Posted by: foodtalker | March 27, 2010

table for one

I don’t mind eating alone. In fact, I’m used to it. This is not a statement of self pity, simply a truth. When you’re single, eating alone is one of the many things done solo. But who knew that eating alone would be considered an act of bravery?

The other day I was at a restaurant having an early dinner when a friend called. She asked where I was and when I told her she said, “Sorry, I won’t both you when you’re with company”. I told her it wasn’t a problem, I was eating alone. There was a pause. Then she said, sounding impressed, “That takes guts.”

Really. Guts? I’d never thought of it like that before. I tend to think that having guts applies to risk takers, more perilous circumstances, being in imminent danger of some sort and keeping a cool head whilst forging on. Or having emotional fortitude – such as waking up every day and deciding to get out of bed despite the many dangers lurking out there – that calls for courage. But sitting alone at the sushi bar eating a spicy tuna roll?

But for my friend, who’s never eaten a meal alone in public in her entire life, she said it would make her feel uncomfortable. Why? “Because, I’d feel stigmatized as lonely and pathetic. It would look as if I’d nowhere to go and no one who wanted to go there with me. Don’t you feel like a loser eating alone?”

Nope. At least not until she had said that.

There are many benefits to eating alone. There is no need to make conversation – polite or otherwise – which also means you don’t have to worry about having your mouth full at the precise moment you’re expected to make a profound comment. It’s hard to time every bite just right so you’re not left indicating your finger at bulging cheeks and grunting. For me that sort of self consciousness can ruin a meal.

It also means you don’t have to tolerate other peoples’ table manners, or rather lack of. It’s a relief not having to stare into a cavernous hole of half masticated food for example, or trying to dodge a fork that’s being waved and jabbed in the air as a means of emphatically demonstrating a point.

Then is there anything more depressing than seeing a couple sharing a meal in silence? Unless it’s two Carmelite nuns. Or, even worse, being one of that couple? Or a party of six painfully struggling to be jolly and keep the conversation going? There’s lots of time when you eat alone to make all these observations.

Eating a meal alone during the day is one thing, it says you’re independent; a woman about town, in a hurry grabbing a bite, but eating alone in the evening is completely different. It says: couldn’t get a dining companion. Restaurants treat you as “lesser”, ushering you to a table in a dark corner without any flowers and a tablecloth that still has the left over crumbs from the previous solitary person’s repast. Eat out alone on a Saturday night? I’d rather starve.

Of course it comes down to where you eat. There’s a certain level of restaurant where eating alone in the evening is easier. Sushi, for instance. The sushi bar is ideally constructed for the single diner. You sit facing a slab of raw salmon, your back to the restaurant and the only person you ever have to look at or talk to is the sushi chef and the topic never extends beyond your order.

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