In the previous entry, we discussed the fact that going out alone is more difficult in some contexts than others. Going to a movie, for example, is easier than going to an amusement park. We then highlighted the “dining solo experience” as a particularly uncomfortable one because there is not much to distract you from your solitariness or the stares of others, and because one must also deal with the uncertainty of exactly what to do with yourself.
However, I need to make a correction–or, rather, a challenge–to a claim I made in that entry. You see, I had assumed that a fancy establishment would be the most difficult of eating environments at which to dine solo. I still support the idea that it would be more difficult to eat comfortably in a romantic, expensive, white tablecloth-clad place than at, say, a crowded cafe on a sunny day. But I have also been hearing of certain restaurants that have been catering to solo diners more than before. Also, seeing as I haven’t yet taken up that fine dining adventure, I would like to propose another challenging scenario that recently gave me more butterflies than I anticipated: The Courtyard Patio.
At least at a restaurant people are paying attention to their own companions, entrees, and conversations, if only for the most part. But if it’s stares and expectations and whispering you are worried about, what do you think about sitting outside by yourself and eating a meal while being watched by all of the other apartments that look over your courtyard patio? The problem here is not the expectation of companionship, but the exact opposite; At home, people expect you to eat quickly while sitting in front of the television. But it’s embarrassing to actually be seen gobbling down your food. Yet, even though you are eating slowly, you still have to deal with the awkward “what do I actually do with myself?” issue of eating alone without distraction. All I’m saying is that if you are trying to accomplish that ideal “taking the time to enjoy your food” period, this place may not be as immune from anxiety as expected.
In its own way, this is a reversal of the alone-when-supposed-t0-be-accompanied paradox of eating at a fancy restaurant. And it poses some of the same challenges: not knowing what to do when you are chewing; how to fill the pauses where someone else would be speaking; the anxiety of being visible to onlookers. Except here, you are actually in the center of view, you are the only one in focus, and you are completely exposed to onlookers, looking down on your from their own balconies as you sit awkwardly, trying not to gobble but to taste the complexity of your food.
As in restaurants, I’m sure no one cares about the person dining solo as much as the person doing the solo dining. Yet, that doesn’t stop us from worrying about it. So what, then, are the characteristics of a location that make it most awkward to eat there alone? If fanciness isn’t the only trait, what about exposure, crowd, expensiveness, type of food, and time of day? Many “how to” sites suggest going at less crowded times, but, as mentioned in the Patio scenario, I find that less crowded restaurants actually just increase the space there is to show off your singledom!
The new challenge: Try eating solo at a variety of places, fancy or otherwise, and then tell me which ones you think are the most uncomfortable.
To help in this process, here are some helpful links:
1. Best Places to Dine Solo: http://www.forbes.com/2007/08/21/dining-singles-restaurants-forbeslife-singles07-cx_ls_0821dining.html
2. Best Places to Dine Solo in San Francisco: http://traveltips.usatoday.com/restaurants-dine-alone-san-francisco-59350.html
3. How to Eat Alone: http://www.ehow.com/how_2046678_eat-out-alone.html
And, my favorite tip: Don’t overwhelm your waiter or your neighbors with idle chatter. It is better to say less than to annoy your co-diners (From Link #3).