"Here's your wine list, your menu . . . You want, like, a magazine or something? It's gonna be boring if you're just sitting by yourself." This scene in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall when the waiter (Jonah Hill) seats Jason Segel's character is close to the reaction I get when I tell people I had dinner out alone. Cue the sad looks, the awkward "Oh!" exclamation, and my personal favorite, "I could never do that." But why not? Have you ever tried?
Eating alone may sound depressing, but it's actually the best way to dine. You don't have to keep up a conversation, you don't have to share, you have zero distractions, and you can focus on the most important thing: the food. That's why you came in the first place, right? As much as I enjoy good company and a good meal, sometimes it's nice to be able to separate the two. You can relax and have some time to think to yourself. People watching really is the best part. And the conversations that surround you are entertainment enough.
The first time I went to a restaurant by myself, I was having a terrible day. You'd think that eating alone would only make it worse but it was actually therapeutic. I didn't want to talk to anyone and I wanted to just shut out the world while I ate my damn food. I didn't text anyone back and I didn't scroll through Instagram. It was me, myself, and my heaping plate of spaghetti carbonara. Carbs really do solve any problem, but it was so great to enjoy my food without anyone else bothering me. I left that restaurant feeling significantly better.
Whether the spot is as casual as pizza or as fancy as a Michelin-star restaurant is unimportant. I'd argue that only when you're by yourself can you truly enjoy the slice or plate in front of you. Plus, you can be seated at the bar and don't have to wait as long. You've eaten at home solo plenty of times, I'm sure. So what's the difference?
The most awkward moment is when your waiter asks if you're waiting for anyone else, but usually they're the one who's more uncomfortable. It's all good once you get past that threshold. And there's no need to feel self-conscious. No one's judging you — except maybe that one person over there, but who cares about them? This is a meal for one and nobody else is invited.
So next time you find yourself craving good food without anyone to accompany you, just try to eat out alone. You might even find yourself preferring it that way.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Maria del Rio
Product Credit: 3x1 top and jeans, Iconery earrings, In God We Trust bracelet
If there’s one salient piece of advice for those who dine alone, whether out of choice or necessity, it is this: “Never be daunted in public.” The fact that this quote comes from Hemingway, and was backed by MFK Fisher in her 1948 essay on dining alone, only speaks to its truthfulness and timelessness. The unfortunate fact that many people in the U.S. still feel ashamed when taking themselves out for a solo dinner proves how little things have changed, despite Fisher and Hemingway’s best efforts.
Sure, there’s plenty of brouhaha over how 50% of the country eats alone and that it’s becoming the norm. And yet, there are several fantastic restaurants that do foods and smaller portions for single diners without serving up a side dish of the ‘where’s your girlfriend/boyfriend?’ attitude. Yet, for some reason, the world still assumes Ryan Gosling is in need of a lunch date when he eats alone. And when you walk alone through a restaurant full of two-tops and group dinners and sit at your table with a glaringly empty chair on the other side, chances are, plenty of pitying looks come your way. And that’s even if you are spared the corner tables and neglectful waiters. Eating alone—and we’re not talking fast food and takeout restaurants here—hasn’t lost much of its stigma and can still make you feel like this hilarious Steve Martin caricature from the 1984 comedy Lonely Guy.
The Japanese understand that, sometimes, you have to spend some quality alone time with your food.
Which is why we’d benefit from adopting the attitude and strategy of the Japanese, who are the unparalleled masters of solo dining. Their cubicle seats, which have recently been installed in Kyoto University‘s dining hall, are a testament to the fact that the Japanese understand that, sometimes, you just have to spend some quality alone time with your food. In Japan, chefs entertain you with their knife antics, so you can have dinner and entertainment without wondering why you didn’t just order in. The Japanese have even come up with a bowl that’ll not only hold your food, but also your iPhone, so you can have virtual companionship while still being able to use both your hands (genius).
We’re so impressed by the country’s wholehearted acceptance of the meal-for-one that we’ve put together a list of everything we can learn from the Japanese when it comes to the art of eating alone. Sure, some of these ideas seem slightly absurd, but isn’t that what we’ve come to delightfully expect from the Japanese? And what’s not fun about eating with a virtual boyfriend who’ll not only cook a meal for you, but comes with a personality and a penchant for jealousy? Beats us.
Click through the gallery above and learn the tricks of the solo dining trade.