Table For One

There’s something that doesn’t sit right about eating alone. I’ll bet you know exactly what I mean. Even if you’re one of those independent-as-all-hell Amelia Earhart types, most comfortable when you’re flying solo—and I know you are—chances are you’ve thought twice before hitting up that chic restaurant all by your lonesome.

It’s not a question of whether or not you are independent: you are. It’s about the social expectations attached to the whole exercise of dining, and how unshakeable they can be.

Here’s how the story is supposed to go: if you’re eating alone, it’s at home, and you’re whipping up a nutritious bowl of whole wheat pasta with spring peas in your glossy white kitchen, all Rachael Ray with your adorably tousled mane and casual smile. Or you’re baking a frozen pizza that fills your apartment with the aromas of la bella vita, visions of sun-warmed cobblestones and serenading accordionists.

If you’re going out to eat, you’re (obviously) going out with battalions of smart-heeled beautiful friends, sipping cocktails all in a row. Or you’re seated with your gorgeous family around a huge white-clothed table scattered with wine, appetizers and bonhomie. Or you’re a foxy Cocker Spaniel on a face-numbingly amazing first date with your thuggish-yet-winsome boyfriend, sharing a plate of spaghetti.

Here’s the thing: sometimes you don’t want to share the spaghetti. Sometimes you don’t want to share the table. You know those days? Those are table-for-one days. Unless you count your book as your date. (Which you should.)

We need to take back the table for one. One clear benefit: you can eat that huge cheeseburger like a hangry werewolf under a full moon, completely judgment-free. Side of fries—need you ask? How about a side of I’ll-let-Future-Me-worry-about-these-carbs-thanks-so-much? [Sidebar: Julia Child, everyone’s favorite foodie, has some good dieting advice: “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”]

Another major benefit: you can read that novel—or just stare glassy-eyed into the middle distance—while someone else waits on you hand and foot, continually refilling your Long Island Iced Tea and asking you sweetly if you need anything, anything at all.

I’m not proposing some kind of narcissistic fantasy in which we all thumb our noses at communal rituals in favor of being alone. I’m not saying that I did it my way is a good motto for every aspect of life—even eating. Sometimes you do need those beautiful friends smiling at you around the table. Sometimes (I suppose) it’s fine to share the spaghetti.

But there’s something wrong with the culture if the mere act of walking alone into a restaurant is enough to send a current of discomfort up the spine of even the most confident women. Maybe it’s time for us to change the culture. As Julia says—“you’ve got to have a ‘what-the-hell attitude.’” About cooking, yes. And about dining alone. Maybe about everything. 

Bon appetite!