on eating out alone
When I went to college I discovered that I harbored a serious aversion to eating alone in public. I almost never did it. If I wanted to go eat somewhere, I’d ask my friends to go with me. If no one came, I ate alone in my room instead. Because of this, I only dined on my own in public a small handful of times, always out of necessity and never by choice.
Even on the occasions I did eat out alone, I would distract myself from the fact by burying myself in my phone or in my studies. Meals didn’t that long, either—I scarfed my food down, due mostly in part to my gluttony but also my desire to get moving onto other things.
One of my best friends took note of this aversion and gently chided me for it, urging me to get over myself. I figured they had a point, but never quite managed to get over it in my four years at college.
I still don’t know exactly why I didn’t like eating out alone. I don’t feel like I care much about being alone or being judged. In hindsight, I probably just felt self-conscious being the only solo diner among full tables, even if I was unaware of it or unwilling to admit it.
Now when I travel for work I sometimes have no choice but to eat alone or go hungry. But with practice, I’m starting to become more comfortable with dining alone and even enjoy it. It has its own charms, and I think everyone should do it once in a while.
Being out alone in public is peaceful. As I write this, I’m out for dinner at a Thai restaurant, surrounded by a tables of two deep in conversation. The chitchat and light clinking of silverware comforts me, and since I don’t have to focus on keeping up conversation, I can pay more attention to how the food and surroundings make me feel. I don’t need to stress about the check, ordering the same thing as someone else, or being judged by coworkers. I’m free to read, write, eavesdrop, order, and eat as slowly as I please.
I typically bring a book to read when I wait for my food or the check, but I always put it (and my phone) away when it comes time to eat. It feels sacrilegious to distract myself from the food now, especially when I’ve taken the time to go out and order something I myself want and chose. I do my best to eat slowly and pay attention to how the food is presented and cooked. I put my spoon down between bites and savor the food, thinking about how grateful I am to have it.
I surmise that eating alone when traveling for business is extra sweet because I rarely get the opportunity to do so. The vast majority of the time I have to eat with the team, since we are all together on site for a reason. It can be fun in its own way, but all the polite listening to dull office chitchat makes me appreciate all the solitude I can get.
Writing all this reminds me of this beautiful article I read a long time ago. It must have planted a seed in my head that has only just germinated, seeing as I’ve remembered it years later.
If you have any particular rituals around eating alone, I’d love to hear them. I’m already enjoying the process, but adding new wrinkles is always fun.