I think I’ll use the drive-thru

Some people can pull this off, but I can’t:

One of my joys in life is dining alone. I know that may seem strange to some people but it really is an activity I cherish. When our children were little and I was home with them during the week, my husband would take care of them on one or the other weekend morning so I could go to breakfast with a book or the daily newspaper. I’ve made note of (and usually vowed never to return to) restaurants where the host or hostess queries me with “just one?” sounding like code for “poor leper you, I guess no-one want to spend time with you.” And I’ve made note of (and deliberately returned to) those where the hostess or host smiles and simply asks “one?” as if 1 is a quantity just like any other.

This poor leper will hide in his kitchen and dine on finger foods.

I’m not quite sure why this is true. I have less of an issue dining alone when I’m on the road, perhaps because I sense that I have no choice in the matter — but then, I sense that I have no choice in the matter even if I’m just round the corner.

Still, it has to be something of a relief when the wait staff don’t immediately brand you as a pariah.





14 comments

  1. McGehee »

    1 June 2007 · 2:16 pm

    Every so often I go to Steak ‘n’ Shake for breakfast. By myself. Of course, the place is always nearly empty and the servers are happy to see anybody come in, let alone one who always tips $2 on a $7 meal.

    (And I was doing that even before Mandy Patinkin’s character in “Dead Like Me” recommended it as a way to get good service.)

  2. MikeSwi... »

    1 June 2007 · 5:08 pm

    People at restaurants don’t care and don’t give it a second thought. Too many people travel on business constantly anymore to let one person dining alone waste a millisecond of thought from a restaurant worker.

  3. CGHill »

    1 June 2007 · 5:47 pm

    Oh, I’m sure they’re not giving me a thought. The problem is that I’m giving me a thought.

  4. miriam »

    1 June 2007 · 8:28 pm

    When I was a little girl I always thought people who ate alone in restaurants looked lonely.

  5. Mister Snitch! »

    1 June 2007 · 10:15 pm

    I often eat alone, but the philosopher Epicurus said it was spiritually wrong to eat alone. He said “Before you eat or drink anything, consider carefully who you eat or drink with rather than what you are to eat or drink: for feeding without a friend is the life of a lion or a wolf.” (Or, as the philosopher Miriam noted, ‘People eating alone look lonely’.) Epicurus had some interesting (and, I feel, correct) ideas about how to live one’s life.

    I also think back to one or two Frasier episodes where he was humiliated by having to eat alone in a restaurant.

    Still, whatever dining alone does for a man in terms of making him appear a social pariah, it’s somehow worse for a woman.

  6. Mister Snitch! »

    1 June 2007 · 10:16 pm

    Of course, there is a less spiritual, more pragmatic consideration:

    “He who eats alone chokes alone.”
    (Arab Proverb, H. L. Mencken)

  7. Francis W. Porretto »

    2 June 2007 · 4:57 am

    Being an avid reader, I too enjoy dining alone, usually with a fork in one hand and a book in the other. But there are times and places where this is not permitted.

    In 1983, I was in Los Angeles for six months on a consulting contract. I was staying in a hotel, of course. After work each day, I would venture out with an economics textbook under my arm to some nearby restaurant for my evening meal.

    I always began dinner alone. I never finished it alone. Not even once in 180 tries.

    Angelenos, in 1983, were the most gregarious people in America. The sight of someone eating alone in a public place offended them so greatly that they simply had to do something about it. And on every occasion, they did. The sight of an obvious out-of-towner eating alone — in a suit and tie, no less — mobilized them to immediate action in defense of the local mores.

    I was “picked up” by every imaginable configuration of humanity. All the races, colors, and creeds, at that. Families of gigantic size, or single men or women who’d also happened out, tragically, without company. The sight of Mises’s Human Action or Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State in my hand didn’t deter them for an instant.

    I’m not really complaining; my “rescuers” were always friendly, always pleasant, and almost always adequate conversationalists. But I got less reading done in those six months than in any comparable period in my life. I’ve been straining to make up the deficit ever since.

    My wife understands. She might even say so, if I could get her to look away from her BLEEP!ing crossword puzzle for a few seconds. Sweetie? Hello, sweetie? Oh, never mind.

  8. Moira Breen »

    2 June 2007 · 8:31 am

    I, too, love eating out alone – particularly at breakfast. Can’t say I’ve ever taken offense at “just one”, though, or felt pitied or awkward or like a pariah. (If you really want to feel like a pariah, go to cafés or restaurants alone with an infant. I can understand why wait-staff might dread the sight of a mess-making toddler, but a sleeping baby safely pinned in its carrier? It was truly weird the number of times I’d sit in a café and be ignored. And, upon actively requesting service, having the waitress, perfectly pleasant and in all sincerity, ask, “Oh, did you want to order something?” No, I always wander into food and drink purveying establishments with no particular purpose in mind.) Pace Mr. Snitch!, though, I don’t think it’s worse for a woman, per se. It’s worse for the sort of woman who thinks being alone is a mark of social shame, and there are probably more women like that than men. They radiate insecurity, and thereby provoke pity and discomfort in others.

    He and Epicurus have a point, though. I’m not lonely, but I’ll own that my preference for dining alone marks me as a bit of a savage. We lone diners might like public eating establishments because we can benefit from the feelings of comfort and security that come from being amidst our fellow pack-dogs, without having to actually interact with them beyond the most cursory level. We’re not as uncivilized as people who eat in a group in front of a television, though.

    Francis – Had I been in your shoes in LA in 1983, I would probably have killed long before bonhomme #180. I admire your forebearance.

  9. McGehee »

    2 June 2007 · 10:38 am

    I’m going to burnish my anti-social bona fides by opining that people who can’t stand to be alone in public are depriving themselves of the most congenial possible company. ;-p

  10. Andrea Harris »

    2 June 2007 · 6:06 pm

    I’m with Moira and McGehee. If you can’t stand to be alone then please don’t eat out alone. You can get food delivered, after all.

  11. CGHill »

    2 June 2007 · 6:47 pm

    I should point out here that I am alone most of the time, and it doesn’t usually bother me. But the operative word here is “usually,” and that does imply the occasional exception.

    As for social shame, I’m in favor of it generally, but only when someone’s done something to deserve it.

  12. unimpressed »

    3 June 2007 · 4:18 am

    When I was single, I far preferred to eat out (alone, even) than to order in. First off, I’m not much of a cook and second, I hate washing dishes.

    For the most part, it is worth the added expense to not to have to deal with pre- and post-meal activities. :)

  13. Andrea Harris »

    3 June 2007 · 8:43 am

    Well, if anyone tried to socially shame me for planning to eat out alone, I’d never speak to them again (if it was a restaurant I’d turn around and walk out — and broadcast their treatment of me far and wide). If anyone came up to me at a restaurant and started bothering me because poor-thing-she’s-all-alone — well, there are many uses for a fork besides eating.

  14. Anne »

    13 June 2007 · 3:37 pm

    Just found these remarks, all kicked off by my musing about how much I like to dine alone (well, with a book). I’m amazed there are people who don’t like it and/or object to it. I love the idea of going with a baby to a cafe – and awaiting the reaction! And I like Andrea’s idea of using forks for, uh, alternative uses. I suspect that if all those people had come to chat me out of my solitude, as they did Frank Poretto, I’d have discovered alternative uses for the silverware as well as my book.

    Oscar Wilde famously liked to travel and dine alone, journal in hand, because thereby (he is said to have said) he always had scintillating company. Indeed.

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