Dressed in the nicest outfit that you could find in your suitcase, you arrive at the posh restaurant that promises a view of the harbor that could sweep you off your feet. You wait patiently, second in queue behind the couple whispering sweet nothings to each other. The host greets you with a warm smile, his eyes momentarily searching for a dining companion. Within a fraction of a second so brief, you’d miss it if you didn’t have previous experience noticing it, he looks at you and you hear yourself say with practiced ease, “Table for one, please.”
If this scenario sounds like one that you can’t imagine pulling off with ‘practiced ease,’ then you’re not alone. The social awkwardness of dining alone is a very real concern for those who’re planning their first solo trip or moving to a new city. If you’ve never travelled alone or lived by yourself, chances are that you’ve probably never dined alone at a nice restaurant, especially if you’re a woman. While most people today are comfortable about spending alone time at cafés, working on their laptops or reading, dining alone continues to be a worrying concept for many. Women can be self-conscious about looking lonely at restaurants where they imagine they might be surrounded by couples.
Modern society places too much emphasis on appearances to the point that you aren’t always able to separate yourself from other people’s perception of you. If you’ve never experienced it because you’re uncomfortable with the idea of looking lonely or like ‘someone with no friends’, your thought process is distinctly different from that of others who are comfortable with dining alone.
Ask someone who’s used to dining alone and they’ll tell you something that is almost always true- No one else cares. The people who complain of or fear awkwardness are usually the ones looking around at romancing couples or happy families with a sense of self-pity. Of course, it’s usually hard to accept that you’re really not important, at least not enough to warrant other guests at the restaurants to spend any time thinking about you to perceive you as lonely.
Many people feel comfortable about dining by themselves at cafés or restaurants where it’s easier to look busy or engrossed in an activity besides dining such as writing, reading or texting. But there’s no reason to deny yourself a meal at the kind of restaurant that couples or families go to, just because you’re alone. If there’s a place with a fantastic view, must try food or unique décor that you’d like to try in a new city or town, then not having someone to go with is a sorry excuse.
So what does a solo diner do, besides eat? There are as many replacements for a conversation with a companion as there are types of people who like to dine solo. Some people like to read while others like to soak in the ambience or people watch. Still others talk of how much more they’re able to focus on the meal itself, appreciating everything from the presentation and aroma to the subtle flavors that they’d otherwise miss when distracted by conversation. The need to learn how to focus on what you’re doing in the present moment is highly underrated in times when every action from drinking a glass of water to walking home is constantly interrupted by a tweet or an update.
For such people, the state of mind when they’re dining by themselves is the same as when they’re dining with someone, with no sign of insecurity about being perceived as a loser. Most restaurant staff will treat you the same as though you were dining with a companion and why shouldn’t they- after all, dining alone is nothing more than just a matter of choice.
Society is slowly beginning to understand the concept of the need to disconnect from any kind of social interaction, whether it’s personal or digital, in a world that’s over-connected. For years, introverts have been the only ones to truly understand this need, seeking replenishment from ‘me time’. Today, even people who don’t identify themselves as introverts are learning to enjoy the many benefits of dining alone. From not having to plan your meal around someone else’s schedule, or your choice of food around a companion’s preference to being able to use your mealtime doing exactly as you please such as read or just enjoy your meal and maybe, a glass of wine, there are many joys of dining alone.
The next time you pass by that restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, leave your anxiety at the door and walk in. Remember that the conversations around you will never be about you because you’re far less important to other diners than their own stories.