The communal experience of dining with others is one of my greatest pleasures. I love cooking for others and eating with others, and I love the conversation that occurs when I'm breaking bread with family and friends. I'm also very comfortable dining alone, whether it's at home or at a restaurant. In fact, I enjoy eating by myself every once in a while.
Nearly half of all meals in America are eaten solo, according to The Washington Post. Breakfast is the most common meal eaten alone, and many lunches are now consumed at a work desk. While dinner is the meal most commonly shared with others, increasingly people are having that meal alone, too, either at home or at a restaurant.
For some, dining out alone has been made less awkward by technology.
"It’s almost rare now that a single diner will walk in without some type of device,” Mark Politzer, Bourbon Steak’s general manager, told the Washington Post in 2011 from the Georgetown Four Seasons restaurant. "It’s really changed the experience for single diners. It’s less awkward for them, but they’re more engaged in work or whatever else they’re doing on their device than in having a conversation with us or focusing on the meal."
I've been known to pull out my phone or tablet while dining alone, but more and more I've been attempting not to do so. Some interesting things have happened to me when I've chosen to connect with other diners around me instead of connecting to the Internet. When I was writing "The One Year Women in Christian History," I struck up a conversation with a woman seated next to me. She gave me some names to consider for inclusion in the book, one of which made it into the book. I've been given great wine recommendations. I've met people who have ended up hiring me to write for them. As a result of my solo dining, I struck up a friendship with a bartender who wrote about our friendship in his book.
Instead of frantically looking for a table or bar stool near an outlet so you can plug in, keep your device tucked away and try connecting with others or with yourself in one of these ways.
1. People watch. Use your imagination and make up stories about the people you see.
2. Sit at the bar and talk to other people or the bartender.
3. Write in a journal.
4. Make bucket lists.
5. Write letters.
6. Practice mindful eating. Pay attention to the flavors of the food and the sensations you experience while eating. Start with whatever drink you order. If it's alcoholic, all the better. Really pay attention to what happens after that first sip, then the second sip.
7. Read a book — one with a front cover and a back cover and real pages in between.
8. Do a crossword puzzle and ask others around you for help if you need it.
9. If you're in a more casual restaurant where they have copies of regional magazines as you enter, grab one and learn you can about the region, even if you already live there.
10. Practice stillness and being OK with doing nothing. (This may be the most difficult one, but it may be the one that helps you connect with yourself the most.)
I'm not the only one who thinks it's time to power down when dining alone. Edible Columbus reports that in Columbus, some coffee houses are getting rid of Wi-Fi for patrons. A coffee house without free Wi-Fi? What will coffee drinkers do? They'll be busy "enjoying espresso and pastry, reconnecting with old friends, and perhaps even making new ones."