Eating Alone

vintage pepsi glass

How do you feel about going out and eating alone?

I know that a lot of people feel awkward about it. There are so many potential pitfalls. Is it okay to read a book or newspaper at the table in a restaurant? What about writing in a notebook? Is a laptop okay or is that a bit obnoxious? An iPad? Headphones?

What about the actual meal – should you bother taking the time to have a starter? Is it okay to drink wine alone? Will the waiter think you’re a total fatty if you eat that WHOLE tiramisu that was really meant for two?

I’m going to break with convention a little, and say that I LOVE eating out alone.

It is a very rare occurrence these days. Occasionally I’ll sit down for a coffee in town after dropping DorkySon at nursery, if I’m waiting for the post office or the dry cleaners to open. But I can’t remember the last time I sat down for a full meal in a restaurant, by myself, alone.

(Actually I can. It’s just come back to me as I was writing this post. I had lunch alone in Pizza Express in Harpenden on the day that I found the flat we now live in. I had a chicken salad, a large glass of white wine and an espresso, before calling DorkyDad to tell him I’d found somewhere and calling the letting agent to tell them we’d take it. It was a sunny day, so I sat in the window. And I definitely had my iPad on the table because there was free WiFi. Anyway, I digress…)

Pre-DorkySon I ate out by myself a fair bit. DorkyDad travelled a lot for work, and by day three or four of his trips away I would tire of my own cooking and decide to splurge a little.

There was a perfect place for solo dining just up the road from us in Edinburgh, called Toast. They provided plenty of small tables, so you could tuck away without feeling like you were taking up too much space and losing them custom from larger parties. They also provided a huge rack of magazines and newspapers that would keep even the slowest of eaters going for hours.

I probably broke all the rules of eating-alone-etiquette. I always had three courses. I always had a glass of wine. (Sometimes even two!) And I always stayed for coffee.

If I was in the middle of a good book anyway, I’d take one along and keep reading it, but I never used it as a prop to keep people away. I would quite often just sit there, watching the world going by and thinking. It was blissful. It didn’t make me feel awkward at all.

These days, eating alone usually means a lunchtime sandwich at the kitchen table, or if DorkyDad is out at night then a bowl of pasta after DorkySon has gone to bed. But the lessons of my solo dining days have stayed with me, and I still try to take time over meals. The temptation is always there to multitask – to check email or unload the dishwasher at the same time – but I think mindful eating is important. Taking the time to pause, breathe, and taste three times a day is important, and whether it’s in public or private, alone or in company, it shouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable.

Food is meant to be fun. Right?

***

I am delighted to have been shortlisted in two categories of the BritMums Brilliance in Blogging Awards – Commentary and Outstanding. Thank you SO very much for your support. If you’d like to see me as a finalist, you can vote for me here.

46 responses

  1. I’m so with you on this, eating alone is one of my secret pleasures. I’ve always been perfectly happy with my own company except these days, I’m rarely ever alone so the opportunity to eat without having to get anybody a drink, fetch the ketchup or shoo away a hungry dog is blissful to me! Don’t get me wrong, I adore mealtimes with my family but dropping E off at school and sneaking to Waitrose cafe for a full English, a proper hot chocolate with whipped cream on and a trashy magazine is a great start to the day for me.

    Great post, you get my vote every time xx

    • Aww, shucks, thank you! One of my fave things to eat alone is beans on toast, which I can’t eat now without thinking of you checking the bottom of the can to make sure they’re all out!

  2. I used to travel a fair bit of work, and was often invited to stay in nice hotels with grand restaurants. Eating alone was an unfortunate part of that, but once I got a few mealtimes out the way I began to enjoy the opportunity to watch the world go by.
    These days I think a tablet, book or phone is acceptable in most places. But perhaps that is acknowledging to others in the restaurant that eating alone is awkward?

  3. Very interesting post. At home alone I have to admit I just rush meals or sit on the sofa and eat. When I was working away loads I used to stay in my room and have room service rather than sit somewhere on my own. Then again I don’t think I ever get time on my own out of the house any more to eat in peace. I may try to organise it so I can though, just to try it out!

  4. I love eating alone too, always have (actually, I love food, full stop. A little too much). In my pre-J days, it was defintely different. Today it is a rare luxury and usually takes place in Pret or a deli, when I’m allowed out to London. TBH I thought the “rules” were to have three courses, a good slurp of wine and coffee….but yes I go and “ruin” the experience by burrowing into a book if I’m in the midst of a good one too.

    Eating alone also allows me to indulge my food fads that family and friends don’t share (seems I’m the only one round these parts who likes sushi and teriyaki, and real mexican, full english breakfast and the sort of places where they still serve kedgeree).

    Thanks for reminding me, I’d almost forgotten how much I used to relish this.

  5. I have never eaten out alone! I think that I’d probably feel a bit self-conscious, I’d probably play on my phone while I was waiting. I’d definitely have dessert though, we don’t tend to order it when I eat out with my husband so I would treat myself!

  6. I used to hate eating alone, when I first had to travel for work. Now I don’t mind it so much but I definitely get in and out as quickly as I can. So there’s normally no starter or dessert and I definitely take my kindle with me but I have a glass of wine if I feel like it.

  7. Eating out alone is a rare occasion and I enjoy it when I do. However I probably would only go out for lunch alone and would probably take a note pad. Its not common in the UK but In the US I’ve eaten dinner alone, sat at the bar to eat and chatted to the people next to me. People would think you’re mad if you did that in the UK.

