A couple of months ago my flatmate, Sarah, went on a work trip to London. As it happened that work trip required her to spend large portions of the day hanging around waiting for people to finish at one meeting so that she could escort rather to another meeting, and sadly it was a pretty rainy day in the Big Smoke, so poor Sarah had to spend quite a lot of the day sheltering in restaurants and cafes.
When she came back up to the Toon and entertained me and Vic with tales of her adventures I was particularly intrigued by one aspect of her story: the horror of dining alone.
It turns out that Sarah had never eaten in a restaurant or enjoyed an overpriced, caffeinated beverage in a coffee shop alone before, and she found it an unsettling experience. I imagine she wouldn’t be alone in those thoughts. Popular culture makes much of the social awkwardness that is the ‘table for one’.
Now, as it happens, I spend a great deal of time doing the lone-diner thing. The job means hours and hours of solo-coffee shop time; sometimes doing a bit of prep and taking advantage of a bit of free wifi, sometimes waiting for a late or AWOL student. And my unattached marital status sometimes means that I find myself eating in restaurants alone – usually when I’m travelling alone, but not always. And, although I wouldn’t fancy it all the time (I do love to have coffee or tea or dinner with friends, after all) I actually quite enjoy these solitary experiences.
However, if you are a reluctant, or novice, loner, allow me to offer you a few tips for enhancing the experience:
1. Redeem the time. This is a lovely opportunity for a bit of quiet, a bit of time alone with your interesting and worthy thoughts, a bit of a chance for people-watching.
2. Be selfish. Eating alone allows you to eat wherever you want: no more negotiating over preferred cuisine, or endless, polite back-and-forth’s – ‘No, no, I don’t mind at all, where do you want to eat?’
3. Enjoy judgement-free meals: four courses of chocolate and no one to disapprove except for the waiter who you’ll never see again. Win.
4. Bring a book, or a magazine, or some knitting, or something else to keep you entertained while you wait, particularly if you know that your interesting and worthy thoughts aren’t going to keep you going for long.
5. Bring a pen and paper and start listening to the conversations going on around. You never know when the chat of your neighbours might be the start of your next great novel.
Any more tips out there?
In summary: table for one.