The Merits of Dining Alone



"Waiters are seldom socialists." - George Orwell


As a perpetually single woman, I often eat alone. In new cities, in my own city, in small towns that are barely incorporated, let alone gentrified. At this point I am accustomed to the occasional condescending looks, to announcing I’d like a reservation for one, to being ignored by the waitstaff and given the absolute worst table. Of course it is arguably more fun to eat in company, but I have learned to enjoy aspects of solo dining. Barring a few uncomfortable situations which could potentially arise, there are a multitude of perks to independent meals.


Dominating the restaurant’s bread service is, of course, an attractive aspect of the solo-dining experience. Should you so choose, you may secretly deposit those two remaining batards of cherry-walnut bread inside your handbag. These not only make remarkable snacks on your Uber- ride home, but can be sliced, toasted, and slathered with some delightfully-weepy brie the following morning. Alternatively, if you happen to be eating alone at a third-rate Mexican restaurant in Kansas, that basket of tortilla chips is entirely yours. There is nothing worse than sharing a meal with someone who adopts the entire dish of salsa and will not allow you to salt the chips. It is a failure on the “milk of human kindness” level to refuse to salt under-salted chips. I don’t care how handsome your tablemate may be, if he lacks the goodwill-toward-men to surrender the saltshaker, he isn’t worth his queso.

Secondly, you are free to eat entirely at your own pace when you are the only person involved at the meal table. How many times have you tried to adjust how quickly you consume a burger when your chatty companion is picking at her wilting salad one leaf at a time, fork suspended as she drones on about gym memberships? If your burger is up to snuff, it should be nearly impossible to set down once you’ve gotten a solid grip on it. Being unable to set the thing down, you will naturally finish your burger well before your seatmate has finished her dispirited arugula. Even if you do constrain yourself on the rate at which you consume your sweet potato fries, you’ll finish your meal first and there will be nothing to do then, apart from wonder why she paid $14 for a salad that looks as downtrodden as the medieval peasantry.

Even more gratifying than a secret bread stash is the solo diner’s ability to score a slot at exclusive restaurants. We’ve all been included in a party of ten or more which took an hour to collect and another hour to seat and two more hours to order, eat, and cash out. It’s mayhem. Even if the tickets are split correctly and no one forgets to tip. Rolling up to a popular new spot and asking for an available table can be impossible at worst, a three-hour wait at best.That is, unless you arrive as a free agent who needs precisely one seat. There will almost always be a seat at the bar, or a corner table. And if you don’t mind being overlooked by the harried waitstaff and/or frowned at by disagreeable old ladies, you’re well on your way to an all-access pass to the best restaurants in town.

When dining in a group, you also deal with the questionable etiquette of exactly who is paying for what. As a solo diner, there is never any question about the bill - what you order is what you will personally pay for. You are in control of your spending in this case. Don’t want to pay for an appetizer? Then do not order an appetizer. Things can get awkward in a group when everyone begins to order and share things. By the end of the night when the bills are split, you often find you’ve spent a great deal more than you realized by bowing to the idea of tapas-style sharing. But when eating dinner alone, there are no hidden costs - you’re the one with the menu, the decisive power and, in the end, the bill.

When eating alone it would be a mistake to leave out the fact that dining solo makes you look unreasonably interesting. In my experience the first reaction of that fickle focus group known as The General Public is not, “Oh, that poor girl,” or “What a lonely guy.” Rather, initial reactions range from interest up through curiosity and out into such fringey emotional territory as a vague sense of jealousy that they, too, are not left alone to devour a meal in quiet. Of course you might not be an interesting person at all. You could be a very boring person who was out for a bowl of pho because you can’t cook at all. You could be sitting there alone because you are a hermit of the first order, or maybe a sadist, or maybe you have an infectious disease. If you don’t have a mysterious bone in your body, you might achieve a bit of the effect by going out alone and just sitting there and looking like a world unto yourself. It must be admitted that your personal thoughts might be less than riveting as you try to pinch up a few udon noodles with a pair of chopsticks, but they don’t know that, and this is the material pont. For all anyone else in the restaurant knows, you are a food critic or a lesser-known celebrity, or maybe the winner of some obscure (but elite) award. The more unassuming your location and remote your expression, the more interesting you seem. It is an entire art form - perhaps the easiest one to master.

One could go on - about the occasional discounts shelled out in pity for the lonesome stranger; the freedom to follow your own appetite and eat whatever food you crave; the offer to taste your fellow bar fly’s appetizer. The solo dining life, in short, has its distinct merits. So the next time you find yourself without friends on a rare night off, don’t immediately assume there is no fun to be had. Dress up, step out, and enjoy the taste of independence. Even if the waiter ignores you.

1 comment

  1. This came at just the right time for me! Aside from fast food, I've never really dined alone-until the past month or so, when I've done it twice. There are definitely some perks to it! It still feels a little awkward to me, but I am sure that will pass eventually :)

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