In the past couple of weeks, I have gone out to eat all by myself more than twice. I went for a quick bite during lunch where I drank and dined alone, seated solo at a two-top. And that is not only lunch, even for dinners. Right about now you may be thinking something along the lines of, “You poor thing! Eating all alone! Were you dumped? Did your friends cancel on you? Do you not have any friends?”
But please, don’t pity me: My solitary dining was entirely my own choice. In fact, I relished every single delicious second of it. Truth be told, I am an unapologetic introvert or ambivert, although not the socially awkward kind. I’m not shy, and I can “fake it” in a crowd well enough, but with a few exceptions I feel happiest and most energized when I am by myself, alone with my thoughts, and doing precisely as I please. Since a good meal pleases me more than just about anything else, dining out with only the pleasure of my own good company is an experience that I seek out as often as I can.
But you don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool introvert to experience the joys of a culinary walk on the quiet side. Sure, it helps if you’re already comfortable in your own skin, but isn’t that something we should all strive for? And as it turns out, I’m no longer (pardon the pun) alone as I scanned around my typical dining establishments.
When dining out alone, after all, you’re able to be fully present and completely in the moment in a way you never can be when surrounded by people. (As long as you put away your gadgets, that is.) There’s no conversation demanding your attention and distracting you from all the sensory experiences of the meal. In addition, I get to reflect about issues that I am facing and how to solved them. There’s also fun to be had in between courses if, like me, you enjoy people-watching and a bit of harmless eavesdropping. As a solo diner, after all, you have an unobtrusive ringside seat to the many fascinating dramas playing out all around you. thout ordering anything. How nice, I thought, not to have to come to a consensus in order to simply enjoy a meal!
For all its glories, there are admittedly some downsides to dining alone. Going to the bathroom presents logistical difficulties that I haven’t quite solved. Do you leave your belongings at the table and worry that something might be taken, or do you take everything with you and risk your server thinking you’ve skipped out?
It’s also likely that you’ll taste fewer dishes alone, and miss out on ordering a large variety of things to try, as you’d be more likely to do with a larger party. And of course you need to keep an eye on how many cocktails or glasses of wine you have, as you’ll have to get yourself home safely.
Nobuyuki Kawai and Ryuzaburo Nakata of Nagoya University wondered whether they could replicate the social facilitation of eating but in the absence of others. In other words, could the mere appearance that others are present produce the same effect? The researchers focused on seniors, since 1 in 4 Japanese is older than 65, and many eat alone due to impaired mobility, the deaths of those in their social circle and other reasons. Studies have linked frequent solo dining in seniors to loss of appetite, which may lead to undernourishment as well as depression.
Kawai and Nakata asked 16 elderly adults to nosh on popcorn in two settings: in front of a mirror and in front of a monitor displaying an image of a wall. After each tasting, they answered survey questions such as “How much do you like this popcorn?” and “How do you feel about the quality of this popcorn?” on a 6-point scale, from “not at all” to “extremely.” Sure enough, they rated the popcorn as tastier and finished more of it when they ate in front of the mirror. The researchers saw similar results when they repeated the experiment with 20- to 23-year-olds, suggesting that the findings apply to youngsters too.
To be sure, it’s a small study. But maybe the next round, I’ll try to bring along a mirror. Problem is that I am pretty sure the people around me will think that I have lost my marbles or that I am really in love with myself!
Point is that the world is a pretty rushed one so if it works for you, take some time to reflect and chill out. For other times, try to find someone to eat with. A balance is the key. Enjoy the food.
Check out my post on making yourself unboring.