There has been some discussion on the Internet of late of the infinite sorrow surrounding those of us who eat alone. Or, more specifically, those of us who eat out alone, because rarely is there a dialog that speaks that “Loneliness is the most terrible poverty” when a solitary person makes themselves a sandwich, plops themselves in front of a television to watch the latest episode of Two and a half Men, and then tucks in. No, these discussions only come up when a solo diner dares go out alone in public.
As a person who has enjoyed the ambiance of a bistro in Paris, drank a bitter in a pub in London, and enjoyed a top notch lunch of a braunschweiger sandwich and a glass of golden ale in Amsterdam, each accomplished by my lonesome, let me offer the following bit of advice to those of you who, upon seeing a solo diner, think some variation of “There before the Grace of God”:
Oh, and also? You don’t know what you are missing.
There’s a certain romanticism to eating alone. And as with most romantic activities, some rituals need to be observed. For one, some reading material is often required (and it appears as if I’m not the only one who believes this), but this is not always the case. I’ve been lost in thought enough to go through a meal without one page read.
Second, the host and server have to play their role well, in that, once seated and our food ordered, for the most part solo eaters want to be left alone. Checking in on us once or twice over the course of the meal is welcome, but this is part of the ritual. Solo eaters are mostly low maintenance, quite intentionally so. This works in favor of the restaurant staff, who can then focus their attentions to other priorities.
Once these rules have been implemented, the ritual is then in full swing, and the true purpose of solo dining comes into being. The solo diner can now remove themselves from the responsibilities of the day.
Think of this as a vacation that lasts between thirty minutes to an hour, for now we solo diners have no actions required of us by anyone. We don’t have to cook or clean, we don’t have anyone to report to, and, most importantly, we don’t have to talk. We get to sit there and enjoy our own company. Through the entirety of the meal, we are playing in the paradox of being removed from society while participating within it.
This is wonderful.
Sure, the better the book, the better the moment. But the purpose here is to disassociate oneself from the rigor of the day. For these brief moments, I am no one but my self.
This being a food blog, some of you may have noted the complete and utter lack of discussion of food. There is a reason for this – it is secondary. Don’t get me wrong, the food should NOT be bad, as that will draw unwanted attention to itself, thus breaking the ritual. An average meal will suffice, and great meal is a bonus.
Alas, once the final bite is taken, and the leftover bag is brought forth and the check is paid, the ritual has been completed. We solo diners return to society at large and participate within it as everyone else does.
I have no idea if other solo diners experience the same things I do, or even if they approach it in the same manner. But for me, eating alone isn’t an exercise in loneliness. It’s quite the opposite. It’s an exercise in being with my self.