    • They really would! I’ve definitely noticed fellow diners in American restaurants being much friendlier in British ones, where you rarely even make eye contact with other customers!

  8. As it happens, I’ve just read your post while having lunch alone in a cafe. The cafe has wifi, needless to say, and I have my netbook. I had a delicious burger and a soft drink. I plan to order a coffee or something any minute now. Eating lunch alone is a weekly treat for me, following my yoga class. All together, it makes for a great morning. I think books, papers, computers etc etc are all fine. It’s your meal – do what you like while you eat it (within reason). To me it’s a welcome moment of solitude and I don’t find it awkward at all. The people-watching potential is good, too – more than when in company – and there’s something about feeling part of the life of a city that appeals to me in the whole experience. Having said all that, I tend to prefer lunch to dinner, and that in the more informal setting of a cafe than a proper restaurant. Broadly, I try to allow myself to order whatever I want, and save the healthy eating for home. So if I want chips, I have them; ditto cake and wine. I still want to be able to move when I leave though.

    I love going to the cinema alone, too. Essentially I think I quite like being on my own!

  9. I’ve NEVER been able to eat in a restaurant alone. If staying in a hotel, I’ll always do room service rather than venture down. However, I’m finding as i get older and now that 3 kids mean I rarely have a moment to myself, the prospect seems a little less daunting. I can now happily go for a brew & a cake in a cafe but will hide behind a paper or phone and still haven’t braved a proper meal in a restaurant. I’m always in awe of people who can do that – especially when you see older women sit through 3 courses alone without a book or a phone. I think they must be very at peace with themselves and confident in their own skin. I aspire to be like that one day…

  10. I don’t mind doing lunch with a good book and watching the world in a cafe but not sure about the whole dinner fine dining thing. I definitely agree though about taking time to enjoy your food even at home!

  11. I always used to hate eating out alone. If I had to eat out alone I would on purpose go someone fastfoodie where it was not unusual to have people sitting by themselves. The two times after my wife and I got together I ate out alone at a two indian restaurants I felt so self conscious it was unreal. But hey back then I took it because, besides good old traditionally English food, my absolutely favourite food is Curry! Haven’t eaten out alone since the boys came home from hospital in November 2011.

    • Y’know now that you say that I think my earliest experiences of eating alone were in McDonalds or similar, so maybe that’s a good place to learn!

  12. I often end up in this situation due to work travel and to be honest really don’t enjoy it. Tend to end up eating really quickly and being done in 40 minutes!
    My rule is to always take a newspaper or book with me so I don’t have to sit twiddling my thumbs between courses. Much better than sitting glued to your phone.

    • I’m getting the impression this is definitely a grass-is-greener thing! The people that have to do it a lot because of work seem to be fed up with it, and the people who never get the chance to do it long for a bit of peace and quiet!

  13. I really enjoy being out and about on my own, shopping to eating. Eating alone doesn’t bother me but I must say that I often do start conversations with people and therefore don’t end up so alone. It is much easier to be alone now with social media being such a huge part of our lives but are we really alone when we’re on twitter or facebook?

  14. I love eating alone when I get the chance which is not very often these days. I find that I can take my time to enjoy my food without worrying about wolfing it all down before there is a toddler tantrum and food starts being thrown. I find that doesn’t really go down well in restaurants. I bet give the chance most restaurants would prefer a lone diner taking up room than a toddler causing mayhem.

  15. I must admit I wouldn’t go into a restaurant and eat alone though I would go into a cafe. I often go to McDonalds when I’m at the supermarket but I always sit in the car!

    CJ x

  16. I was very nervous the first time I was away for work and had to eat alone, but once I got started I discovered I loved it! I choose my venue carefully: it’s not fun to eat alone in a very lively restaurant full of noisy groups. But in a quiet-ish place or somewhere with several lone diners, I can sit very happily with a book and a glass of wine to accompany my meal.

  17. I am with you all the way. I absolutely love eating along, especially in a nice restaurant for dinner. And it pains me to think that there might be rules about this to make other people feel less awkward. I always take a book – never a newspaper (they make too much noise) – or a journal. I have (with guilt) used my iPad but generally only at lunch and never in a fine dining experience. And watching people? It is he best entertainment every. So much better than television. And, as a foodie, I can really pay attention to the food. Thank you for writin this – I feel exonerated!

    • Hurrah! Glad to hear from a fellow fan. My problem with papers is less the noise and more than my arms are too short! I’ll have to switch to tabloids!

  18. I love a lone trip to a cafe – sometimes to stare out of the window and think, sometimes I take laptop, notebook, books etc and settle for hours. I am happy to eat on my own, I think it’s a lovely treat.

  19. Don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to eat out alone, can’t remember even going for a coffee alone to be honest, but having read your post I think it’s something I might aim for. Thanks.

  20. I absolutely love eating alone, whether its in a restaurant or a cafe. A great pause for reflection. A couple of weeks ago I drove Little A back wards and forwards to her new pre-school, and while she was there, I spent the time in a cafe writing – it was gorgeous – I have now adopted the little table in the window for my visits! X.

    • Oh gosh yes, that was a lovely post! Hope you get lots more lovely peaceful mornings in there now – don’t stop just because you’ve moved! Xx

  21. Pingback: Cheerio 2013! « dorkymum

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