Eating out alone is sometimes considered to be the epitome of loneliness and something to be avoided, particularly for women. Certainly, when my dad died, my mum commented that one of the times she felt her loss most keenly, was when she ate out alone, having had a dining companion, particularly when travelling, for almost 50 years.
I, on the other hand, love to eat out alone. Of course, I love to eat out with friends and lovers and family too. But, I genuinely relish a table for one. The truth is that we, as women, rarely eat out alone, perhaps because we worry about being judged or pitied. Our default switch is often ‘people might think I’ve been stood up, or that I can’t get a date, or that…’ (fill in your own blanks). And yes, they may think that, but the reality is that they don’t know you, or your story and it will only be true if you let it be true.
Sense of entitlement
If you walk into restaurants with the same sense of entitlement that you do when you have a date on your arm, there is nothing to fear.
I walk into restaurants without apology. Restaurants. Not just cafés or fast food places. Eating establishments where you might take a date. Nice local restaurants, with tablecloths and napkins, places that have menus in folders and wine lists. Sometimes, I play up the ‘just me’ aspect when I first arrive, particularly if the maître d’ seems curious. The sympathy vote often means you get to choose your own table or wins you very attentive service.
But I’m never really seeking pity. Why should I? Walking into a restaurant, often using the benefit of waiter-surprise, I choose my table according to my mood. Sometimes, that’s in the thick of things, where I can feel the buzz of humans around me and eavesdrop on their lives (although I will add a spoiler alert, that other people’s lives can be deathly dull. I once sat next to a couple in an airport restaurant who were discussing the fact that they had ordered a taxi for a wedding they were going to in 4 weeks time). Sometimes, I will choose to tuck myself on the terrace, or on a comfy seat in the corner, or right in the window where there’s the best view.
How I occupy myself
Invariably, I have something to occupy me if people-watching is failing me and I tend to travel with my diary, my mini iPad and keyboard and a notebook where I scribble thoughts and poems and snippets of conversation. If I’ve gone out on a whim, there will always be paper and pens to be borrowed from the waiting staff.
Now, before you mention the children, I agree that having no children means that my logistics are less complicated. However, if you do have children and you used to have a partner with whom you dined out, then my bet is that you used to book a babysitter or leave them with your Mum or a friend and go out. So why not now?
Eating alone often leads to connections. You are a curiosity, for sure, but if your energy is positive, if you know you have every right to be there, people gravitate. And in their gravitation, comes interaction, if that’s what you choose. I have met locals in York, Canadians in Athens, Englishmen on Greek islands. Once, in Antibes, I met an elderly Frenchman who had completed the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage and written a book about it. He spoke little English, me rather poor French, but we still managed to have an engaging conversation. As we parted, he gave me a heart-shaped stone from his journey, which I treasure still.