For me, eating out is pure, unadulterated pleasure. The whole experience of restaurant dining is truly magical… the food, the wine, the lack of washing up afterwards. What’s not to love? Restaurants allow you to relax and focus on the basic joy that is eating and drinking. Walking away with a lighter wallet and a fuller stomach, slightly comatosed from a three course meal and perhaps too much Pinot. There’s no greater happiness. Period.
In the cold winter months, I found myself dreaming of summer dining. Eating out, surrounded by a seemingly never-ending group of gorgeous friends in beer gardens and quaint roof-top eateries. This fantasy I cherished, shivering in my onesie desperately clinging to a sad mug of tea. However, as summer rolled around, my fantasy had become more and more unrealistic. The sad reality of university summers is that everyone (and I mean everyone) you know is busy all of the time. Some people are travelling, some are at home, some are working. Your once wide circle of friends has suddenly dwindled to just one of your flatmates who you see at best for five minutes a day before you go to work.
In the past, I thought this sad state of affairs meant that eating out was off the menu. I, like many other people, always attached a weird shame to being in a restaurant alone. We see restaurant culture as something deeply social, and therefore we link dining alone with loneliness and isolation. I was also very guilty of connecting eating out with dating, and so for me dining alone only emphasized my single life. In the past I wouldn’t have dreamed of having a coffee by myself, let alone a three course meal.
However, recently there has been a real shift in my mindset which I think is partly related to a change in confidence, but also linked to a growing culture and trend that it’s okay to be alone. With the publication of books such as What a Time to be Alone by Chidera Eggerue (aka The Slumflower), the idea of being alone is slowly becoming destigmatized. Eggerue writes about being alone in the romantic sense, but I believe her message can be applied to just becoming comfortable with existing in your own company.
As a young woman, I feel that eating alone in a restaurant can be a small act of activism. Society places so much pressure, particularly on women, to be social and to be in the company of others. Therefore, eating alone is a demonstration that you do not need to be with a partner or surrounded by friends and family to be worthy of the luxury that is restaurant dining. You, and just you deserve to enjoy this experience. You, alone, are enough.
And so as I write this, alone in a café, feeling comfortable and content in my own company, I feel a real sense of joy. I no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed to be eating or drinking in public by myself. I look around at my fellow solo diners and feel a real affinity with them. I think to myself, as Eggerue so wonderfully explains… What a time to be Alone.