table for one

Do you ever eat alone at restaurants? In my thirty years of existence, I had only done it once – in Lima, Peru at a tiny chifa – until my San Francisco trip. Like many others I know, the idea of going to a proper restaurant and getting a table-for-one is quite intimidating. And it’s not just eating by myself in a public place that I find scary. I have never been to the movies or traveled to a new city/country where I didn’t know anyone, without company.

Despite the fact that I was in San Francisco for a conference and it was not my first trip to the city and I sort of knew people there, it was the closest I have come to traveling independently. I stayed in a hostel on my own for the first time. (I highly recommend their private rooms, but not so much the shared dorm, especially not the night before your presentation! I have stayed in far nicer dorms in other hostels.)

But more importantly, I finally got over my eating-alone phobia. And the experience was so much nicer than I had expected! The first place I ate at was Flour + Water. It’s an acclaimed Italian restaurant (2010 finalist in the ‘Best New Restaurant’ category of the JB Foundation awards) in the Mission neighborhood – you know the kind that requires reservations and has a long waiting line for walk-ins and apparently, even Steve Jobs had trouble getting in to! And that’s where dining alone comes in handy…it’s sooo much easier to get a seat at the bar! And you get special attention from the servers and the bartender! So, I happily ordered a pizza and a beer, chatted with the bartender, took a few pictures, read my book and ignored the little voice in my head pointing out the fact that I was the only person in the restaurant eating dinner on my own!

This was just the beginning. After my confident start, I dined out alone several times over the next few days and realized how convenient it is – you don’t need to exchange countless emails back and forth with your friends trying to figure out a date, time and a place that works for everyone; you hardly ever need a reservation or wait in line and what’s more, you can order, eat and leave at your own sweet pace.

Two other places I really enjoyed eating at were Mission Chinese Food (their Mongolian long beans are super awesome and by the way, they are coming to New York this fall!)…

…and the famed House of Nanking in Chinatown. I was a little apprehensive about it at first, given how it appears on every tourist guidebook, but I am pleased to report that their food was delicious and delightfully different from my experience of Chinese food. I had a bowl of their House Noodles that are freshly-made thin egg noodles, tossed in sesame sauce with Asian spices, scallions, garlic and pea-shoots.

All this is not to say that I shall, henceforth, be abandoning my friends and only eating out alone – I still prefer company. But, I have definitely learnt that a table-for-one is a refreshing, exciting and brave place to eat at, every once in a while.

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82 thoughts on “table for one

  1. I would think dining alone would be considered almost normal in a city such as San Francisco – it has such an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere – I’m sure people who live there have seen weirder! Especially since so many are always there on business. That pizza looks amazing, by the way!

  2. I love restaurants, I love traveling to new cities (I go to a lot of conferences as well!) but I hate eating alone. A rookie mistake is to sit across from another lone diner – which I did one time. There’s simply no where you can look (comfortably, that is). These days I know to plan where I will be facing…and I also know enough to bring a paperback book with me. 🙂

  3. I don’t think eating alone is weird.. Food usually cheers me up when I am down… I treat myself by going to fine restaurants if I am down n don’t have interesting company..works fine for me..

  4. I normally eat alone, as I’m a single person. Same with going to the movies – that was a hang-up I HAD to get over, or there would have been a lot of movies I’d never have seen because I was unwilling to go by myself. It’s always nice to go with a friend or two and share a meal or a movie, but sometimes you are your own best company. It also gives you the freedom to try someplace on a whim, instead of having to build consensus. Good that you discovered the pleasure of being solo – now get out there and keep doing it and don’t be held back by some false perception that you need to be in a group to do anything!

  5. Cheers to you for doing what the majority of us think too uncomfortable to bare! Funny how we can shop alone, go to coffee shops alone but dinning alone is too out of our comfort zone… Loved the pictures!

  6. I’ve done many things alone; movies, travel, etc. but I still find dining alone the hardest.

  7. Love the photos and the story. I’ve gone to the movies alone several times to one of my favorite old fashioned theaters I have in my town. Once the lights are out nobody sees you and you’re focusing on the movie, as you experienced, once you do it one time you realize it’s not so bad. Kudos to you eating alone at fancy restaurants. I think that has to be alot harder, so you should be good now to conquer the rest if desired 🙂

  8. I love eating out alone! It gives me a chance to make friends (usually with the bartender) and just be alone. It can be very therapeutic!

  9. I have eaten alone when I have stayed in hotels for work, I find a book is quite helpful. It stops you feeling paranoid and staring into space while waiting for your food! But I agree staff are great and usually really friendly too.

