“He who eats alone chokes alone.” -Arab Proverb
For whatever reason, people often traverse a city’s intimate spaces alone. I myself am not unfamiliar with this practice. When it comes to eating out alone, I find this equally the most enjoyable and most tricky conundrum to willingly place myself in, only because I like to share the thoughts that flood my mind when I eat delicious food. I want to express what I find mesmerizing about the beauty of each rich layer of my pastel de trés leches, or how I would like to kiss the genius who believed it was a good idea to sprinkle peanuts and spritz lime over a hot steaming plate of chicken pad thai. No sarcasm involved here.
In some cities, and I can imagine for many cities actually, when a person moves alone, the difficulty in finding a social group can simply revolve around places to go in order to meet others and share common feelings; expressions. And in the event of spontaneous solo dining experiences like business trips or traveling solo, eating alone is bound to happen. I think more restaurants and dining establishments should take this into consideration.
Eating good food is a sensory-driven experience. And by all means, it can feel simultaneously exciting and even calming when experienced alone or with another person. I can remember during my childhood, when my mother prepared my food for me and I sat at the table either by myself or with my brother, I felt free to get up and dance in between each mouthful. The food did that to me. I was thankful for it, and every satisfactory emotion I felt in that moment needed to be expressed. Yes, I was only 7 years old at the time, but this 7 year old had a lot of soul.
But more than anything, for me, eating good food tastes better when the experience is shared. In my mother and father’s kitchen, I felt comfortable sharing that feeling with whoever was nearby.
Times and settings have changed, and I find myself more and more visiting food establishments solo. Now putting myself in a dining environment where I am experiencing this same type of pleasure, but I do not feel comfortable enough to express that, is un-fulfilling, no matter how well-crafted the dish is. The solution? Creating dining environments that encourage the solo diner to connect with other solo diners. And I don’t necessarily mean creating these environments to incite folks to get up and dance or strike a pose if their spirit moves them (although I think I’m onto something with this), but rather emphasis on connecting with your emotions and another diner over a plate of food that you both find incredible, and feeling bold and relaxed enough to express that, even its for a one minute or one hour.
There are ways to do this in the traditional food establishment. The bar is a key area to do this. Yet going further than chatting it up with bartenders and staff, when an entire restaurant functions in this vein, I imagine wonderful possibilities: long tables set up for a community-style feast? Small tables that will only be waited on when all of the chairs are filled? A limited amount of hand-held menus that require folks to either ask fellow diners to borrow it or read over together? In essence, what would allow the person dining to interact with another individual comfortably and intimately?
The only requirement for this dining experiment to be successful, is that you come alone.