I eat alone in restaurants. There, I've said it. Why stop there? I have watched movies alone, usually shop alone and even explored new cities alone. And loved every minute of it.
Growing up in India is a social and community affair. It is not uncommon to have grandparents staying with you or nearby, cousins and uncles and aunts too and even people you call relatives but have no idea how they are related to you. That is how we grow up and community living is ingrained in our culture. Thus, we rarely spend much time alone. Neither do we ever get a chance to do so, nor do we need to. But then you grow up, people move away, get jobs, have their own lives. You slowly realise that the 'let's catch up' becomes more of a phrase than an invitation to make a plan. There's nothing wrong in this, it is the natural progression of life. However, having grown up surrounded by people, you are suddenly uneasy at the thought of spending time alone. Sounds familiar?
Here's something a little bird once told me: The best company you can keep, is your own. If you find the secret to enjoying your own company, you will never find yourself alone. Sure, if there is a plan with other people, that is great too. But the lack of people or their time, should not be a reason that you stop doing the things you love.
Why I started dining alone I realised this around 6 years back when I decided to shift careers from marketing to freelance food writing. With a hectic full-time job, I never had time for going out with friends and family alike. But now that I was freelancing, and that my work involved going out and eating in new and exciting places, I was always asking around, constantly on the lookout for company. Until one fine day, when I decided to go dine alone. Best decision of my life.
The first time From that day hence, I have eaten hundreds of meals alone, watched films in cinema theaters alone when there wasn't anyone available as per my time convenience and discovered a way to enjoy doing pretty much everything solo. Like anything, it take a little time to adjust to it. The first time, you may feel uncomfortable just sitting there in a restaurant, nursing your drink, looking around at other diners. A few restaurants I walked into, raised a subtle eyebrow when I said table for one. It bothered me then, it doesn't now. Instead, I look back at the maitre d' and repeat, this time a little more emphatically, "Yes, table for one". I have also realised that when you eat alone, you can focus more on the food and the flavours.
6 Tips for Dining Alone If you have flirted with the thought of eating alone, or are fed up of trying to find people to go along with you to that new restaurant in town that everyone has been raving about, here's a quick guide to having a great experience, minus the embarrassment:
1) Choose Wisely I wish this did not need to be said, but it is not a bad idea to choose the venue of a solo-meal wisely, especially for women. Skip dingy and dark places and pick brighter restaurants/ cafes/ pubs in locations where there are plenty of people around. This may be a tad bit too cautionary but the profile of patrons that visit a place can make a great difference to whether you will be left alone or have wandering eyes around you. In Delhi, Social Def Col is great for sitting around, as is Coast Café (Hauz Khas Village) and Mumbai's Pali Village Café and Le Pain Quotidien let you be.
2) Go Early If you land up in the middle of meal time, you may get a table between loud groups or bang in the centre of the restaurant, which can be quite intimidating for solo-dining-freshers. Go early and get a nice corner so you can easily people-watch for entertainment.
3) People Watch Which brings me to the second point. It's incredible how little attention we pay to people around us, always in a hurry that we are. You may find it interesting to people watch, enjoy a spectrum of scenes as they unfold in front of you.
4) Table for One Don't feel embarrassed to ask for a table for one. If the maitre d' cross-questions you by asking if someone will be joining you, just look him/ her in the eye (one eyebrow raised for effect) and say "No, it's just me".
5) Carry a Book Ordered? Now comes the part where you have to sit and wait for the food to arrive. This little void is what can make some people uncomfortable. Fret not. Just carry a book along and flip through as you wait. Not a book worm? Your phone will do just fine. Social media, articles online, etc., there's plenty to do as you wait.
6) Enjoy the Food Do not worry about who may be looking at you and who will think what. When the food comes, enjoy the flavours. Let the textures play on your tongue and spend time to enjoy their interplay. Look at the presentation, smell the aromas. This is truly what mindful eating is all about. So the next time you crave something delicious (or there is a spanking new restaurant in town) and your partner or friends are busy, make a plan and go eat alone. Take a deep breath, and say with me - "Table for One, please."