Here’s Why You Should Experience Eating Alone
Taking myself out for meals has helped me improve my relationship with myself.
At 17, I dwelled over the fact that I always had no friends to visit new cafes in town. At 19, I dined alone at a cafe and my anxiety went through the roof. At 25, I’d take time off work on purpose so that I could dine solo at any cafes I want.
The idea of eating alone sounds terrifying to many people. Trust me, I was one of those people previously. Everything changed after I’d pushed myself out of my comfort zone and dined solo at a restaurant for some solitude. The experience opened a whole new world to me. I’d recommended my friends to do so multiple time, only to get a responses like “I’d never eat alone.” “I can’t even fathom the idea of doing so.” “I need somebody to accompany me.”.
The thought of sitting on a small table alone and munching on food while starring into blank can be very daunting for those who have never done it before. However, I strongly believe that the practice is worth toasting to.
My first solo dining experience was a huge mess. Honestly. I’d chosen a cafe I’d never been to and it was half filled with patrons enjoying a meal with their family or friends. Nobody came to greet me when I walked through the doors, and at this time, my anxiety was already kicking in. Do I wait for someone to notice me? Do I seat myself? I ended up seating myself at the corner of the cafe, next to a couple who’d starred at me for a few seconds, probably wondering what a young woman is doing alone in the cafe.
A waiter approached my table and gave me a menu. I was panicking a little inside that I didn’t even catch a single word he said to me about the Today’s Specials. After flipping through the menu and making my decision, I raised my hand to call for a waiter. That’s when one of them gestured me to head over to the counter to place my order.
“WHAT?” I thought. The cafe filled up pretty quickly since I’d taken my seat and it was full by the time I was ready to order. What if I place my order and someone takes my seat? How should I let people know this seat is taken? What if I leave my stuff here and someone steals them while I’m away?
Greattttt. I felt so lost at that moment, I wish I could bury my head in the ground like an ostrich. Nevertheless, I took a moment to calm myself, turned over to the couple and said, “Do you mind watching my seat for me while I place my order?”. “Yeah, sure,” said the woman. I thanked her and headed to the counter to place my order, then came back to my seat which thankfully, was not taken by another patron.
Without any distraction, I savoured every bite of my food that day. I watched as couples and families have conversations while munching on their food, the bright sunlight piercing through the tinted floor-to-ceiling windows, and people walking past the cafe — some in a hurry, some taking their own sweet time to admire the morning bustling street scene. At some point, my anxiety almost went through the roof when I saw people looking at me and whispered to their eating buddies. Were they talking about me? Oh, I bothered then didn’t bother.
I finished my meal without having to perform the “would you like some of my fries?” act. I sat and soaked in the peace I’d found for a good 30 mins after I’d finished my meal before leaving the cafe. The moment I walked out of that cafe, I knew I was going to dine alone again. In fact, I knew I was going to dine alone again TOMORROW because the experience felt so liberating and incredible.
If not now, then when?
I’d always repeat this sentence to myself a million times whenever I feel terrified to do something on my own. Every magnificent life experiences I’d gotten are results of me answering that question. Sounds confusing? Here’s an example:
You’ve been telling all your friends about this amazing French restaurant you’d like to visit. Yet, you all seem to have trouble finding a mutually convenient time to visit together. If you’d waited for them to finally find a time to visit, you’d probably only dine in years later, or even worse, never. So if not now, then when?
You read on the news that the cherry blossom season is fast approaching. You really want to visit Japan during that season but all your friends have work and/or family commitments. It’s been 3 years and your friends are still unavailable during that season. How long are you planning to wait for them to be available? If not now, then when?
This is why I stopped waiting for people. If I’d waited for my friends to accompany me to trips and cafe visits, I’d probably never have visited any places. Doing things alone had its perks but for those who have never done anything on their own before, let’s start with dining alone first.
- You’ll focus on what you’re eating and digest better
Think about those times when you felt so pressured to eat faster because your eating companion is done with their meal while you’re barely halfway through. You would’ve most likely rush yourself into eating larger portions and end up getting a heartburn or indigestion. Not to mention, eating with a companion will surely include talking to each other, which will risk causing bloating as you swallow more air.
Savour your meal, skip any small talks.
2. You’ll get to experience some solitude
Don’t confuse solitude with loneliness. Choose solitude over dwelling in an unhealthy thinking that you’re alone and everybody is judging you, cuz seriously, no one is judging you for dining alone. And if they really are, it really doesn’t matter because it speaks volume of their fears and jealousy more than your courage to step out of your comfort zone.