  10. I always feel awkward eating at restos alone. I go on my phone or read a book or something usually.

    I always wanted to just have like, a date with myself day though, like the usual bliss does. :3

  11. I feel like eating solo (especially for a woman) is almost taboo! I go to movies by myself frequently – probably more often that I go with someone! – but eating alone makes me queasy. Inevitably wind up getting takeout and going back to my apartment to eat it!

  12. I don’t mind eating alone, particularly when I have a book in hand! I find it’s easier to do at certain times of the day — breakfast and lunch. At the dinner hour, folks tend to stare.

  13. I can be found dining by myself quite often, but never do I find such lovely pictures of my time alone when the meal is over. Congrats on your freshly pressed!

  14. Excellent post! I’m pretty accustomed to seeing movies alone — and being a film blogger, sometimes I even prefer it for the sake of the immersive experience — but dining alone is something I’ve yet to master. I’ve actually just moved to Atlanta to live on my own for the first time, so I’m still working up the motivation to get out there and do things by myself. Your blog just gave me a little extra boost. Thanks. 🙂

  15. I learned to love eating out alone! I live in NYC too and I find it way easier to do here than, say, a small town- you could walk into some places wearing the craziest outfit ever, but since it was in the runways no one looks twice at you. I like to think about eating alone in the same vein, once I realized no one else really cared if I was alone it not, I got over it! I hope you loved eating out in SF, I haven’t been there but its totally on my to-do list, loved the photos 🙂

  16. Just recently, I got lost by bike and was far too hungry or thirsty to care. I went to a restaurant, guzzled water, and then realized, “Hm, this is quite refreshing.” Sometimes, it just feels good. My only problem is that I tend to look at my phone more than anything else.

  17. Eating alone has, from what I feel, become more and more current and widespread. Although I don’t go out to eat alone much, I am always in coffee shops or seeing movies alone. It’s relaxing even. Great post!

  18. Congrats on understanding that there is an interesting pace eating alone. I travel a lot for work and sometimes really enjoy that dinner or breakfast with some good food and maybe a newspaper. Happy travels!

  19. I am mildly obsessed with San Francisco. Been there a couple of times, once for pleasure and once for extreme non-pleasure. LOL! Anyway, dining alone is definitely easier and most people seem to care less about the fact that you’re alone.

    I’d have to agree with others, the pizza looks delicious!

  20. woohoo and good for you. when i was in college i took a creative studies course wherein the professor made us go out to eat and to a movie by ourselves….yay. that was 25 years ago and i’ve enjoyed many meals and movies sans friends and family since. 🙂

  21. That’s awesome and San Fran is one of my fav places ever….I just spent 16 months travelling solo and ate alone a lot, sometimes it was a little lonely but mostly it was great 🙂 You should go to a movie alone, it’s fun! And there’s no popcorn sharing!

  22. after all these years of eating out alone- whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner- I still get the craziest looks from folks. I don’t mind. I can’t seem to do a movie on my own- movies for me are a social event to be shared. Veggies look great!

  23. Being able to eat alone was a skill I felt compelled to cultivate in my early 20’s and it’s served me well! Now whenever I need to grab a quick bite to eat on the run I never have to “worry” whether or not I have someone to join me as a lot of my peers have told me they often do. There is something very liberating about feeling comfortable enough with yourself to eat alone 🙂 but as many have already mentioned, it’s not something everyone does and people still do give strange looks! Love the pictures – the food looks amazing!

  24. Eating alone in Taiwan is pretty common, you see lots of sole people in the “small eats” during all the hours of the day.
    It’s of nice to just eat at your own pace, zone out and people watch.
    I also love watching movies by myself 🙂
    (though, I tend to avoid the high traffic hours such as Friday night)

  25. I think the task of doing anything alone is a bit daunting, but I found a way to overcome any fear of that last year 😀
    I had never been overseas, never spent more than 12 hours by myself, although I make friends quite easily. So I did want any ‘fearless’ person would do – booked a flight to the UK for 6 weeks by myself – a place where I don’t know anyone and didn’t know how to meet people without just being myself and talking to people – it was the BEST 6 weeks of my life! You get over the need to walk around with an ipod in or need your phone with you and you learn how lovely your own company can be – most of all it’s a truly ‘growing’ experience. I’m like you, i loveeee my own company, but not at the expense of ditching friends to go eat by myself all the time!

  26. I thought it was common to do alone. My mother always push me to do anything alone as she says no one will be around you all the time. She’s right. It’s good to do things on your own. However, it’s still better to have some company sometimes 🙂

  27. I love to go to a restaurant on my own once in a while! Especially when I’m travelling. You quit often meet new people and like you said talking to the staff is always nice. I find that as long as you walk in there with confidence, and look around you with confidence no one will stare at you. You just have to get over the weird feeling and a book really helps!

