Table for One: The art of dining alone

Over the last couple of years, I have been training myself to do more stuff Alone.

Alone here has a capital A. It’s a big deal. For many (including myself) it’s intimidating. It looms over you. It sits above you, while you do whatever it is you are doing, with a big flashing sign and a klaxon.

Alone, Alone, Alone.

When I first became single, I almost avoided doing anything Alone. It didn’t feel natural. I missed films at the cinema because I didn’t ‘have anyone to go with’. I always grabbed my coffees To Go, because I’d forgotten my book and didn’t want to stare into the empty chair across from me. I didn’t hop on the train to the next town for a wander, because I’d probably bore myself with my own company.

But after a while, I began resenting myself for missing out on many of life’s simple pleasures just because it was ‘just me’.

Why should I miss out on Sunday brunch just because I didn’t wake up next to someone that morning? Why miss out on a movie just because you don’t have anyone to sit next to, silently (which is all you end up doing anyway – no talking!)

And so I began slowly dipping my toe into the world of Doing Things Alone.

Brunch Alone is relaxing (you can get a lot of writing done when you’re fuelled by someone else’s eggs and avocado). Cinema Alone is liberating. Day Trips Alone mean you don’t waste any time doing dull stuff you hate.

My new-found independence meant that not only was I no longer sat home alone in my free time, but I also made some damn good memories and grew my confidence a little more too.

Despite all this, however, there are still some things I’m wary of doing Alone.

Dinner Alone is one of these.

Going out to Dinner Alone is much more intimidating than Brunch, Lunch or Coffee Alone. It’s a big deal. We’ve all done it; watched someone dining at a table for one, thinking ‘Bless them. They look so lonely. How sad,’ or ‘I hope they haven’t been stood up – how mortifying!’ or ‘My god, I could never eat Alone,’ as if it’s something only strangely egotistical people do. Aside from the odd sentiment of awe, I imagine that the primary reaction is pity. Or wondering what’s wrong with the person in question.

I don’t want to be pitied while I eat my pasta, thank you.

The other problem is that I like to share. No, not share my food – I’ll order my own side of fries, thank you – but share experiences. Dining out at a restaurant is something to be enjoyed with people, in my mind, whether it’s a date or a birthday meal, or a bite to eat before a show. It’s pleasurable. An occasion. Just as I like to avidly discuss films once we’ve seen them, together,  I like to experience and reminisce as a pair.

I like to be able to make yummy noises with someone else.

So, when I recently Went To A Wedding Alone (a story for another day, perhaps) I challenged myself to go for Dinner Alone the night before.

It was the perfect opportunity. If I didn’t, I’d either have to go to bed hungry, or sneak a takeaway to eat in my Premier Inn room (which would no doubt make me feel even lonelier, and result in greasy bed sheets; not a good combination.)

I had a think and eventually picked the local Wagamama restaurant as the location for my little experiment. With its communal benches, loud atmosphere, popularity, and informal dining vibe, it seemed like the perfect choice. I’d be sat alongside others (no sticking out like a sore thumb) and would have plenty of people watching to do to occupy myself.

I refused to take my book along, determined as I was not to rely on props, walked up to the restaurant feeling nervous, and uttered the words ‘Table for One, please.’

The first perk of dining alone? Bypassing the queue of people. There is always space for a solo diner.

To my delight, the restaurant was packed; plenty of people-watching material, and ideal for ‘blending in’ as planned.

However.

To my horror, the waiter proceeded to park me facing a large brick pillar in the middle of a long bench; obviously so that I wouldn’t take up valuable group table space, but taking away any hope of me occupying myself gawking at the people around me.

And there I was. On a date with a wall.

A brick wall in a restaurant

I immediately felt awkward and a little cast aside, and busied myself with the menu. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the woman next to me observing with amusement.

The second perk of Dining Alone? You don’t have to share a starter.

Having been hidden behind a wall, I found it hard to get noticed; it took me a long time to get served, and an even longer time to eventually get the bill. I felt forgotten, hidden, and even started wishing I’d just chosen somewhere where I was more obviously Dining Alone. At least I’d have my waiter’s attention.

It was, to its credit, relaxing once I’d got used to it. My food was delicious – Duck Donburi, as a treat, and a large peach iced tea – and the concentration required for chopsticks meant I needed no props whatsoever. I had time away from my phone, too – once I’d updated my Instagram story with a photo, of course.

I could even people watch a little if I peered around the pillar a bit.

A rice dish at Wagamama

The third perk of Dining Alone? You don’t have to split the bill (and show up your abysmal mathematical skills in the process.)

I (eventually) paid, and scurried back to the hotel, feeling simultaneously proud of myself and disappointed that it had not lived up to the romantic vision I had in my head.

I hadn’t concerned myself too much with the pitying gazes of others (which, in the end, seemed few and far between, since nobody actually cares what you’re doing as long as their dumplings arrive in good time), or what the waiters thought. I had a delicious meal, which I would have missed out on if I had listened to the voices in my head telling me to stay in. I had eaten messily, and got rice everywhere, without judgment from a friend or date.

Even if I had gotten up close and personal with a large brick wall in the process, and been largely ignored by the waiting staff,  I had DONE IT.

I had gone for Dinner Alone.

But maybe next time, I thought, as I collapsed onto my unfamiliar bed, I’d ask for a particular table with a better view, and pack a book in my bag – you know, just in case.

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6 thoughts on “Table for One: The art of dining alone

  1. Anita says:

    Great Post! It can feel so liberating to do things alone, it’s just about building up the courage to go out and do it! I have on numerous occassions gone to the cinema alone – after all, you’re sitting in a massive, dark room so it’s easy to “hide” if you feel the need to lol. Dining alone is awesome, and kudos to your for doing it! 😊

    Like

  2. Kiffra Codner says:

    Awesome post! I chuckled while reading it. I can so identify! I am yet to do some of those things alone, but aloneless can be so liberating. My husband, who is a full time student, went back to school this week. Me working from home means he spent the entire summer at ‘my office’, so I am thoroughly enjoying my alone time now. I am able to get so much more done. On my blog, I share what it means to be a single, whole person and doing things alone is definitely a major part of that.

    Like

  3. HCarmichael20 says:

    This so perfectly captures the highs, lows and hilarity of eating out alone! I travelled the US once doing just this – in NY, a waitress literally stood there open-mouthed when I asked for a table of one… Would you mind if I share this on my fb page? The Living Well Alone Project was set up to help people in the same situation navigate exactly this kind of situation – I’d love to share a few examples of others who’ve been bold and survived! Thanks! Hannah

    Like

  4. legitimatelyunfunny says:

    I loved the drops of humor in this.
    I’d have, probably, at one point started a mock conversation with the wall in a way to show what a dork I am 🙂

    But, above that, YES! I want to share expereinces. “OMG YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS!” or “What about the guy in the movie when he did the thing, that was so cool!”

    So its hard…balancing doing things along and wanting to share them with people. But you did it well! An adventure in its own right 🙂

    Like

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