Humans are always stigmatising solitude when it’s actually very therapeutic. According to The Atlantic, “when people remove themselves from the social context of their lives, they are better able to see how they’re shaped by that context”. An internal exploration into who you are and what you are can be very empowering and beneficial in improving one’s relationship with themselves. As humans, we tend to use external environments and situations to fill our own identities when truly, our identities should stem from within ourselves. Being in solitude offers you an opportunity to strengthen yourself, be it mentally or emotionally. You have that capacity to overcome it, we all do. You just need to find it within yourself.
3. You’ll subconsciously make healthier choices
Did you know that we intend to mimic the eating patterns of our dining companion? This means that if your companion is one who loves to indulge in decadent desserts after a big serving of hotpot, you’ll most likely follow suit and go overboard with the desserts, even though you’re not a sweet tooth. Eating alone means you’re in full control of what you want to eat, how much you want to eat, and how long do you take to finish your meal. Your meal, your rules. Claim fullness when you’re done, skip the desserts if you don’t feel like it, do what makes you most comfortable without having to consider someone else.
Eating alone doesn’t have to be a huge challenge. I admit that even as a regular solo diner, I too have insecurities once in a while whenever I want to dine alone. I’m an overthinker and that sucks a lot because I’d automatically worry a little if the place I’d like to dine in at is solo-diner friendly. Trust me, there are some places that are NOT solo-diner friendly at all and in all honesty, I really despise them.
I have no intentions to scare any of you but there have been occasions where I felt powerless dining alone. For instance, I’d once visited a famous cafe where people queue up to an hour for a seat. After being seated by the waitress, I was given a menu and told to place my order at the counter. I did everything as told, only to return to my table being occupied by a family of 3 all because another waiter thought I’d left. JOKES. I ended up having to wait for another table to be free and saw the confusion on the family’s face when the waiter served them the food I had ordered.
However, I’m glad I didn’t let those experiences ruined my confidence to dine alone. I’ve been to other popular cafes as well with similar ordering system but they were considerate to offer a “Seat Taken” sign on my table for me to use when I had to step away from my table. The sign was then promptly removed once I’d confirmed I was leaving the premise. This is really useful for solo diners especially if they’re visiting the cafe for long hours (remote working, maybe) and need to step away to use the loo for a moment.
Unless you’re a pro at using chopstick or have a high spicy tolerance, go for a more comfortable food choice.
As a regular solo diner, I’ve been following a few tips to ensure my dining experience goes smoothly.
- Research the restaurant/cafe
Check out the eatery’s social media pages for images of the interior and menu. I always rely on the Instagram Tagged section for public’s reviews and Google reviews as well. More often than not, you’ll come across a few extremely useful reviews mentioning about the ordering system and parking situation — all of which are very crucial to your decision to dine there alone or not.
2. Start with familiarity
If there’s one thing I’ll never get used to living in SEA, is that there are many local coffee shops without menus. Yet, many locals simply know what they have. Despite living in my country for more than 20 years, I can still enter a coffee shop that I’ve never been to and have absolutely NO IDEA what food they’re selling. Some food stalls mend by older generations also have no menu and the old grannies or uncles will most likely snark at you if you ask them what they’re selling/ how to order.
Pick a quaint cafe or restaurant that has waitering service and a proper menu so that you have one less thing to worry about.
3. Dine in during non-peak hours
No, this doesn’t mean that solo diners are forever doomed to having to dine in for dinner at 4pm. Once you’re used to dining solo, feel free to walk in during lunch crowd or dinner hype. Otherwise, it’s best to start with baby steps and dine in when there’s lesser crowd so that you don’t feel too overwhelmed. It’ll also give waiters an opportunity to pay more attention to you and ensure you’re comfortable when there’s no crowd rushing them in circles.
4. Have backup dining options nearby
You can arrive at a restaurant full of confidence about dining solo and your plans may be ruined due to unforeseen circumstances. Always have a list of backup dining options nearby that you can consider going to if your first option doesn’t work out. That way, you won’t have to go home hungry and wonder why you’d even bothered.
5. Eat comfortably and within your limit
Sometimes, we just want to reward ourselves with an appetiser, main, a cup of thick milkshake, and a gooey molten lava cake. However, your stomach may be smaller than you think. Don’t let the intense hunger trick you into thinking you can devour a whole sharing platter and still get desserts after. The last thing you want is to feel sick in the restaurant. Also, eating out for the first time may not be the best time to learn using the chopsticks and challenge yourself to a plate of spicy buffalo wings. Unless you’re a pro at using chopstick or have a high spicy tolerance, go for a more comfortable food choice.
There are countless of solo dining tips out there and mine may look like the tip of the iceberg only but trust me, you don’t need to memorise 50 ways for dining solo. Have these few tips in mind when you’re ready to dine in alone and you’ll be good to go!