  28. sometimes it is good to eat alone…..HEHE..i’m always doing it since i live on my own in the city…;)

  29. Congrats on being Freshly pressed and on eating out alone. I use camera as companion for sight seeing, but hadn’t thought of it for when eating out. Sometimes I do books. Sometimes I just think thoughts. One time I tried knitting while waiting and listening to the music act. I have no trouble after something arrives that I can play with, even a drink. Salad or soup is even better.

  30. are this is your personal theme for wordpress? or it’s possible to download somewhere?
    plz answer it because i just felt in love in this theme…

  31. Its kinda like going to the cinema alone, laughing out loud on your own is amusing in its self. Just like if you drop your spoon in your soup and it splashes back in your face…..well, that’s just sad : (

  32. I agree with an earlier comment – that pizza looks amazing. And eating alone does have its perks and your self-confidence soars when you do it–and if you are feeling slightly fragile – a book makes all the difference – love your pics

  33. Haha I’ve always had a bit of a fear about eating alone, although I have done it a couple of times and travelled a little by myself before. I’ve never been brave enough to have a proper dinner in a nice restaurant by myself, but reading this makes me think maybe it wouldn’t be so bad! (especially if I got that pizza…)

  34. Nice pictures! I always do restaurants and movies alone and now I’m used to it. It’s not that I don’t like having company, it’s just hard to find one in these busy times.

  35. I’ve never eaten on my own before, I do want to try it once. Would be nice not to have to make chit chat and u can all enjoy the food lol!

  36. Next up…traveling alone! I just discovered how a few months ago and I can’t wait for my next
    “on my own” adventure. It was so worth it the first time. You meet so many interesting people, and do exactly what you want all vacation long, when you want. Its awesome!

  37. I love eating alone, dining alone almost as much as I enjoy dining with company. Dining alone gives me an opportunity to savor my food, contemplate my environment and thoughts and choose how social I want to be. I don’t feel sorry for myself or sad about dining alone, rather I enjoy tremendously!

  38. Stumbled upon your post. I travel often for work so I am almost always alone, at first eating alone was nerve wracking, but I eventually just had to get over it. As a result I have met some incredible people, who were also eating alone. Everyone should learn how to be by themselves, it’s a good confidence builder.

  39. Congrats on being freshly pressed! Great story, I can definitely relate. It is so lonely eating alone, but once you’ve gotten over it there is something quite peaceful about enjoying a meal by yourself. I still have not been to a movie by myself, but it’s on my list of things to do : )

  40. I have eaten out alone a few time, but then I have had my laptop with me or a book. Never just sat there empty handed.
    But that´s most because I always has a book with me or my laptop. So it´s just easy to take it up when I dine alone. 🙂

  41. I’m surprised to see so many negative opinions, or at least, apprehensions, about eating alone at a restaurant. I’ve done it all my life and never worried about any stigma. It’s a great way to read and to eat something I wouldn’t make at home, or to take care of eating before an evening meeting, etc. It would never occur to me that anyone would feel sorry for me going to dinner or a movie alone. I love it! I also love going out with friends; it isn’t a one-or-the-other kind of thing.

  42. It was my Aunt who first told me about going to eat at a restaurant by yourself. I remember giving her a funny look, as if to say ‘Are you mental?’, but it’s actually quite empowering! I also remember my Film Studies teacher in college telling me that he used to go to the cinema on his own. At the time we all thought he was weird, but now it makes sense. The quiet and solitude of going somewhere on your own is bliss. I’m not a very social person, but it makes it so much better when you do go and meet people for lunch, after eating on your own a few times. It makes you appreciate your own company more, and appreciate the company of others when you are in it.

  43. @David: It’s a WordPress theme called ‘Chateau’.

    Thank you all for taking out the time to comment. I am definitely going to try watching a movie next!

  44. I too have started to do more on my own, specifically, going to concerts. Rather than twisting the arm of my friends, sometimes buying their ticket, I go myself. I stand in the middle of a crowd of fans that want to be there just as much as I do. It’s great!

    At the same time, it’s a little sad that we must rationalize such actions, in the ways that you did and I did, because people have become more independent, less flexible, and more narrow-minded about trying something someone else wants to try. In fact, it is probably we, the ones willing to do things on our own, that are also the go-to people among our friends, BECAUSE we are so flexible, and unafraid to try something new.

  45. Great post. Nothing wrong with eating alone, but I definitely agree that it can be intimidating- especially for a girl! Loved the pics…looks like a great bar where you had pizza. By the way, that’s the tallest palm tree I’ve ever seen! AMAZING.

