While many people enjoy eating at a restaurant alone, as a socially anxious person, it’s always been a big fear of mine. This year I’ve been pushing myself to try new things, so in an extremely out of character turn-of-events, I decided to take on the noble task of eating at a restaurant all by myself.
After I made the decision to partake in this anxiety-inducing activity, I began to scope out restaurants everywhere I went, trying to find the perfect spot to dip my toes in dining on my own. One day I was on a sunset walk in my neighbourhood, when I spotted a cute (and extremely eclectic) mom-and-pop pub around the corner from my house. I’d seen people dining alone here time and time again, so after scoping it out as I walked by, it felt like the perfect baby step in my solo dining journey.
I embarked on my expedition completely alone: no phone, no book, nothing to draw or write with. It was just me, myself and my wallet. As I stepped in from the cold, I spotted a booth by a window in the corner. I slid in, ordered a Sapporo and pushed myself to wait a while before ordering food so that I could really take in the experience. Little did I know, I didn’t have to take that extra time at all. Over the course of the next two hours, I learned a lot. So here it is: everything I discovered during my first time eating alone at a restaurant.
The most uncomfortable part was waiting for the food to arrive
Waiting to order was easy. I was distracted by the menu and, since no one was there with me, I found I had the time to read it over more thoroughly and pay attention to how everything was made. I was feeling pretty nervous still and I was at a diner after all, so I thought to myself, “what better comfort food than a classic burger and fries?”
The period of time after I ordered was the most difficult part of the entire meal. Waiting for my food without anything to look at felt uncomfortable, and I kept worrying about what the people around me were thinking. As my nerves slowly settled, I still found myself twiddling my thumbs and looking around at everyone else in the restaurant. I really enjoyed looking out the window, but in the midst of feeling awkward, it felt like an easy thing to lean on and the whole point of this experience was to push myself to try something new. So I avoided looking out the window and slowly began to get lost in thoughts, no matter how much I tried to stay present (you know, for the integrity of the experiment).
I couldn’t help but eavesdrop… a lot
After I finally began to sink in to the present and my nerves took a backseat, I still wasn’t quite sure what to do. I started to find myself eavesdropping…a lot. As I was sitting at my table in silence, I couldn’t help but listen in on the couple on a first date beside me. Just as I started to feel pretty awful about what I was doing, I actually learned some great advice.
One of the people on the date stopped in the middle of their conversation, looked up at the person across from them and said, “I guess if I learned anything from that experience it’s that every reaction is an opportunity to learn and grow.” In that moment, I couldn’t help but look inward. Was I too focused on other people’s reactions instead of my own? Were my nerves ultimately hindering the experience and preventing me from growing?
How often do we really get quality time with ourselves without a phone or another person to distract us?
Somehow, hearing those words made something click. As I settled, I discovered new ways to find joy in the experience. How often do we really get quality time with ourselves without a phone or another person to distract us? If there’s one thing I learned from this, it’s that being present is a process. In the midst of such a chaotic and rapidly changing world, it’s hard to learn to take a second for yourself and breathe – and eating alone (without the comfort of the distractions in my home) offered me the opportunity to do just that.
I was more thoughtful with my food
Because I was alone and didn’t feel rushed, I actually ate much slower than I usually would at a restaurant. I got to spend time tasting and evaluating the flavours (yes, in a diner burger) instead of focusing on having something to say. Ultimately, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted – all while the food was still hot.
Because of this, I actually ended up staying much longer than I had anticipated. Since I could leave when I wanted to – and, as you know, I was dreading the experience – I figured I’d be bolting out of there right after my meal. Instead, without my TV or phone there to distract me, I felt more calm and present than I had in a long time and decided to stay and enjoy the environment. I never made this connection before that day, but I think that dining alone at a restaurant could be a form of slow-living, which is the notion that life can move very fast and that slowing it down can benefit your mental and physical well-being.
I felt more calm and present than I had in a long time and decided to stay and enjoy the environment.
I built connections with strangers
When I first got there, I noticed that an older Italian man sitting at a table nearby was also eating alone. Halfway through his meal, he got up to unplug his laptop, but my foot was in the way and he accidentally brushed his coat against it. We both looked up simultaneously and exclaimed a quick “sorry” before exchanging a chuckle.
As he stood up, he looked at me with the most tender smile across his face and said, “maybe we should all learn to stop being so sorry all the time.” As he headed back to his table and continued on with his meal, his passing comment began to really resonate with me. Maybe I could take that unapologetic approach to the rest of my dinner, and simply enjoy the experience for what it was instead of worrying about what the people around me were thinking.
Before he left he came up to me to say goodbye on his way out. “Your food looks delicious,” he said, flashing one more smile. “Make sure you enjoy it.” To this day I still think about that moment, and I feel that we built a more authentic connection than I would have been able to if I was at the restaurant with another person.
I can’t wait to do it again
When I was starting out on this adventure, I honestly thought I’d never want to do it again. Now that I’ve found so much joy in the forced quiet time, which allowed me to really think and be still, I want to make this a regular part of my weekly routine. It feels like a calming activity after a busy work day, since it forces you to stop and settle back in to the moment.
So, if you’re worried about dining alone, I encourage you to give it a whirl. If you’re anything like me, you might learn a lot more than you expect.