Eating is very much a social experience. When friends and family visit town, we take them to our favorite restaurants. When we want to catch up with someone, we invite them to coffee. Business meetings are often over lunch, and in many cultures, meals are designed to bring people together.
When we do eat out alone, we rarely go out to a restaurant and ask for a “table for one;” rather, we order take-out, utilize drive thrus, buy prepared food to heat up at home, or pull up our laptops and phones to hide behind the device.
Over the past couple months after moving to Dallas, I have been challenging myself to become more comfortable with doing things alone, including dining out. I am naturally introverted, so being alone in a public place without a group of people to blend into makes me feel over-exposed and self conscious. However, I came across this article and was inspired to challenge myself to dine alone while avoiding my phone or other distractions, and here’s what I’ve discovered from the experience.
It’s normal to dread dining alone, and there’s a reason for this. Historically, many societies attach a negative connotation to the activity, and restaurants aren’t normally designed to be accommodating to parties of one. But post WWII, the “family meal” has become less common, resulting in an upwards trend of solo dining. According to a 2015 study, reservations for one on Open Table have spiked significantly as a result.
This trend is also apparent in other cultures including South Korea, where this trend even has a name, “Honbap.” Honbap is a combination of the Korean word for alone (혼자honja) and meal (밥 bap). In late 2016, there was even a TV drama called “Drinking Solo” that centered around the topic, and #honbap is a popular Instagram hashtag for photos of meals enjoyed alone. The presence of dining solo in pop culture proves it is becoming more widely acceptable.
The Challenge of Eating Alone
Still, the act of dining alone can be quite daunting, especially as an introvert. I often become overly conscious of myself and my surroundings when I visit a restaurant alone. Suddenly I am very aware of the gaze of the people sitting at tables near me, and I worry about how I will be judged by those around me. I dread all interaction with the waitress or server, and just want to be left alone.
But I’ve realized that many of the fears and insecurities I had around solo dining were all in my head. In fact, I think dining alone is a great way to develop a healthy relationship with yourself.
Why You Should Dine Solo
- You are in Full Control of the Meal
Being in full control of what you eat, when you eat, and where allows you to take full control of your eating habits. You can be as adventurous or conservative as you so desire, and it’s much easier to stay strict to your diet.
- You Only Have to Worry About Yourself
I’m obviously the type that loves to Instagram my food. I thought I would be more shy without my friends around, but I have actually found that it is much easier to take out your phone and be as obnoxious as you want (within reason, of course). All the people staring – you will never see them again! I have found that without worrying that I am holding up my party from eating, or embarrassing my friends by hovering over the table for that Insta-worthy shot, I am more comfortable with being myself when I go out to eat. Developing this comfort on your own time can also teach you to feel less self conscious about your habits when you go out with others.
- You Don’t Have to Be Social
Everyone has days when we just want to be alone, especially when you are introverted. This doesn’t mean you necessarily want to stay home, but you may just not have the energy to handle social interactions. Dining alone gives you this solitude without keeping you bored or lonely. Sometimes, being around other people without being pressured to engage in conversation is a great way to take time to yourself.
- It Forces You To Make Decisions
Taking yourself out also forces you to make decisions. You can’t rely on anyone else to choose the place, and you can’t rely on social cues to choose what to order. Everything is up to you. Over time, you begin to understand more about your own personal preferences.
Tips For Dining Solo
- Put the Device Away
When I put my phone down and embraced the fact that I was dining solo, I noticed there were several others around me also doing the same. While before, I felt isolated and out of place, I soon realized that this solo dining thing is actually not so uncommon.
- Remind Yourself That Dining Solo is Not Shameful
In my experience, what pulls me away from choosing to dine solo is that I begin to feel guilty taking up an entire table alone, and I have a tendency to feel like I will be pitied by the waitress or other customers. Reminding myself that there is nothing wrong with dining alone has really improved the connotation I personally place on dining solo.
- Take Your Time
When possible, take your time with the meal and it will become less of a chore. Take the time to be introspective and savor your food. Learn to enjoy the meal, rather than focusing on the fact that you are alone.
Being introverted doesn’t mean you like to be cooped up at home, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy going out. And even if you aren’t an introvert, dining alone is a great way to challenge yourself to be comfortable on your own. While I definitely prefer to eat with my friends and family, I can say I am much more comfortable with myself on the occasions that I dine alone.