When I was in my early 20ies, I lived in Paris. I had a job which got me to travel from time to time to places like Milan or Amsterdam.
I would often find myself surrounded by people during the day but alone in the evenings.
Most of those evenings I spent with a roomservice club sandwich in my room watching television or reading a book. Because I did not know any restaurants and didn’t feel comfortable going there on my own in a foreign city.
Years later, when I got to travel more, roomservice food became boring and I did venture out on my own into the occasional restaurant. But mainly to fulfill the need of eating and I would be ordering one dish, bring a book, eat quickly and be out of there within an hour. I found that lunches are easier to be had alone because there is the general hustle and bustle of lunch, it’s usually faster and taken on the go and the places seem to cater for the lone eater. The situation is very different for dinner.
It isn’t until recent years, after many more trips, after many life lessons, after many courage building experiences, that I started wondering:
Why is it so difficult to spend even one hour alone in a restaurant?
- You’re the odd one out: people go to restaurants to meet friends, to celebrate and have a good time. Unless it’s a hotel restaurant, it’s not so common to see people eating alone.
- You get bored: besides the 15 minutes or so when you actually eat, you sit there and wait for the drinks, the food, the salt, the bill… to arrive. What does a girl do? You bring ‘company’ in form of a book, mobile phone, pc…to ‘hide’ behind.
- Your own insecurity: you feel like you’re on display, like everyone looks at you coming in, sitting there.
- Your fear: you are afraid to go out alone at night.
The day I started enjoying dining alone was actually not so long ago.
I was in Rome on business a few years back and the hotel did simply not have roomservice.
It was the middle of summer, a beautiful, warm and sunny day and instead of grabbing a slice of pizza and eat it in my stuffy, dark, 19th century decorated room, I decided to go have dinner in my favorite restaurant in Rome.
It was also on that trip that I had forgotten my book at home. So I had already survived a flight alone with no reading material.
As this was a last minute decision, I had not made a reservation and the places on the small terrace were taken. I dithered a while on whether to go sit outside somewhere else, but the thought of the wonderful mozzarella di bufala campana won me over and I agreed to dine inside.
I ordered some wine, the mozzarella for starters and scampi alla griglia for seconds and then looked around. This place is quite known in Rome and there are pictures on the wall of all the famous people having dined here. It was quite busy with an interesting mix of locals, jet-set and tourists.
My starter arrives. It’s a huge white ball of delicious, creamy mozzarella. If you’ve never had it in Italy or only tried the supermarket one you don’t know what you’re missing!
So I am sitting along at my table, eating a ball of cheese that’s as big as my fist, thinking: how the hell am I going to even manage to eat anything else?
While waiting for my main course, I look at the distinguished American couple and their teenage daughter sitting not too far away from me. How lucky she is to be taken to Italy, to such a nice restaurant and get introduced to good, simple food. When I was young(er), we did not really have the money to go to fancy restaurants. We would go once a year to a local brasserie to eat Schnitzel. Different times, different worlds.
The waiter comes an pours some more wine and chats a bit with me about the usual restaurant stuff (was the starter good? delicious. do I want bread instead of breadsticks? no.) and wanders off again.
There is another man alone at a table. He orders one dish (spaghetti alle vongole veraci) and hides behind his blackberry (not the edible kind). When his dish arrives, he wolfs it down with one hand while typing with the other on his phone.
My scampi arrive. The smell of garlic and olive oil and grilled scampi…Miam. Ah, but they are not shelled… So I down to eat with my fingers in this fancy restaurant. Oh well. This dish alone makes me concentrate on what I do and eat. It involves all my senses. I can still hear a slight sizzle from the grill, the smell is delicious, I touch each scampi when taking off the shell, I let each piece melt on my tongue, and I do mutter the odd ah and mmmh as I eat them.
Napkin and lemon tissues are not enough. I need to go wash my hands. I confidently walk across the restaurant. I can feel the eyes of the lone business man follow me. The couple and teenage daughter smile when I pass.
When I come back the business man has left. Maybe he did not stare at me after all?
I ask for the bill and am rewarded with a limoncello on the house.
I leave a happy. sated woman, glad that I came out here despite my initial reticence.
After all this rambling, you have probably fallen asleep or gotten hungry and left to fetch a bite to eat.
So I keep the lessons learned and tips short.
How to enjoy dining alone.
- No reservation. Let the Universe guide you to the restaurant.
- No rush. Order a starter, a main course and even dessert. Savour it. Savour your own company.
- No distraction. No book or phone. Let yoursef be guided by what’s happening around you. Watching people is fun!
- All senses: order something that can be eaten with your fingers. There is noone with you to make you feel embarrassed, right?
- Think: about your next vacation, project, make a plan, look around you and ask ‘what if’… Such ‘idle’ time is ideal for creative thinking.
- Smile. Your attitude precedes you. Your energy is felt by those around you. If you think you will have a nice evening or if you think you will not, you are right.
- Engage: if you do feel the need, talk to the waiter or someone else. It might be a great way to meet new people.
- No company: you might be invited to join a group or lonely man at their table. Simply say:”No, thanks. I’m treating myself to a quiet meal alone” – and mean it.
Have a look at lone eaters in this Table for one photo collection. Decide how you will look on such a picture? Are you smiling? Looking confident?
And if you’re in Rome, I can recommend my favorite restaurant of course. Wear a sexy dress and who knows, you might end up on a photo with the owner!