An Ode To The Joys & Privilege Of Dining Alone
— Updated on 22 September 2023

An Ode To The Joys & Privilege Of Dining Alone

— Updated on 22 September 2023
Randy Lai
WORDS BY
Randy Lai

In the era through which the developed world is now living, it seems a sadly matter-of-fact observation that even as we attempt to physically wall ourselves off from unwanted, excess stimuli, there are increasingly few pursuits left in daily life that we’re able to enjoy on our own.

It’s an endemic sensation: detectible in the glut of massively multiplayer titles that dominate the video game industry; or the vast, inescapable construct of social media — that addictively engineered nightmare realm which fills us all with dread of FOMO, loneliness, or what is otherwise best described as that creeping sensation of having been left out.

A similarly sinister projection of aloneness tends to enter the conversation, whenever we consider our wider culture of eating out at restaurants in 2023.

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Time for a personal anecdote: about a decade ago, whilst attending law school in Brisbane; I had the (mis)fortune of bumping into a fellow classmate at the local megamall, just as I was sitting down to a solo dolo dinner of Ajisen Ramen.

I still recall her facial expression — a cocktail of bewilderment, diffusing into faint distaste — and for the first time in my young adult life, realised that choosing wilfully to eat by yourself was an act many otherwise sensible people deemed very unseemly.

As an only child and survivor of the whole revolving-door-of-boarding-schools lifestyle; it had never previously occurred to me that this mundane activity could be construed so negatively. And yet (despite the global influence of about a hundred socio-economic factors at play) there are reams of data supporting the idea that we, as a broad collective, are embracing the pleasures of dining without company.

eating out
Pictured: Jeremy Irons, as John Tuld, attacks some steak and a bottle of Sangiovese in the penultimate sequence of the 2011 drama Margin Call.

Earlier this year, The Spectator reported that the online reservation platform OpenTable found a “160 per cent increase over four years in bookings of one, while many restaurants are installing bar seating to accommodate the growing number of solo diners.”

Recall any number of the buzziest new restaurant openings in Australia these past three years (the Gimlets and Pellegrino 2000s of the world) and those summations begin to feel even more probative.

The truth then, encoded in little nuggets of industry info, appears to be that even F&B operators themselves are becoming accustomed to (and perhaps even welcome) the adventures of the lone eater. Elli Jafari, acclaimed hotelier behind The Standard’s property in London, identified “a level of real comfort” that is specific to eating out sans company. Enjoyment, in a word, may be boiled down to freedom.

For a certain breed of diner (in the very real, worst-case scenario: the kind of person who refers to themselves as “a foodie”) the determination to dine out alone excises with it sensory distraction and the fear of judgment that can accompany group bookings.

We see that prerequisite hard at work inside the subculture of “food tourism”: a dog whistle for those activities of the Eat Pray Love diner; whose surplus of both time and money allows them to patronise the world’s great restaurants — more often than not, with a kind of detached, checklist-like formality.

Of course, I don’t make light of the privilege inherent in choosing to eat out in a top-flight restaurant by one’s self as an excuse for finger-pointing; but rather, to stress (in exaggerated fashion) how much more palpable the dining experience is when you fly solo. The American critic Alissa Wilkinson went so far as to call it self-care: “a way to derive immense satisfaction from… the ambience, the flavours and textures.”

In other words? Dining alone absolves us from the responsibility of being hosts (or participating in an enforced gathering) so that we may be more acutely aware of all the details and tiny interactions that transform a plateful of food into something altogether more magical.

12 years after being laughed out of that Ajisen Ramen shop in Brisbane — and many hundreds of solo meals later — I find there’s nowhere in a restaurant more helpful to the cause of converting “table for one” sceptics than the bar counter.

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Both an integral cog in any well-oiled venue and an island unto itself, the bar lays plain many of the advantages that come with dining by yourself: whether it’s a ringside seat to the work of an especially competent bartender or proximity to the inner workings of that most sacred place where the rear and front-of-house meet.

Here, a more convivial energy invariably dominates (of course it does, there’s liquor everywhere): so much so that, from time to time, you can even exit the confines of your solitude; and strike up an enjoyable conversation with the person sitting next to you.

Hopefully, it’ll be the kind that characters in Michael Mann thrillers love to have.

“I am alone. Not lonely.”

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Randy Lai
WORDS by
Following 6 years in the trenches covering consumer luxury across East Asia, Randy joins Boss Hunting as the team's Commercial Editor. His work has been featured in A Collected Man, M.J. Bale, Soho Home, and the BurdaLuxury portfolio of lifestyle media titles. An ardent watch enthusiast, boozehound and sometimes-menswear dork, drop Randy a line at [email protected].

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