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Is Dining Out Alone Taboo?

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Oct 23, 2012 6:00PM

Photo credit: Renee Rendler-Kaplan

Dining out en solitaire is par for the course in Europe and has been for ages. In fact, it’s an unapologetic pleasure, affording a tacit cloak of privacy amid the heated swell of urban existence. One imagines Hemingway, once he got beyond strangling pigeons as a way of economizing on provisions, supping languorously on foie gras and Beaujolais all by his lonesome and not batting an expat eye. In the New World, however, the phrase “table for one” still carries some shame-ridden baggage, especially when servers clamor for affirmation at insidiously regular intervals.

The distinction between being alone and being lonely is more than a semantic one. It’s a qualitative difference that still seems to elude our culture at large, perhaps explaining some of the momentum behind the rise in shared plate menus. More dining partners equal more opportunity for repartee and overall conviviality, which equals a more worthwhile evening, and of course there’s truth in that. It’s just not the whole truth, leaving out as it does the unspoken, oft untold romance of luxuriating in your own uninterrupted observations. Don’t let anyone tell you differently: Eating out alone isn’t lonely; it’s lovely.

It goes without saying (though we’re clearly saying it) that you’re depriving yourself of the sumptuousness of the experience if you’re regularly checking status updates on your phone or tweeting your next course. The point is to bask in the quiet, warm fire of your own company and to truly taste the repast set before you sans outward commentary. For this hour or so at least, give your senses full, silent reign.

Taking yourself out for an unhurried gourmet affair makes for a sensual bit of self-indulgence very much along the same lines as soaking in a bubble bath with mystery novel in hand. You’re addressing a basic physical need, hunger, and feting yourself for it. Well done, life, you’re effectively saying. You’ve given me an appetite, and I’m raising you one. So even if your social calendar is bursting at the seams and your significant other couldn’t be more game for trying out that new bistro around the corner, save some time for yourself. Yes, you explain to the slightly abashed hostess, I would prefer to sit by the window. And no, I’m not waiting for anyone. I have arrived.