Table for one, please

The request for a “Table for one, please” is usually met with a…. “Table for one?” from a confused Maitre De. As if the request just sounds wrong. I didn’t know I was someone who could sit alone in a restaurant and consume a meal without feeling judged. But after my first solo travel experience in India last year and subsequent solo travels for work, eating alone in public has become second nature. But not without some reservations. It’s hard not to feel like you are on display when you are sitting across from nobody. When I first started traveling for work, I used to order room service or if I did venture out, I’d hide behind a book in a corner of the restaurant. But the thing is…I love good food, and eating, and trying new restaurants, so after a while I got over my irrational discomfort with eating alone and committed to the experience. I will still occasionally bring a book along but a lot of times I just people watch. While hide behind a book when I can enjoy a delicious risotto with a full bodied glass of red wine with my head held up high?

I realize that in some cultures, meals are social events. Like the time I was in Morocco staying with a family in Rabat, every meal consisted of sitting with the entire family around a communal table sharing olives, bread and dates. In fact, I felt uncomfortable having a plate of vegetarian cous cous to myself because I couldn’t share in the meat version with the rest of the family. I enjoyed the laughter, love and sharing that was part of every meal experience during my stay there.

Eating alone can be just as much of an “experience”. Like the time I was in Wisconsin for work on Valentine’s Day which fell on a very unromantic Monday. I had two options: avoid the pitying looks of being seen alone in public on that particular day (much less solo eating in public) and consign myself to mediocre room service OR go to the beautiful riverfront restaurant next to my hotel and enjoy a delicious dinner by myself with lovestruck couples all around me and risk dealing with a decor of red roses and pink balloons.

I opted for the second option because the thought of a delicious meal outweighed my fear of pitying looks from strangers. I got dolled up in a purple satin dress and enjoyed my fusilli aubergine with a glass of chianti. I cheers-ed myself and had an adorable old couple sitting next to me take a picture of me with my Valentine’s Day meal so I could send it to everyone I loved letting them know I was thinking about them.

Were there moments during the meal that I caught looks coming my way? Yes. Did it annoy me? Yes. But I’m still glad I chose the option I did. And, the key word there is, chose. Like my fellow solo eater friend once said to me after eating alone at a Vietnamese restaurant she had been dying to try in her neighborhood… “For God’s sake, eating alone is a choice. So for all those people who look at me pityingly as if I’m being punished, I say F-YOU.”