What to do as a Single Diner
My DW and I had this discussion and came up with zero conclusions. I travel to major cities in the US and find myself eating solo most nights. I take these opportunities to try restaurants I would like and my DW might not or just go where I would like.
The question arises on what people at the surrounding tables may think as rude vs acceptable (just a thought, I try to keep to myself during these solo jaunts). My DW and I came up with several options:
1 - Stare at others
2 - Stare into space
3 - Do e-mails on my Blackberry
4 - Play video games on my Blackberry
5 - Read a book/magazine
6 - Speak QUIETLY on my cell phone
My normal modus operendi is,
1 - Check out the dishes others are enjoying to see if that influences my decision
2 - Glance at others and then try to figure out the relationship between the parties. This can take awhile especially with a 4-top with several age categories
3 - Do some e-mails
4 - Chat quietly with my DW at home, both a good thing (get connection) and a bad thing (miss her), or
5 - Read a book/magazine when all else fails
Does anyone feel uncomfortable when they sit next to a single who is doing any of the above (I do not gawk in number 2, just glance). I know people will say that the cell phone bothers them but my volume is lower than anyone else's.
I was told once that the reason people do not like to dine alone dates back to our caveman days when lone diners were attacked by animals or rival clans wanting their food. Not sure if I believe it but it makes a good story.....
Like alot of you I dine alone regularly on business and frankly love it. I find it the most relaxing and enjoyable experience and not nearly as uncomfortable as some do but it does comes down to the restaurant choice.
I am a reader and always take a book. That being said, I usually choose a restaurant with a bar and end up never opening it and instead end up chatting to the bar person/neighbor.
FYI, there is a great place in London called the Oxford and Cambridge Club that actually provides a brass book holder to single diners so that they can read more easily. Wouldnt recommend going there as a) it is a members only club and b) the food is only slightly better than a school dinner but I did think that was a charming idea that more restaurants should borrow from.
When I dine alone, I bring along a journal and write in it. I've usually dined alone when on vacation, so I enjoy writing what I did during the day, what I'm eating for dinner. It's funny that some people mistake me for a restaurant critic, so I guess that may be why the service is always so attentive. (It happened a few years ago when I was dining at Le Cirque in Las Vegas).
My thoughts on your list:
1 - Stare at others...a tad rude.
2 - Stare into space...no opinion.
3 - Do e-mails on my Blackberry...acceptable.
4 - Play video games on my Blackberry...acceptable so as long as it's inconspicuous.
5 - Read a book/magazine...as a waitress 20 years ago, the same guy would come into the restaurant twice a week and read novels. Ever since then, (perhaps erronously) I equate novels to loneliness. Magazines or other brief reading material I find acceptable.
6 - Speak QUIETLY on my cell phone...depends on the restaurant.
I find the phenomenon that reading while dining alone equals lonliness crazy!
Reading is a solitary exercise, not one signifying lonliness. I am alone for certain, that is easy to determine when I'm the only one at my table. But lonliness can't be determined by the casual observer.
As for reading distracting from the dining experience, I can't imagine that reading distracts from the experience anymore than conversation does when you're dining with a group.
I find taking on the cell phone to be FAR more rude, distracting and inappropriate than reading.
I used to read. Then I ran out of paperbacks because I was so busy, and spent a few meals just "being with myself." I found that I was excellent company for myself, and that the old adage to "stop and smell the roses" had a real payoff. Being actually THERE and experiencing my own thoughts and the atmosphere, and after all if it's THAT long before the food comes you're in the wrong restaurant.
When I'm eating alone, I just relax and enjoy the experience. I don't read or talk on the phone or work. I just zone out. I'm usually exhausted from travelling and working under high pressure so the time I get to be alone without having to think about dozens of things is to be savored. I choose my meal a little more carefully than when I'm with someone, enjoy the food and feel myself unwinding and being restored. It's a totally different experience from eating with company which turns dining into a social event.
I second, third, and fourth those who urge bringing reading material.
I am a writer and bookaholic, and often "take myself out" to dinner, just for a date with me and my imagination. There's nothing rude or strange about it, so long as the diner is courteous enough to pay attention when the waiter comes to take orders and talk specials etc.
Sometimes people stare and I've had a few rude remarks over the past few years, but once I hit that lovely liberation that "it doesn't matter what stupid people think so long as I'm not misbehaving or breaking the law", I stopped noticing anyone else.
I had a "book date" just last night, and the waiter seemed impressed: I was an undemanding customer, and so long as I was reading or munching, he knew everything was okay. When I put my book down, he would come by to check on me.
First of all, unless it's an emergency, talking on a cell phone in places like restaurants is considered rude. I personally would also like to use dinner as "Down time"
Secondly, I people watch. I don't find anything wrong with it as long as it's not too intrusive.
Thirdly, I don't hesitate to ask people about their meals and I don't get offended if people ask me. For me, if it's a quick question then leave me alone. I'm eating.
I'll sit at the bar most times since that's where a lot of the singles sit. You can certainly strike up a conversation there. There's usually a ball game or something as well.
LOL. Me too. When I'm alone I feel free to take my time examining the food and slowly chewing on each and every bite.
Aside from the routine, I tend to pick up a free paper, or even a free booklet of real estate listings (I likests the pictures). Anything to kill time between ordering and waiting for my food to come. If there's absolutely no reading material and the place seems too quiet to amuse me with people watching, I'll ask to keep the menu and spend time looking at all the things I didn't order.
I never talk on the phone because I hate talking on the phone period, but in terms of those around me I think it's a little creepy because if the person is trying to be quiet she just looks like she's talking to herself. It's oddly disconcerting, but not a huge deal in a casual restaurant.
Your comment Pei about free things made me think about something else as well. I always travel for leisure and not business so as I go about my day, I tend to stuff my bag with any free tourist literature (or local information) I can find. Dinner alone is a great time to look over that information.
I usually travel alone and reading is also my fall back plan. It relaxes me and makes me less self conscious. I usually just pick up a local newspaper or a magazine rather than take a book because I don't really get as involved in it. It is more to help me pass the time and there are times when I get so involved in my surroundings that the material does not even get read.
There's another thread about this topic on the General Board. I'm a reader. That's my backup plan, and it's complete entertainment for me. I generally sit at the bar, so I can chat up the bartender if I'm so inclined and they're not super busy.
I have to say, I never talk on my cell phone. I either leave it in the car or turn it off when I'm in any restaurant. I'm in the group that finds it terribly rude to talk on a cell phone in any restaurant.
I am a watcher too. I love too see what others are eating, doing, saying, etc. Not a gawker either. And I love to play the "what's their story" game and try to figure out who they are, what they do, etc.