#18 on dining alone.
Things I miss about the restaurant and bar scene are not limited to celebrating a meal with a group of friends, brunch as a concept or being able to check out the latest and greatest restaurants.
It's sitting at a quiet bar or a small table at a restaurant with a good book, a quiet meal, and a cocktail…to be a woman dining alone. To listen in on the hustle and bustle of the front-of-house staff, all of them working in unison to get through service. Asking for a table for one is one of the things I miss about life before the pandemic.
While I sit and enjoy my meal or cocktail, I am in the *thick* of it, with a notebook to document my experience or to free write that story idea I couldn’t shake. What I miss most is the chatter and connections made with those around you fellow diners, and staff. Eating alone isn't a new notion; there has been a lot written about the impact of dining alone and even how it isn't good for the environment! (See below for optional reading on the topic.
I do have to admit, though, there was a time that I was uncomfortable eating alone. I'm not sure if I was concerned that people wondered why I was unaccompanied or if I genuinely had more fun dining out with other people. The debate about women dining alone and people eating alone in restaurants, in general, is not up for discussion and is in the interests of the diner themselves. There is a history of women dining alone, and we have plenty of people to thank of the ability for us to do so.
This was until I had my first meal at the historic Russ and Daughters. On a business trip to the city. I waited in my place in line, and when I found a spot at the counter, I grabbed the last empty stool. Success! I focused on my meal until the diner next to me (about my mother’s age) started asking my about my meal and once we started chatting we hit it off.
Once we started chatting, I didn't feel so alone. At that time in my life I did.
I shared my halva ice cream, she shared some of her gnish, and we talked about life in the city, working in our respective fields, and being a woman in leadership. Oh, and cats of course. Opportunities for spontaneous connections like that don't necessarily happen as often when I'm with a friend or my partner. Dining alone (in a safe environment) gives some space for the magic to happen.
After that, I became someone who eventually embraced dining alone: either as a single person or someone with a partner in the restaurant industry, i.e., many free Fridays and Saturdays.
One thing that made me nervous about dining alone was being an inconvenience to the staff. I have been seated at tables and bars, which were quite comfortable and less desirable tables, including right outside the kitchen door. I even had a meal at a Michelin-recognized restaurant standing eating my meal from 1 x 2-foot shelf extended from the wall. Was it one of the best meals I've had in the past five years? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes. Would that experience be wildly different with friends? Of course.
The thing is, dining alone doesn’t always means one is lonely.
One of my newer Instagram pals (shoutout to Talia, aka FoodiewithAfro) commented about how dining on their own was like taking themselves out on a date. It was about getting to know themselves. I love that. For me, dining alone is about reconnecting with myself and reconnecting with the restaurant experience and the magic that happens when we fully engaged with ourselves.
As the temperatures get warmer in the Northeast, restaurants, hopeful as we continue to move towards herd immunity, are planning out there. I would dare dining plans and re-openings; I wonder where the place is for the solo diner? Does the real estate of the restaurant still have space for us?
I hope so. While my partner and I look forward to supporting many of our restaurant friends once we are fully vaccinated, I fully intend to spend this summer visiting spots new and old, with a good book and an empty chair.
Here are some reading on women dining alone and on the topic of dining alone
From Patrons to Chefs, a History of Women in Restaurants | Boston Hospitality Review
Table for one: how eating alone is radically changing our diets
Meet the women who fought so you could dine without a male chaperone
What I’m reading:
The role of rural women in making home brew: a Rwandan case study
Can Small-Scale Subscriptions Change Food Media for the Better?
Catch my interview with Brandon Montgomery, aka BlackBeardTravelers on the Black Food Folks livestream here.
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