Business

Your solo dining experiences

  • 31 July 2014
  • From the section Business
A man waiting to eat on his own

A recent article looking at the growth of solo dining prompted many emails from readers sharing their own experiences.

The story explored the rise in the number of people eating out on their own, and how restaurants around the world are trying to make themselves more welcoming to such individual diners.

Here are some of your stories on solo dining.

Chris Scruggs, UK: I remember a time, only a few years ago, when I found the idea of eating out alone to be a depressing prospect. I would view solo diners as sad and lonely people. Now, I eat out by myself quite often, and sometimes prefer it to the company of others. One thing more than any other has made this change to my perspective - a smartphone. I suppose solo diners really aren't solo any more at all. I don't know whether this is good or bad.

William Wohlsen's lunch at Red Riding Hood's Basket in Southwick, Massachusetts
William Wohlsen's lunch at Red Riding Hood's Basket in Massachusetts

William Wohlsen, Massachusetts, US: For some reason I never felt at all self-conscious about requesting a table for one. And it's much better than room service or fast food.

Stephen Sakulsky, Los Angeles: I have spent the majority of my meals solo. For me it's the best way to experience, and have, a food and wine focused meal. There are no distractions to the dining experience. No people talking and no opinions. It's about the food and wine and nothing else. It's great.

Annette Allen, Buckinghamshire, UK: I love eating out on my own. I travel a lot for work, and on holidays, on my own, and often eat out solo. I can choose to enjoy food in peace, or chat to other diners and restaurant staff. Also I don't get criticised if I have dessert, and I can just stare outside the window, if I like - I enjoy people watching. In 30 years of doing this, I've noticed a big sea change in the past decade in the way that solo women diners are treated. We're finally treated with respect, not someone to be hidden away, so I'm often offered a window seat.

Japanese restaurant ticket machine
Meal machines: Order your meal at the push of a button in Tokyo

Emma Lui, UK: While working as an English teacher in Tokyo for 18 months, I found myself in a country where solo dining appeared to be the norm and not the exception. [Noodle] restaurants near the train station would always be filled with rows of "salary men" in the evenings, with worn faces and loosened ties from their working day, quietly tapping on their smartphones and stoically shovelling rice and noodles into their mouths. I can think of at least one ramen chain where there were special individual wooden booths for customers to eat their ramen in private!

Tokyo certainly embraces the lone diner. Even when you order food, you don't need to speak to a waitress or server. Of course there are places with traditional menus, but there's also a very efficient Japanese way of dining. There are ticket machines either just outside or inside the restaurant, and you insert your money, press what you want, and hand the printed ticket over to the worker in the kitchen area. It did strike me as a foreigner living in Tokyo how easy it was to live entire days without needing to speak a single word.

Jon Goodwin, Glasgow: Although I should love to eat out at fine restaurants by myself, I have always regarded solo diners as very deeply sad, and I should almost die of shame to be amongst their number.

Richard, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire: Although I dine alone infrequently, I find the experience completely different from dining in company. It allows me to give more of my attention to the food and its presentation. I can drift off into my own thoughts and not have to worry about seeming to be rude or inattentive. Also I can eat at my own pace, as there is no-one else waiting for me to finish, nor am I waiting for another diner. As an occasional event I really do enjoy dining alone, but I wouldn't want it as a regular occurrence!

Eric Anker
Eric Anker spends more than half the year travelling for work so enjoys many solo meals

Eric Anker, Tehachapi, California: I eat nearly every meal alone when I am on the road. I travel more than 200 days a year for work. Once I was [sitting by the kitchen] at a restaurant, and I was watching the prep cook make a dessert. He was caramelising the sugar coating when the tart caught fire. While trying to put out the flaming tart the cook spread the fire to his prep board. Quickly he grabbed the board and shoved it into the trash bin... and yes that also flared up. The head cook calmly walked over with a bowl of water and put the fire out. Of course the two other diners and I were rolling with laughter with the proceeding entertainment.

Tom Cook, Bristol, UK: I hate eating alone in a restaurant. I have to do it every so often when I travel on business and it is always a trial, to be ended as quickly as possible. What are you supposed to do in the half hour it often takes from arriving to having your first course served if you're on your own? Being overseas only makes it worse - even if you found someone to talk to, chances are the conversation would falter on the language barrier.

Dung Nguyen, Vietnam: In my country, people rarely dine out alone. I can't remember the last time I went to a restaurant alone, because I feel so pathetic. I think it is a great idea to open restaurants specially for solo diners. Then people on their own would not feel like a fish out of water. I wish there was a chain of solo dinner restaurants in my country.

Amanda Hazleton, UK: I've always hated eating out by myself, but if I must, I usually suffer through in uneventful silence. One time when visiting central London on my own, the waitress kept mentioning the fact that I was alone. She kept asking if I was OK by myself and if someone was coming, even though I had asked for a table for one and told her several times I wasn't expecting anyone. She acted like I had been stood up. I hate eating alone even more now, for fear of having another experience like that.

Jon Moody, Houston, Texas: In America I've noticed often that I'm not the only one eating lunch, and sometimes dinner, alone. I admit I enjoy eating alone on many workdays, especially on those days I need to get away from work, and I'm too far from home. And when I don't want to eat with co-workers, especially if we are working on the same project. However, I do wish there was an app [for] people in the same restaurant or general area [who are] eating alone and would not mind a non-romantic lunch where one could practise the art of conversation (which seems impossible at work or home these days).

Tenby restaurant
Karen van Hoey Smith's candlelit dinner for one in Tenby

Karen van Hoey Smith, UK: Until I moved to Japan for five years I would have been too embarrassed to eat out alone, but knowing no-one and just remembering how nice good food can be irrespective of company I went out... and loved it!

I am currently on a spontaneous trip to Tenby (alone), am in a gorgeous 10th Century restaurant and am the only solo diner. I've had a few pitiful looks from some diners but the foreigners all seem impressed with it. The staff have been perfect. Attentive and smiling and I feel comfortable. The barman downstairs treated me totally normally and I've had a great time so far. Tenby rocks! ;)

I don't usually have anything like a phone or book with me... this is unusual. I like enjoying the experience. I like to feel the cutlery, look at the room and live in the moment. Not many people do... food's here... bye.

Kevin Leah, Sussex, UK: The biggest solo dining issue I come across is eating in establishments where you have to order at a counter. You have to leave your table to order and run the risk that someone will take the table whilst you are ordering. Or if you need to pop to the loo, you risk the table being cleared of your half-eaten meal. To avoid this I take props with me to make it clear the table is occupied. Nothing of any value usually. An extra jumper or coat. An old paperback and a magazine.

Augusto Murillo, Hawaii: It is not the customer that feels uncomfortable about solo diners, but the restaurant owners themselves, in my opinion. The owners are afraid of having an empty seat opposite you, and losing out on another meal they could bill. And so they will not give an open arms welcome, especially if you dare to choose a better table from where they first sat you.