A few weeks ago, I had a speaking engagement about an hour away from my office. I made plans to meet a friend at a restaurant afterwards. I arrived on time, requested a “table for two” and waited. And waited. And waited.
I was perfectly content passing the time by catching up on news and Facebook on my phone, but I sensed that the server was starting to feel sorry for me. Here I was, alone, waiting for someone who never showed. I finally let her off the hook and said, “I think something must have come up for my friend. I’m going to order some hummus and enjoy the sunshine.” (A sunny day in Seattle is not to be missed! And yes, an unexpected event prevented my friend from joining me – it happens!)
I’ve never had a problem with dining alone, especially if I have something to read. It’s actually a pleasant way to recharge, be intentional about enjoying my food, people watch and eavesdrop (shhh!). The only sucky part about dining alone is the greeter who says, “Only one of you today?” while looking at me with upraised eyebrows that hint at pity.
But wait!! There’s GOOD NEWS! No more do I have to be the subject of pity and “oh, so sad to be alone” looks. Thanks to “Invite for a Bite,” I never have to eat alone again! According to an article on msnbc.msn.com, the newly launched website “helps women who are out and about, be it for business or leisure, connect with other women so they don’t get stuck alone at restaurants, pretending to be on the phone or staring longingly at the happy couples around them.” (Please see the important **PS following this post)
They even use the word “crisis” to describe the undesirable predicament of having to dine solo.
I will acknowledge this: while I have no problem dining alone (or going alone to the movies, a ball game, concert or museum), there are others who don’t like it. This provides a nice option for someone who would enjoy a dining companion.
The way this service is promoted in the media** highlights our fear of solitude and the stigma around going solo in otherwise social situations. I enjoy eating out with others, and I’m also perfectly content with the pleasure of my own company. At the end of a long day, especially if I’m traveling, the last thing I want to do is expend even more energy talking with a stranger.
And I object to the story’s generalization and assumption that there’s something wrong with a woman (or man) dining alone. I think rather than coming up with a band-aid solution, we should look at the root of it: how we train service professionals (that “Just one?” statement should be the first to go!), along with how our society views and (de)values solitude.
Not everything has to be a social experience.
I shared the article on my Facebook Page and within minutes, a flurry of responses appeared. I smiled reading every one of them, enjoying the dialogue of thoughtful, kindred spirits. Here’s a sampling of the posts:
- For people who want to make new contacts, I think it’s a great idea in theory. That said, its very existence perpetuates the stereotypes and stigma.
- I’m not the least bit bothered by eating alone and snooty servers can shelve their attitude. I’d be more bothered with having to chat with a stranger.
- Obviously depends on your perspective. Some see [dining alone] as a negative; others see it as a positive. I personally find it empowering.
- Interesting peek into what is obviously an extrovert’s issue – not enough people around to talk to!
- I don’t know where to start really. As others have said, it perpetuates the stereotype that there is something wrong with dining alone. Maybe they should address why people are so insecure that they can’t go out for a meal without feeling like they must be with someone. As for having to sit down and eat with a total stranger as the only option… puhleese.
- I like the idea of being able to meet up with someone to share a meal with if that’s what I’m in the mood for, but I’ve always felt sorry for people who “dread” the “table for one” or worry that they’re being judged by others because they aren’t with someone else. I’ve dined alone plenty of times in plenty of places and enjoyed myself quite a bit most of those times. It’s sad that others don’t feel like they have the option of just enjoying themselves.
- I can’t imagine anybody would feel sorry for me if I eat alone. They ask – “how many”, I say “only me” and I smile and I look straight at his eyes and that is it – from that very moment the receptionist doesn’t feel sorry for me. Feeling of loneliness or absence of it is in your eyes 🙂
- I’ve never given the slightest thought about what others think, and really, I’m guessing they don’t care. Other people aren’t paying as much attention as we seem to think. Just can’t believe anyone still believes that.
If I shared tips on how to enjoy dining solo, I’d be preaching to the choir. Instead, here are a few alternatives to “Invite for a Bite” for people (I won’t assume only extroverts!) who would rather drink hot lava than dine alone:
- View the experience as “Adventures in People Watching.” Really notice the people around you, and imagine what might be going on in their lives. Carry a small notebook to capture ideas and impressions that come up… casually, of course. We don’t want anyone to think you’re a PI or stalker. 😉
- Sit at the bar. Several people commented that sitting at the bar was a nice way to be selectively social while still dining alone. If there’s no one to talk to, chances are the television will provide adequate distraction, if you want it.
- Have a mindful meal. Focus exclusively on the food (whether it’s fast food or five star) and notice its texture, smell, color, taste, presentation. Eat slowly and appreciate the experience of nourishing your body. Put away the smart phone and be fully present.
- Bring a book, magazine or newspaper to read. This is a tried-and-true introvert default. If you’re in a new city, pick up a copy of the local paper or weekly alternative rag. You’ll not only get a taste of the local culture, you’ll also find events to attend when you have free time.
