There are some things
people say that
we nod our heads to
and pretend to agree with,
but we don’t really believe.
Like when someone says that they LOVE tofu. No doubt they have convinced themselves they enjoy it and have found it to be a perfectly acceptable meat substitute in their dietary lives, but love? Really? Do they even know what that word means? And if so, is it even allowable to associate it with the sensation of eating a block of coagulated soy milk?
I mention this, because I know that’s how a lot of people react when I tell them I love to eat at restaurants by myself. Many nod their heads and pretend to understand, while I can see the “Poor guy, that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” on their faces. And I don’t think I’m projecting, because I have in my time come in contact with people who have actually said as much—clearly indicating that I wouldn’t feel that way if I actually had people to dine with.
And there was a point in my life where that might have been true, but in the past couple of years my social life has grown in ways I never could have expected. Rather than contract, it’s expanded significantly—to the point that between friends, family and co-workers I actually find myself eating out with other people several times a week.
Yet, I still love to go out and eat alone. Perhaps—like the tofu eater I mentioned above—my familiarity has caused me to insist upon feelings I wouldn’t otherwise have, but what I once did out of necessity, I now still do by choice. If anything, these days I love it even more.
I realize that for many people most outside interactions with the world seem strange experienced solo. I know quite a few people who would never go to a movie or a concert alone or who would never think to travel by themselves. Who even get antsy if their dining partner lingers in the washroom for slightly too long.
I’ve never quite understood this attitude myself. There are many wonderful experiences I would have missed out on if I insisted I had to share them with someone else. Too often I’ve seen folks get involved with people who are clearly wrong for them for no other reason than to have someone to hang out with. I acknowledge I’m the outlier here, but to my eyes the stress of an unhealthy relationship is far worse than the thought of having a pleasurable experience on your own.
So, I’m happy to do a lot of stuff alone, but dining out is my favourite. For those of you who find this as hard to comprehend as I do that “lover” of tofu, here is a list of reasons why I love it to help you understand:
Restaurants Tell a Story, But You Have To Pay Attention to Hear It
Many people view restaurants as a place to sit, talk, eat and nothing more, but to me each one is a show and there is much entertainment to be had in how it all plays out. Is the restaurant busy? Is it dead? Is it short-staffed? Is there tension between the wait staff and the kitchen? Is it prepared for what is happening? Is there drama at one of the other tables? How is the staff dealing with it?
No two restaurants are the same. Each have their own specific personality, but to really appreciate it, you have to sit there by yourself and figure it out. There are restaurants I’ve eaten at many times before that I don’t really know that well because I’ve only ever gone to them with other people, while there are others I know perfectly even though I’ve only eaten at them once. Visiting a restaurant solo gives you the chance to really soak up the atmosphere and be told a story you might otherwise miss in a haze of gossip and small talk.
You Can Be Selfish
Eating alone allows you to experience the restaurant precisely how you want to. Dining with others frequently comes with a hundred tiny concessions you might not otherwise make. How often have you ended up at a mediocre restaurant solely because it was the only one everyone could agree on? Or agreed to an order strategy you’d normally avoid (everyone orders and shares an appetizer, etc.) just to be amenable?
Sometimes you might hold yourself back from ordering what you really want because the person you’re eating with will find fault with it (“Foie gras? Do you KNOW what they do to those poor birds?”) or they aren’t as comfortable spending money on food as you are and make you feel guilty as a result (“Geez, I could pay my rent for what they want for a steak here!”).
And then there’s the uncomfortable moment when everyone has thrown in cash for the cheque and you realize that even though you have put in enough for both your meal and a generous tip, the group total still just barely covers the meal.
This can all be avoided when you dine out by yourself. You can go wherever you want and order whatever you please. You don’t have to worry that someone else at the table has made you look like a jerk (or forced you to cough up far more of your share). The experience is all about YOU and as a result you can have exactly the meal you wanted without any compromise.
You Can Learn Something
I never leave the house without my headphones and a podcast/audiobook to listen to. As a result I can always fill my head with knowledge as I wait for my drink or enjoy my smoked pork jowl.
You Can Be a Good Part of Someone’s Day
As someone who loves restaurants I always aspire to be a great customer. As someone who has worked in restaurants, I know exactly how a terrible customer acts and I would sooner self-immolate than inflict myself like that on another human being.
What this means is I do research before I go to a restaurant. 90% of the bad online reviews I see for good restaurants are written by people who never should have eaten there in the first place—i.e. folks who don’t understand that it’s weird to complain about portion sizes at a tapas restaurant.
(Some may argue that a good restaurant should be able to satisfy every kind of customer, but in reality that makes as much sense as saying every movie should be able to satisfy every kind of audience. We can’t be so entitled as to insist that everything we encounter specifically satisfies our personal tastes—there has to be room for people with vastly different palates.)
And as a result of this research I know what the restaurant has to offer and why I am there. I am able to appreciate how it works and its own unique eccentricities and won’t feel the need to punish it for being different or out of my comfort zone.
I say “Please” and “Thank you”. I am polite. I don’t blame the server for a mistake the kitchen made. I don’t give a lousy tip because the place was packed and they were clearly overwhelmed. I understand they did the best job they could under the circumstances. I know they are human and deserve to be treated as such.
When I leave a restaurant, I want the people there to want me to come back, not dread my return. And if I think I succeeded, I find myself walking out with a lightness in my step and a sense of personal satisfaction. I made someone’s day better just by showing up and being the best me I could be.
In my experience eating alone allows you to focus on your meal in a way dining with others just doesn’t. You can appreciate each bite and savour every mouthful without having to worry about keeping up the conversation or paying attention to anything else.
And this is probably the main reason why I love eating out by myself and always will. Because in this case it is the meal that matters more than anything else—it is the star attraction and the reason why I put on pants and left the house.
You may think it’s strange, but there’s a joy to dining solo that I haven’t been able to recreate anywhere else. Which is why it’s so bizarre to me that so many people avoid it at all cost. If you’re amongst them, I suggest you find a good restaurant you’ve never been to before and make a reservation for one.
It probably won’t
change your life,
but it might.