Sonya Sorich: The challenges of dining alone in a restaurant

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 27, 2013 

I'm living your worst nightmare.

No, not the one about showing up to work in your underwear. I'm talking about the nightmare that involves dining alone -- in restaurants -- on a regular basis.

For some people, it's unexplored territory. So much, in fact, that if you Google "eating in restaurants alone," you'll find first-person accounts from intrepid reporters willing to step outside their comfort zones for an entertaining column.

This isn't just an entertaining column. This is my real life. And when your real life is the single life, mealtime can be difficult. Enter one of my most common dilemmas: Should I risk the awkwardness of dining alone in public, or succumb to another night in the drive-through?

Anecdotally, it seems like many people would choose the latter option. The Internet even boasts an official name for the fear of eating alone: solomangarephobia.

But sometimes, I really want a nice, sit-down meal -- for one. Not every restaurant makes the experience easy. There's a good chance you'll be subjected to sympathetic utterances of the phrase "just one" -- two words with potential to make you feel like a circus-worthy ogre.

Restaurant personnel: Please eliminate that expression from your vocabularies. While I'm dishing out advice for restaurant employees, let me address the issue of seating. In terms of booth seating, I know solo diners are likely not as appealing as a family of four. I will occupy space at the booth and not buy nearly enough food to warrant the tip you'd get from the aforementioned family.

But if I arrive before bigger groups and the place isn't exactly swarming, you can at least consider my seat request. I promise I'll tip well.

That is, assuming you treat me with the same level of customer service you'd give a party of four. Conversely, don't drown me in attention like I'm a shelter puppy waiting for a permanent companion.

My advice for solo diners? Don't over-think the experience. You might feel more comfortable with a book or gadget on the table. It's a good security blanket for your first venture into the world of solo dining. The strategy can also help thwart another potential peril of publicly eating alone -- the chance a creeper will ask to join you.

Ultimately, you might abandon your security blanket and savor the company of your own thoughts. Assuming those thoughts don't involve a paralyzing sense of loneliness, of course.

Maybe the tide is changing. A restaurant in Amsterdam offers "only tables made for one," according to the New York Daily News.

In the restaurant world, could one become the new four? I'm not sure. In the meantime, go ahead and snag your solo table. If the dinner conversation is bad, it's your own fault.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516. Visit ledger-enquirer.com/sonya to read her columns.

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