On Dining Alone

Fuchsia Dunlop in the weekend FT nails it:

Dining alone in restaurants, like other solitary activities, is a matter of perception. If you feel guilty about it and think you shouldn’t be doing it, it’s dreadful. On the other hand, if you can enjoy it as one of the diverting side dishes to the great shared feast of life, it can be delicious. Dining in company isn’t always an unalloyed pleasure, anyway. If your companion is dull or irritating, or the chemistry of conversation absent, you might as well be alone. And if you are simply too tired to offer another person your full attention, a little solitary sustenance can be just the thing.

I'm an experienced solo diner. If the setting is right (ie, you don't feel self-conscious), then a casual meal with a magazine can be quite relaxing.

During solo portions of my travel abroad, I became well accustomed to wandering the streets of a random city and settling down to eat. One of my favorite memories is in Rome, my last night there. The heat all week had been oppressive and the lack of traffic laws raised my blood pressure significantly any time I tried to cross a street. (Here's my funny travel blog post on crossing a Roman street.) Tired but happy to be alive, I walked to a local restaurant, sat down by myself, ordered as much mozzarella cheese as I thought I could eat, and enjoyed watching the Italians at tables next me take hand gesturing to a whole new level.

7 Responses to On Dining Alone

  1. If you don’t have good chemistry with the person you’re with, it’s not that you “might as well be alone,” it’s that you would actually prefer to be alone. But in general I say that we spend so much time alone during the day that at least we can be social while we are eating, because it would be difficult to focus on something serious anyways.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    But in general I say that we spend so much time alone
    during the day that at least we can be social while we are eating,
    because it would be difficult to focus on something serious anyways.

    Andy — most people spend the day WITH people, not alone. Anyone who works in an office, anyways.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We spend a lot of time with people, but not necessarily in an engaging way. There’s a difference between a conversation and getting work done. Regardless, if there’s no company to be had, and quiet relaxation is the order of the day, I have learned to enjoy eating out alone. Recommend bringing a notepad or sitting next to a street window or at the bar, though — if attention isn’t occupied somewhere, I find that I am always watching the waitstaff, and making them think I need something. When traveling, the wait for food to arrive is an excellent time to journal.

  4. Ben, I think you hit on the key to crossing Roman streets in your travel blog. As you say, it’s all about the hand gestures. I’m naturally good at this, but it has nothing to do with being gay.;-)

    You have to make eye contact with the maniacal drivers, and don’t be afraid to raise your arm in a policeman’s stop gesture (not too high, though, you don’t want to look like a neo-fascist). Give them a fierce look as if you wouldn’t hesitate to rip their throats out if you could– they won’t stop, of course, but you’ll get much more respect.

    This technique works all around the world.

    As for Fuchsia Dunlop’s astonishment at the heroic oyster consumption of the grandly proportioned gentlemen who ate fifty-six of the molluscan delicacies: that’s nothing, at a skinny 165 pounds, I could top that with ease (tabasco required).

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ever go see a movie alone? Depending on the movie it can be really relaxing, unless it turns out to be a love movie and your the only person getting up to leave alone at the end haha.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Eating along in college can be tough. But if you set up shop in the middle of the dining hall, essentially saying “f-you” to anyone who thinks it’s embarrassing to eat alone, you’re almost always bound to get a few people to sit down with you. If you have the swagger, then it’s your show, and you don’t have to worry about what people think about dining alone.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I find it’s easier to eat alone when you’re traveling in a strange city than when you’re living in a strange city that’s supposed to be home.

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