Eating spaghetti with an audience: hell. Your dining companion reaching over and plucking that one fry from your bowl that contains 80 percent of the bowl’s parmesan and truffle topping, leaving you with a bare potato buffet: the stuff of nightmares (/ breakups). The only thing better than a superlative supper in a fancy restaurant is enjoying that supper alone, argues Rebecca Cox.
Why Don’t More Of Us Dine Alone?
This week, Michelin Guide released a list of the best London restaurants for solo dining. As a fan of peace and quiet, single parenting advocate (I have a book coming out, if you fancy it), reluctant food sharer and occasional loner, I am thrilled. Because while I love to dine alone, I don’t love to feel alone in my love of dining alone. You see?
When I was younger, the thought of a table for one in a bustling restaurant was the stuff of nightmares. Would people think I’d been stood up? Assume I didn’t have a single friend, family member or romantic interest that I could invite to join me? Would they (correctly) assume that I was totally and completely unlovable? But then through my work, the occasional solo dinner became unavoidable. I would be on a press trip and need to grab lunch before checking into a hotel, with nowhere hidden to retreat to. At first, I’d spend the meal glued to my phone, or head buried in a book, shovelling down the food before escaping, casting glances around to see if my fellow diners were watching.
But, sweet realisation: nobody cares about me (or, I’m sorry, you). Every other table is full of twos, threes, fours or mores, tucking into their food and chatting (or scrolling their phones and ignoring each other), completely oblivious to the solo diner beside them. And so, the benefits of solo dining began to reveal themselves. Not convinced? Here’s a quick run-through of some of my favourite things about dinner for one. Firstly: you don’t have to share your food, or feel resentful that your dining partner made a better choice than you. You can simply peruse the menu, select whatever you want, with zero judgement, and eat it. (On this: if you’re budget conscious and your preferred dining partner frequently orders four champagne cocktails and the lobster and wants to split the bill, there’s another selling point for solo dining.)
Secondly: service is better. This is purely anecdotal, but whenever I dine alone, I find that the restaurant’s staff are more attentive and friendly. Is it because they pity me and my solo status? Possibly. Are they being extra attentive because they want to get rid of me and fill the table with two paying customers for double the tip? Almost definitely. Will I accept their pity-inspired-kindness and enjoy it, along with their expert recommendations, assuming that it’s because they admire my sophisticated solo diner status? Absolutely.
Thirdly: you get to soak up the restaurant’s atmosphere, people-watch, really enjoy the food and be present. I love a long dinner with my best mate where we hardly pause for breath between stories, snorting into our wine and being asked to leave at closing time. Or a romantic meal with a date, feet touching under the table, asking each other follow-up questions about topics you don’t care about and wondering whether you can picture yourselves here again a year, 10 years, 40 years down the line. But these dinner dates are special for lots of reasons other than the restaurant. They’re about the people, the mood, and only finally the food. When you dine alone, put your phone and your book away and simply have dinner, your focus is on the flavours, the drinks, the decor, the staff and the atmosphere. If I’m treating myself to a special meal, once in a while, it’s nice to really, really taste the food, see the place I’m eating in, hear the buzz of the kitchen.
The existence of this list shows that I am not alone in wanting to be, well, alone. It’s comforting to know that so many others like me, out there. And as I work my way through the list of recommendations, I’ll keep my eye out for them. (Without ever, ever, inviting one of them to join me.)