- Visit apps on your phone that you forgot you downloaded. The smart phone (or Kindle/iPad) is the greatest gift to solo diners EVER. For better or worse, it’s generally socially acceptable for us to bury our noses in our electronics and ignore our surroundings. If that’s your pleasure, mix it up by opening neglected apps. The first time you stumble upon an app you were so excited to download but have never opened since, it’ll feel like Christmas morning.
So for those people (or reporters) who see solo diners as sad creatures whose lives would be oh-so-better if they just had a stranger to talk to, hear this: I don’t feel stuck being alone, I don’t have to call my imaginary friend on the phone, and I don’t stare longingly at the happy couples around me. Most often, I’m a table for one by choice. My ability to enjoy that is something to honor and celebrate.
What do you think?
Do you enjoy dining alone? What do you like or dislike about it?
Would you ever use the “Invite for a Bite” website? If so, under what circumstances? Please share in the comments!
** PS: The anti-solo slant might have been journalistic license on the part of the MSNBC reporter, because I don’t find the actual “Invite for a Bite” website copy as distasteful. In fact, it almost looks like it could be fun, even for a solo-loving introvert… almost ;-). Get the scoop at http://inviteforabite.com/press
Beth, This is a wonderful post! I love dining with others but I am also happy dining alone. Let’s see, have a quiet meal, relishing delicious food that someone else prepared? OR, make small talk with a complete stranger for the sole purpose of appearing connected? there’s no contest here. I had the same reaction to book someone recently told me about – “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets To Success”. No thank you.
Dawn Davis Pomrinca says
So grateful to have found your site; it’s helping me understand my own Introvert qualities, while sharing with others and helping them understand us! 😉
Alison Fredericksen says
I LOVE eating alone. I also love eating with friends. (Let’s face it; I love eating!;) But seriously, I remember a time when I felt weird about it. One of the great things about getting older for me has been no longer caring much what people who don’t know me think about me and what I’m doing! It’s so liberating!
Ian Derk says
I’ll play Devil’s Advocate for a second: Servers work for tips, and tables for one takes up the same space as tables for two. A server might be doing the mental math and thinking, “There goes half a tip.” As a former restaurant employee, here are some suggestions:
1. Dine at slightly-off hours or days. This can eliminate the stress on a server. If there are empty tables, the server just wants them full.
2. Don’t linger during rush (11-2, weekend nights). This is generally a good tip for everyone, but solo diners are an oddball so we need exemplary behavior. While I like the idea of savoring a meal, clogging a table on Saturday night post-theater isn’t good behavior.
3. Eat at the bar.
4. Be a regular. If you follow tip one, that’s the best way to be a known commodity. People won’t think it odd when you come alone if it happens often. If some place makes you feel uncomfortable for coming alone, don’t go. Restaurants can’t afford to turn away paying people, so natural selection will work itself out.
5. Tip well. This one is rough, but if we want cultural change, we need the restaurants on our side. Servers, nice as they seem, work for tips. I tend to tip better when alone than when I’m with someone else. If we all were good tippers, servers would probably smile when we said, “No, just one.” When restaurants see profits from us, we will get their support.
Vicki Brown says
I agree with the “be a regular” suggestion Ian makes above. The restaurant where I feel most comfortable going in alone is our regular diner, where the staff and many of the patrons “know your name”. I sit facing in towards the restaurant and people watch.
Vicki Brown says
Tip #3 “Eat at the bar” assumes you want to chat up (or be chatted up by) some stranger. Even if my back would allow sitting on a stool, I would NEVER eat at the bar! Eeech.
Elizabeth Vaughan says
I used to travel out of state for business about twice a week, so eating out alone was a big part of my routine. I didn’t think of eating alone as being unusual, and I would have been surprised if others found it strange. Someone once told me something that sounds a little bit jaded but is useful if you’re feeling self-conscious: Usually people are not thinking about you; they are thinking about themselves. Most people aren’t giving a thought to who you’re eating with or why. I really enjoyed my time alone to collect my thoughts for the next day’s work, and what you said, Beth, about it taking a lot of energy to meet a new person is definitely true for me I would have felt more embarrassed to be so afraid of being alone that I needed to reach out to strangers for company!
My extroverted sister says:
When I do eat in a restaurant by myself it has to be the right kind of restaurant. I’ll get breakfast by myself and I’ll go to a place with a patio and take my book but, for instance, I would never get a burger by myself or Korean BBQ or sushi or something like that. I always have a book and I play with my phone. Even when I’m on a patio and watching people I have my book….
…The funny thing is, during the week I often eat lunch “alone”. I go upstairs to the “club” 4 or sometimes 5 times a week… I sit at the bar and sometimes someone comes and sits next to me and we chat, and sometimes everyone went out or did other things or are in meetings. There’s a TV that’s on at the bar but the sound is down and it’s not closed captioned but the bartender/waiters are friendly (and they know me) so I eat and hang out up there. I never take my book upstairs.