Savoring Solitude: The Case for Solo Dining
Not all of us are sociable creatures. At least not all the time.
(SPOT.ph) Picture a typical night out in the city: Voices cheering. Beer mugs clinking. Couples, couples everywhere. Then there’s me, the lone diner, noshing away at a table for one. I eat alone, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Among the country’s best assets is our love for communal dining. Filipinos have long favored eating in groups—it’s through food, even today, that we connect with the people around us. Meals at home are a family affair; food trips are the gauge of strong ties among friends—the modern blood compact. This is reflected especially in our restaurant scene, with tables that tend to be huge and portions that are meant for sharing.
But not all of us are sociable creatures—at least not all the time. The thought of having to rub elbows, especially mid-chow, can really send certain minds into overdrive. There are some of us who’d prefer otherwise—who feel bliss within our own personal space; who thrive better focusing on one thing at a time; and who crave a post-mingle "recharge" like a man needs his steak. Introverts, I believe we are called. Or just lone wolves who appreciate a good, hearty meal.
For this (and other personal reasons), I wholeheartedly choose to eat alone. I’m perfectly happy being all by myself, with good food (and music—or books!) to keep me company.
It’s not always easy, however. I’d get looks of pity from restaurant servers, who at times seem appalled at my booking for one. I’d run across friends who’d ask if I’m okay—like, “really okay!?”—being “just” on my own. Any attempt to reclaim my space would be met with some pretty staggering reactions. “How courageous!” they’d exclaim, “but why do it?”—as if it were so radical, so preposterous (!) to ever dare devour solo.
It’s absurd. But I do understand where they’re coming from. There’s this general stigma of being alone—people are social animals after all; we thrive best in the company of others. Eating in particular is thought to be a shared act, especially in these parts, that it seems counterintuitive to do the opposite by choice.
Eating also happens to be—let’s face it—enjoyable, and dining out is essentially treated as a leisure activity. Yet there’s research suggesting that people are less inclined to publicly engage in ‘hedonic’ acts alone, fearing how they’d be judged on their connectedness with others. Indulging alone might also feel selfish, which doesn’t sit well with our group-tending values.
It hardly helps to have the widely propagated stereotype of sappy, heartbroken singletons dining out as some form of consolation for their supposedly failed relationships—with the most fervent of hopes to finally meet "The One."
But there seems to be confusion between being alone and being lonely, which are related, but don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Spending time solo by dining alone can in fact be rewarding in its own set of ways.
It’s a liberating experience, for one—and virtually an avenue for some much-needed autonomy. There’s the freedom of deciding where to go, what to order, and how long to spend at a certain establishment. And there’s freedom from the shackles of social convention, which allows for some out-of-the-box thinking and revolutionary eating. (As anyone who prefers to eat dessert first would know.)
Solo dining also lets me focus on the food, sans the pressure (and distracting nature) of social interaction. Look, I’m no connoisseur, either. But as a food lover, I think the best way to pay your plate respect is to eat consciously. Mindfully. There is joy in savoring every morsel, taking pleasure in the mingling of sensations on the tongue. Whether it’s a humble bowl of lugaw or an exquisite plate of foie—to relish in consumption is an ode to being, well, human.
But it’s the call of solitude that ultimately draws me in. Spending time alone is less about avoiding people, than it is about having “me time”—an opportunity to rejuvenate the mind and soul. (That sounds pretentious, but hear me out.) It’s when I’m alone that I can slow down, "recharge," and get to know myself deep down to the core. And it’s these moments of reflection that allow me to gain stability—albeit temporarily—amidst the hodgepodge that is life itself.
Perhaps we’re still in the minority, but I’m sure there are other solo eaters out there. It’d be great if more local joints would consider our existence—say, by allowing for smaller portions, or by utilizing solo tables (a la Amsterdam’s Eenmal). The Japanese excel at this, employing tools like dividers or even cubicle seats for their unaccompanied patrons.
For now, all we seek is simply acceptance; some acknowledgment and respect for the lone diner’s preference. Which is to say, don’t worry about me. I’ll take a table for one, please.