some amazing food. I didn't even take a book, just looked out the window and the amazing view...it was a great night!

  4. I love to dine alone sometimes. In Chicago, people do it all the time. I started doing it myself in college when I would have a long break in classes at night, go over to Greek town around the corner and eat a nice peaceful dinner before my last class. Sometimes I bring a book and sometimes I people watch. I never understood how some people get so uncomfortable doing it; honestly, no one really cares what you are doing, people just think that they do.

  5. I used to dine out alone a lot. I, too, find it a relaxing and enjoyable kind of thing. I like going to the movies by myself even better.

  6. Congratulations, Garret. I am pushing 60 and have enjoyed eating alone since my teens. It turned into "dining" as I gained maturity and the income that comes with it.

    Not once have I been made to feel awkward and many times I have been given special treatment and/or treats (free dessert, wine).

    For anyone who is reluctant to try going solo, I highly recommend it. Just dress nice and go in with a positive attitude--make it look like you deserve the best and you will probably get it. AND TIP WELL.

  7. I think everyone should treat themselves to eating out alone every once in a while. Good for you for not being too scared to do so!

  8. At least 12 years back I had a very memorable meal all by my lonesome.. the bank machine ate my cash, and I had a 4 hour wait for it to be sorted out.

    It was a simple storefront Vietnamese noodle place in Ashfield, Sydney, but I remember those spring rolls & the excellent wonton soup vividly. The best egg noddles I have ever had, easily.

    I drank pots of Jasmine tea

    The whole lunch came to under $10.

    Funny how these things happen?

  9. Oh my goodness, eating alone in restaurants with a good book to read is a luxurious joy in life that I miss immensely. I used to like to eat good food when I lived in a city before I had kids, I would frequently go for lunch at places that I couldn't afford dinner at to sample their skills with my lower budget. Now I live in a rural place and have little kids all the time so this is a luxury I rarely indulge in, it's a delicious one and not just because of the food, but because of the joy of solitary eating and reading. MMMMMM!

  10. i used to think that dining alone is weird until i experienced it myself. it's not that scary to me now and somehow i'm just used to dine alone although i hope there's someone sitting opposite me.


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