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Table For One

By Hilary McNevin,
3rd August 2011

Dining alone in restaurants is embraced by some and frowned upon by others. We talk to some solo diners only to realise that they might be enjoying themselves at their table for one just as much as a table of many.

I

t could be considered either a luxury or a necessity. One needs to eat and at those times when there’s no one to eat with, one eats alone.

Dining solo has long been something I have enjoyed. Travelling or not, the very idea of sitting at a table, ordering exactly what I wish and not having to chat about anything represents a little moment of peace for me. But this isn’t always the case. Many people, if given the choice, would always eat with company. There can be stigma attached to the lone diner – they’ve got no friends, they must be miserable company – but the extravagance of time alone often means the lone diner is, arguably, more content than those around them.

Melanie Young is a new media consultant and dines alone occasionally, out of desire. “I really like heading out alone into the CBD and enjoying an hour or two eating at a restaurant bar. The bars at MoVida, MoVida Next Door, Huxtable and Cumulus Inc. are my favourites.” A rich social life often leads to wish for a little balance, Young adds. “I’m very lucky – I have loads of friends and no shortage of dining company – but every now and again I love to dine alone.”

In a society that can be quick to judge those who enjoy their own company and where social circles of friends and family are attributed value and merit, it’s refreshing to find that there are men and women who, while having a healthy social life, choose to balance it with time to themselves in dining spaces.

Josh Yeats, Financial Controller at Mariana Hardwick, finds solo dining satisfying. “When done well it can be a nice reminder that society is kind and convivial,” he says. “I’ve dined alone at Pho Chu The [in Richmond] probably 20 times. It is my happy place, somewhere I can go anytime and be satisfied and tap into a feeling of goodness."

A table for one can also be a help to some people’s work. Caleb Ming, Director of Photography for Singapore-based studio SURROUND and occasional contributor to Broadsheet travels extensively and uses uninterrupted dining time to observe those around him. “When I'm alone I get to people-watch a bit,” he says. “That's what I truly enjoy, seeing people eat, listen to their conversations and see how they live their lives. Being a photographer, it's inevitable that you are a little bit of a voyeur.”

The negative connotations or judgments that may surround lone dining don’t seem to worry the people we spoke with, but there are certain behaviours they are aware of. “It really is about how one behaves,” says Ming. “If a lone man constantly checks out other people with no tact, that's going to send alarm bells ringing, but I travel alone for my business and have had to learn to enjoy a meal on my own. It's quick and fuss free.”

Melanie Young takes a different perspective. “It is unwise to make stereotyped, ill-informed assumptions (about solo diners). I’ve eaten alone at the sushi bar at Kuni’s in Little Bourke Street for years. I can see myself dining solo in the future at Golden Fields and St Peter’s Bar & Restaurant. I like my own company; I love feeling autonomous and independent. I love the opportunity to sit back and take in everything going on around me, or not, whatever I feel like.”

That said, the space in which a lone diner chooses to eat can be crucial. As Yeats explains, "At Pho Chu The and the City Wine Shop, I have sat down for a meal with the expectation of being completely alone but have been pleasantly surprised by the pleasant company of neighbouring diners. It feels good to dine somewhere that you feel comfortable in no matter what the occasion or circumstances."

Aesthetics matter to Ming. “I would say a very calm and visual space that would make it interesting for one to just look around,” he offers. “Interesting places tend to attract interesting folk.”

Young, on the other hand, looks for service and a menu that supports the lone diner. “In my home town, [I like] a shared eating space (a bar or shared table); small plates so I can access a taste of many interesting parts of the menu; a good list of wines by the glass; a welcoming attitude to solo diners on the part of staff.”

Dining solo is a choice many people make for themselves and is intensely personal. So next time you see a lone diner remember, don’t worry. They’re probably quite happy on their own.

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