Dining Alone

Dining Alone

Dining out alone is one of my favorite things to do. It gives me great pleasure to sit by myself, notebook near my plate, pretending to be a restaurant critic while studying the folks seated around me. I can almost hear you gasp at my confession—brazen lady! Most people would rather skip a meal than eat alone in a restaurant, but for me it is a practice that gives me both a feeling of peace and has provided some of my quirkiest writing material.

This fun scene with Steve Martin in The Lonely Guy calls up memories of my many dinners alone. https://youtu.be/kQ7CNUuoe3E  

Recently while dining alone in an upscale restaurant I accidently overheard two young businessmen discuss a wide range of blushable topics from the best disposable diapers for their babies to unmentionable male adventures. I could not help but think that Jane Austen would have enjoyed the liberty of such solo outings. Picture her sitting alone at a table at the Clarendon, inkbottle and pen next to her plate as she jots down the highlights of conversations taking place nearby. It does paint an outlandish picture. 🙂

I have no doubt that in lieu of lone restaurant visits, Jane found a way to disappear into the woodwork while noting the tête-à-têtes going on in cozy parlors, ballrooms, and of course dining rooms.

One her most stellar scenes of accidental eavesdropping that became the pivot point for the Pride and Prejudice plot (don’t you just love alliterations?) must be when Elizabeth heard Darcy’s now classic insult thoughtlessly delivered close by: She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me. That casual, but cruel remark draws us into the story for we are at once on Elizabeth’s side hoping to see her humble this proud man.

Of course the very thought of dining unaccompanied in public would have given Jane and her contemporaries a case of the vapors. But what further characters might she have discovered while seated alone at a table in a restaurant? As I listen to the two well-dressed young men chat on saucier subjects, I am curious as to how Jane complied her pitch-perfect studies of people. The limited social circle to which Regency era women were confined makes Jane Austen’s writings about human foibles all the more impressive.

Please know that I do enjoy the company of friends while dining, but there is much to recommend occasionally sitting alone in a fancy restaurant—just listening to the conversations of others. Not having to engage in chatter with a table partner leaves a writer free to observe the other people in the room as they expose their inner feelings by body language, facial expression, and the unspoken words.

You may see lovers who gaze into one another’s eyes as if peering into souls, the old married folks who barely need to converse, and the awkward first-time dates who struggle to impress with witty repartee, daring not to pause for fear they will lose their place and have to begin at the beginning of their rehearsed wit. You may wonder why I suggest lurking in fancy restaurants—they are usually much quieter and thus, all the better to hear, my dear.

With love & laughter,







21 Responses to Dining Alone

    • Sophie, Thank you for commenting. Yes, that’s how I got started dining alone. I was traveling for business and pleasure. I recommend the experience, if only now and then. 🙂

  1. I generally go out with my family but there is still plenty of people watching and interesting conversations that we sometimes overhear. The one time something was said at the table next to our own that had my children in hysterics and became something of an inside joke between us for quite some time.

  2. I’ve gone out alone a lot in my life. That sounds so pitiful sitting there but (LOL) I truly enjoy the chance to read with no more interruptions than do I need more tea. As for the ladies room trips…I’ve signaled the waiter and let them know not to clear my table, I’ll be right back and then put my reader in my bag and gone and come back and continued on. Of course I don’t carry much either. I HAVE been mentally pulled from my book by conversations though. I think my most memorable was the young couple arguing/discussing the best ways/places/etc to make sure that they successfully conceived. Uh, NOT restaurant conversations people! I’ve heard breakups and pickups, business propositions and job interviews. I usually tune them out and focus on my book until something picks up my subconscious. I can just imagine Jane doing something similar but her focus would have been what she could pickup to make sport out of. 🙂

    • Stephanie, You do have dining alone down to a fine art. My goodness, I can’t imagine enduring that couple’s conversation. I wonder if they were completely oblivious to where they were? I agree with you, it is hard for me to concentrate on my reading with conversations within my hearing. That’s why I like to take a notebook. Occasionally I will hear a remark that leads me to think of a great line for a character. If not, I can always pretend to be a restaurant critic. 🙂

  3. What I love is the pad and pen next to your plate. You must drive the restaurant nuts thinking you’re a critic! That is so mischievously Barbara! Thank you for bringing this humorous and thoughtful post into my morning!

    • Georgina, Thank you. I have been doing that for a zillion years. That’s why when I saw the Steve Martin movie Lonely Guy, I burst out laughing. Not that I am lonely, but yes… I do pretend to be a restaurant reviewer. Actually I did that for about two years, but there are only so many ways you can say “delicious.” I ran out of adjectives and so retired from writing food columns. 🙂

  4. I wanted to try it… I’d seen others do it and had heard it was an awesome writing experience. I had an assignment and I took my laptop with me so I could write in the corner… you know the restaurant/bistro where they offer wifi. I felt so alive and smug… then I had to go to the bathroom and didn’t have anyone handy to watch my stuff. Dang… ruined a perfectly good writing experience.

  5. I usually go out with family but even so it is funny to listen to other conversations just to hear how funny they are! I imagine it is better to be alone when doing this though!lol

  6. The only thing I dislike about dining alone is when the hostess asks, “Just one?”, with the emphasis on “just”. They never ask, “Just two” or “Just three”!

  7. I’ve only ever dined out alone just once in my 54 (almost 55) years! I was finally having a precious weekend totally to myself. I went for lunch and sat reading the history magazine I’d treated myself too and also people watched from the riverside window I was sitting in. Complete bliss!!!!!!

  8. Love this post, Barbara. And I can just picture you doing this as well. Tee hee. In the past, I dined alone quite frequently but not without a good book to read. Always read while I ate my meal. I could always eat in peace without talking or having to think about what to say. Am I bad? Nah! Hehehehehehe!

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