  46. I liked your post and the pictures. My partner broke up with me 6 months ago and in my 28 years of existance, I had also never eaten alone at a restaurant. I really don’t like eating by myself, not even at home, so it has been a challenge for me to actually face the fact that now I am single and that I need to move on with my life.

    I don’t have friends around as I am not a native local. I just moved to Spain a few years ago and the lifestyle just doesn’t allow for me to socialize like I am used to. It’s hard to adapt but I am slowly making some progress. I guess I feel you. But it’s easier when you know you are eating alone for a definite period of time. Because you are out of time or in a business trip…

    Anyway. I am not making any sense but I just wanted to say I liked your post because I know what it feels like to have to go ut on your own and deal with the stares and the looks and whatnot…

  47. I had a brilliant experience once in Delhi. I asked for a table for dinner just for me at the hotel. The waiter smiled, settled me down, swooped away and returned with a little round goldfish bowl. With an energetic goldfish in it. “For company!” He smiled widely and left me to mindlessly watch the fish swimming round and round.

  48. @kato writes: That’s quite sweet actually!

    @Layta: Thanks for writing! I am sure you’ll make a ton of friends very soon. But until then, just go out and have fun…it’s Spain after all 🙂

    @Rebekah: It is tall, isn’t it?

    @Debbie: That’s some good advice from your aunt!

  49. this is an inspiration for everyone who wants to BE ALONE whether in a relationship or not

  50. Eating / doing things alone in general is nice if it is by choice, it can be both satisfying and relaxing. As stated earlier it’s a great way to spend that free afternoon if you want to take in a movie, or try that new restaurant for lunch. A meal at a booth with a book is a great way to spend a long lunch on your own. It is however a completely different story when you are eating alone if you would prefer to eat with others. The meal, the restaurant, and no doubt the other tables filled with people immersed in conversation is an incredibly powerful way to make a person on the lonely side feel utterly alienated from normal society. The silver lining(if there is one) is that the more you do things alone the more accustomed you become to it. After a while it you begin to feel normal rather than that lone curiosity. Once you begin to feel comfortable you’ll begin to realize you have time to think and make observations, “look at that weird bow tie man” and when you are alone if you can muster a friendly smile and a kind word, you are apt to start conversations with strangers, which may be less likely if you are engrossed in conversation in a tight party.
    It’ not my favorite to eat alone, but it is a great time to step out of your normal life routine, and spend some time in your own head while your mouth and stomach are busy.

  51. During my later college years, after moving off campus, I got used to eating alone in restaurants out of necessity. My friends’ class schedules conflicted, and there I was near campus, hungry and not heading back home until late.
    Now, years later, though I’m married with college-age kids, it’s nothing for me to go to a movie or eat lunch alone on occasion. I’m glad for my background, and congratulations on being brave, stepping out, and trying new adventures. And congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Great post.

  52. I ALWAYS dine alone. I hate when fools try to cop some food off my plate or don’t pay their share. And half the time I don’t end up alone. Smell what I’m cookin’?

  53. Since I travel for work I end up dining alone often, and I’ve found that doing so helps you meet so many interesting people that you would never chat it up with if you had a friend with you. Have you found this at all?

  54. one privilege that i found from eating alone is to be able to people watch. i love that 🙂

  55. I don’t mind dining alone! Sometimes it’s nice to be able to just concentrate on the food, and relax enjoy the moment instead of having to make idle chit chat and worry that the other person thinks their steak is too rare. Love dining with others too, there’s a time and a place for both!

  56. Congratulations on discovering the joys of eating alone! Many might find me strange, but since I was 16 I have loved eating, drinking coffee and going to the movies alone. I love company too, of course, but I find doing things alone so relaxing. I get to do whatever I want, at my own pace, and not have to think about anyone else! It’s like taking yourself out for a date!

  57. Nice post, a lot can relate. I feel sad when I eat alone but sometimes I have no choice especially when I go for a business trip

  58. I still can’t seem to get myself to eat along… because who would I talk to? I’m a chatterbox, and the last person I want to get bored of me is the bartender 🙂

  59. I have been eating alone for years and when I first started doing it I didn’t even think about it. I went to a restaurant across from my work on my lunch break and it was nice to have the quiet time away. It wasn’t until weeks later that i realized I was eating alone.
    Being single means you do a lot of things alone and they only thing I cannot do alone is go to the movies. I just cannot. I had tickets for the Avengers last weekend and the friends I was supposed to go out with got sick and I had to let the tickets go to waste.
    I don’t mind eating alone once in awhile, it is nice.

  60. I’ve dined alone before, but it’s not something I like to do especially if I am eating at a restaurant with rave reviews and it is my first time eating there. This is because if you bring companion(s) along, you are able to try a bigger percentage of the menu in one visit.

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