I was prompted to jot down some thoughts on this subject when I recently found myself once again causing a stir among those around me for there I was, a 40-year-old woman in a restaurant very happily dining on her own. Oh, the sideways glances!
I was up at Bells at Killcare, a little over an hour north of Sydney having a “Think Week”, or more accurately a “Writing Three Days”. It’s something I do when I start on one of my books (which I’ve just done). It’s an indulgence, but it does the job – I go somewhere where I can have an early morning exercise explosion, be in beautiful sunny surrounds and have food covered*.
So there I was dining solo, in a full dining room of couples and… more couples. I’m so undeterred by this seemingly renegade culinary situation that it’s not until I get the glances that I realize many folk just don’t find it as blissful as I do. I genuinely love it; I find it nourishing and opening and I think I’ve felt most “me” at such times I find myself sitting in a bustling restaurant or café with a glass of wine and a full meal and my thoughts.
For those who are not so sure how it all works, here’s how I do it:
- Sit at the bar. Or somewhere with high traffic and your back against a wall. Good feng shui.
- To this end, reflect upon the fact that some of life’s most erudite philosophers came up with their most poignant utterances dining in restaurants and cafes alone, their backs against walls to be able to purvey life.
- Have a glass of wine. Red is good for getting into the right reflective frame of mind.
- Order like you mean it. A proper meal. Not just the salad. You are here to nourish (after years of living alone, I do the same at home…I never resort to a tin of tuna on a rice cake!).
- Befriend a waiter. I’ve learned more about humanity from my chats at bars with waiters than anywhere else. There’s something so satisfying and self-contained to strike up a connection where there’s an appropriate distance that allows a certain unexpected intimacy.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for dining-for-one modifications (a smaller portion of sides or a cheese platter for one). Now that you’ve befriended a waiter, it will be their pleasure. There’s a certain grace and generosity that others will feel toward you and your situation. Allow them this wonderful opportunity to share it with you.
- Take something to do – a book, a newspaper, a notepad and pen, dare-I-say-it your phone. I don’t normally advocate distractions, but when you dine solo it really is quite a lovely, cosy feeling to submerge into a focused reverie…playing around…sending texts to people you’ve neglected…My favourite acroutement is a map! Oh, the joy I get from navigating a route for the next day’s journey or reflecting over where I’ve been.
- But when the meal arrives eat only. Savour. Dining solo is a great time to practice mindful eating. I extract the most stupendous flavours from food on my own because I’m able to give it my full attention. I once cried from the rapture I felt eating a porchini risotto in the South of France. Which is an entirely wanky sentence right there (apologies!).
- If you feel like it, be the crazy woman. That is, feel free to lean over and throw in a comment to the conversation next to you. Or smile generously at someone across from you and see if it can open up a situation. Why not? You’re in a foreign situation and you’re out on a limb already. Be the renegade. The unique one. The brave one.
- When you have the urge to leave, sit a little longer, just to be with it all. And to allow yourself to be proud of yourself.
- Leave with a cosy, self-sufficient, I’m-okay-on-my-own-so-it-doesn’t-matter-what-else-follow feeling.
If you dine solo, please do chime in…
For those interested, I stayed at Bells at Killcare because it’s in the bush and right on one of my favourite national parks – Bouddhi NP. Also, I wanted to experience Stephen Manfredi’s menu, built from whatever’s in their large vegetable garden. Bells is part of the Mr & Mrs Smith network and so I received a discount.