herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Niamh Greene: Losers dine alone? I can't swallow that

A woman dining alone
A woman dining alone

Some people would rather go hungry than eat alone in a restaurant. Rightly or wrongly, they believe there's a stigma attached to tucking into a meal on your own in a public place.

Aren't people who eat alone total losers with no friends? Doesn't everyone point and laugh or feel sorry for them?

Well no, actually. Times have changed. Eating alone is no longer considered strange or taboo.

These days, no-one looks at you sympathetically if you ask for a table for one (except maybe if it's Valentine's night, but that's their problem, not yours).

I love to eat on my own and I'm not a social outcast. I love to break bread with my family and friends too, but sitting by myself in a busy café with just me and my meal for company is blissful.

I can catch up on work if needs be, or read a book if my schedule is free. If I'm honest, given my way I would happily wile away half my day just sipping coffee and watching the world go by.

I don't have to make small talk with a companion, I don't have to confer with anyone about what I want to eat, I can just be totally selfish about the experience.Because that's so rare, it feels self indulgent and very, very good.

It seems I'm not alone. Eating on your own is now becoming so popular that a restaurant has been established specially to cater to this market.

Dutch restaurant Eenmaal, an eatery that only has tables for one, recently hosted a successful event in London with hundreds of diners dining solo.

If the demand is there, then something similar is bound to appear in Ireland soon.

But I don't think this would be my cup of tea (for one). I like to eat alone, yes, but, for me at least, the charm of it is being part of the hustle and bustle of a busy environment and yet somehow being apart too.

If everyone was dining alone, it would make it harder to blend in and people watch, which is probably the best part of the experience.

As a writer, I'm naturally nosy. Are that couple in the corner having an illicit affair? What are those friends gossiping about? Why does that man have a limp? I can't help giving everyone I see a back story and, I admit, I occasionally eavesdrop on their conversations too.

In fact, I've lost count of the plot lines for books that I've had while eating alone.

If you've never tried it, I really do advise that you give dining alone a go. Bring a book as a prop and settle in for an hour's relaxation or entertainment.

Other people won't think you're a 'Billy No Mates' - they're far too enthralled with own lives (and they can't eavesdrop on you).

But the best thing about solo dining? You don't have to share dessert.

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