What’s So Bad About Eating Alone (Except for Making You Want to Die)?

I knew things had taken a turn for the worse when I searched for “Good Places to Eat Alone” on Yelp.

They came up with nothing.

How had we gotten here?  Why were we in this situation?  When did we start on this slippery slope?  These were the questions I posed my supplementary personalities, for as great a gang as they might be, it gets super creepy carrying on with them in public.

Surprisingly, none of them had an answer for me (Jasper gets awful shy sometimes) and since genuine introspection on my part was definitely not gonna happen, I needed a way to rationalize away my distaste for eating by myself.

I’ll be the first to admit the occasional solo meal is not the biggest tribulation in the world.

But there comes a point when the silence in your restaurant booth becomes so oppressive; when the server’s pitying eyes become too overbearing; and the conversations around you become enviable enough to make the temptation to talk to yourself nearly irresistible.  And let me tell you: that’s no way to enjoy a Tostada Pizza at CPK.  It just isn’t.

But okay – maybe I’m just bringing in my own baggage and insecurities into the act of eating alone and that’s what’s making it trying, but I’m not about to air my sexy laundry out in public so we need to go deeper but just in another direction.

I mean, really – what is so bad about eating alone?  There’s a stigma attached to that, one with an origin that’s difficult to trace.  Even now, I find it hard to objectively state why it is such an unfavorable thing.

The Media (capital M) certainly perpetuates this perspective – and yes, I do feel like a douche capitalizing that M.  When I try to contemplate precisely why eating along is bad, my mind comes up short in logical, thought-out explanations but is replete with images in pop culture.

The feeling I get from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks epitomizes that for me:

Eating alone is made dehumanizing, every person’s face glimpsed there except for the lone man – he has none.

Even if you might be surrounded with other people enjoying a meal, no solace can be taken from this, the lone man placed on the side of the canvas away from the other diners; the man behind the counter; even the bright lights of the diner itself.

Instead, he is placed closer to the comparative gloom and dark of the outside, its hold on him evidenced by the pronounced shadows on him compared to the other figures.  The lights of the diner touch him as if to say, “Even if you might be in here now, you’ll always come back to the darkness.”

On the contrary, one could also argue that lone diners are not always portrayed as sadsacks in the media, that this is more akin to a Rorschach test in which I have revealed I pay more attention to the negative portrayals as opposed to the positive or neutral ones for reasons that may or may not be obvious.

But it’s definitely not that.  No way.

[This is where I would put a real picture of myself eating alone to further the irony, but that would be just too much sadness for you to handle so I'll spare you.  BYE!]


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12 thoughts on “What’s So Bad About Eating Alone (Except for Making You Want to Die)?

  1. I eat alone. A lot. I also do things like going to the movies, shopping, sightseeing or attending public functions where I know no one.
    All my friends think I am strange. Why I would choose to do these things by myself ie beyond their comprehension and I think it all stems from society’ need to mask their inner loneliness by surrounding themselves with people. Do you have any idea how worse it will be to be surrounded by so many people and still feel disconnected.

    I much like the lone diner. He is mysterious and looks strong to me.

    Doing things with people all the time means that you also have to start catering to their needs. If you feel like going to a diner, you might not be able to because your partner (s) want (s) to go to a Bistro.

    People make you have to substitute your choices and conform. That is something no one tells you blatantly. Instead, you are branded odd or made to feel incomplete if you instead decide you don’t want to by doing things on your own.

  2. I agree with Catwaq. Sometimes I just want what I want and the only way to see that film or eat that kind of food is alone, on my own time. I have friends and a husband and do all kinds of things with them, but I’ve never really been self-conscious of eathing along. I like watching people and eavesdropping. Maybe that is strange.

  3. I eat alone somewhat frequently because I have very few friends, none of whose schedules mesh with mine. If I want to eat at a restaurant, the only way it’s likely to happen within a reasonable time frame is if I go there alone. Eating alone doesn’t bother me much, because the way I see it, I go to a restaurant to eat their food. If I want to talk to my friends, I can call/text/IM/e-mail them.

    As a waitress I can say that lone diners are not typically smiled upon by restaurant staff. Lone diners have smaller tickets, resulting in smaller tips for their servers. They’re also higher-maintenance — they don’t have company to distract them, so unless they’re engrossed in reading or work, time passes more slowly for them and they can get impatient, resulting in smaller tips for their servers. Lone diners who are engrossed in reading or work often linger long after their meal, resulting in an inability to seat a new party at that table and thus an inability for the server to make more money. Lingering is slightly more tolerable when it’s a party that’s lingering, because they will leave more money for the server since they had a bigger ticket. All of the aforementioned are generalizations — sometimes parties stiff servers and sometimes single diners tip ridiculously well — but generally speaking: since servers make as little as $2.15/hr and their earnings are based entirely on ticket size and tip percentage, they would typically rather have parties than single diners. That being said, I love my single diners and I am sweet as pie and attentive as can be with them, because I want the biggest tip I can possibly get from them (which is usually $5, even if they have an appetizer and dessert, whereas a party could leave me up to $15).

    As for non-staff, Karen hit the nail on the head with her comment as a lone diner: lone diners often stare at and/or eavesdrop on their neighbors, which — if they notice — makes the other patrons uncomfortable and annoyed. Parties can do this too, but it’s all the more obvious when a lone diner does it.

    It’s simply not the norm for people to eat alone in restaurants, and whatever isn’t “normal” is generally regarded with disdain by most. To look for a historical reason for this (i.e. single diners not being the norm), my best guess is that a long time ago, dining out used to be a luxury — it was always either a business thing or a special occasion to be shared with family, friends, or dates, and consequently it would be unusual to see someone eating alone.

  4. I enjoy my food more when I eat alone. I’m more mindful of every bite, I eat more slowly, I slow down in general. When out with friends, I tend to just shovel the food in, hardly tasting it, since my focus is on the conversation. Basically, what I’m saying is, I can barely eat and talk at the same time.

  5. I’m a lone diner. too. You lone diners all sound awesome! Let’s all get together and grab a bite to eat sometime! Oh wait …

  6. Yeah, I eat alone when I travel for work and am at a hotel. Not only is it hard to do, but it does take some self-confidence to get up, walk out, go to a restaurant, ask for a table for one, and then eat alone.

  7. That stigma about eating alone needs to go away. No one thinks you’re being a loner if you go food shopping alone. Or if you take a walk in the park alone. Why does eating a meal have to be a shared experience?
    Another thing Media/society tells us: we need to have a million friends. Not true.

  8. In Korea, they’ll refuse you service if you come in alone. But hey, dude, I eat alone, shop alone, go to movies alone too. I’m surrounded by ppl all the time that I, yes, need “alone” time.

  9. “In Korea, they’ll refuse you service if you come in alone. But hey, dude, I eat alone, shop alone, go to movies alone too. I’m surrounded by ppl all the time that I, yes, need “alone” time.”

    I would often go to restaurants in Korea alone and not only the waiters, but the patrons would always ask when my friends are coming. There were a few places (usually meat restaurants) that would demand that you buy two portions if you come in alone. I was basically raised eating alone, so its basically the norm for me.

  10. Didn’t single Englishmen in the 19th century used to have clubs where they could eat dinner (alone)? Always wondered what those were…

  11. I eat alone, I watch movies alone, I shop alone, and I always do things independently from my friends. Frankly, I rarely feel lonely, and I feel comfortable being alone. I think some of us are just natural loners who need minimum human companionship.

  12. Pingback: DEFINITION DIVE: Nerd Line. | You Offend Me You Offend My Family

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