The Subtle Art of Eating Out Alone

One day I found myself enjoying a lunchtime meal with my girlfriend in my hometown Carluccio’s (an exquisite Italian restaurant chain) when I noticed something interesting. There was a well-dressed man sat in the corner of the restaurant tucking into his Calamari starter, equipped with a glass of champagne. Interestingly the man was sat by himself, clearly not waiting up for his dining partner. After a while, it was made clear to me, that the man was actually enjoying his meal out… on his own.

Now, I’m a social creature, whose natural habitat is to be around others. Working productively with teams, conversing deeply with groups and sharing memories with friends… is where/how I flourish.

Yet, despite my natural temperament, I had a powerful curiosity and urge that overwhelmed me.

“You know, I wonder what it’s like to eat on your own at a restaurant like that,” I whispered to my girlfriend across the table whilst nodding in the direction of the lonesome man.

My girlfriend quickly responded, “what would you do whilst you were waiting for your food?”

So, in the famous words of comedian legend Harry Hill:

“There’s only one way to find out…”

So. One beautifully sunny and mellow Saturday, I battled against my human nature to spare a few hours to sit at a restaurant — on my own

I chose to have my lunch at that same Carluccio’s for no particular reason besides wanting to re-live the moment that the man, I had previously seen, relished in. Before arriving, I ran into a couple of friends of mine. Of course, they asked what I was up to, which I somewhat embarrassingly replied with the exact truth.

Neither of them gave me the response I was expecting. Rather than bursting into laughter or screaming with confusion; the pair simply smiled.

“I’ve actually done that before you know!” My friend uttered. “It’s actually not that bad… but only once you start eating”. She smiled with reassurance and we all parted ways.

The trivial nervousness that was creeping up on me after I had decided on my lonesome adventure had quickly dissipated. An acknowledgement of your fear and knowing that someone has battled through your weird upcoming challenge is like getting that little biscuit on the side of your coffee: inessential, but oh so brilliant when received.

So I made my way to the packed and moderately loud restaurant. I was quickly approached by a waiter who asked if I could be helped.

“Could I get a table for one.”

A line that felt familiar, yet was new for me to say.

Thoughts of the man whom I saw formerly flooded my mind. How often had he said that line? Why did he choose to sit in the corner of the restaurant? Unlike the man however, the unbelievable weather begged for me to sit outside.

It is worth noting that for this experience I did have one rule. I couldn’t use my phone at any point during my time at the restaurant (except to take any photographs, perfect for my Instagram). I had to engage in the moment and not be tempted to escape from the challenge by looking down at my phone.

My meal was incredible. For those who were wondering what I had to eat, I had:

The food was startling and the experience was profound. I want to tell you about a few entrancing things I learnt during this experience before giving you my last thoughts on whether it was worth it.

I avoided ‘third-party jobs’

As it was a Saturday and it was of considerably nice weather, I prepared for longer wait times between ordering and serving. I brought the book I was reading at the time: Bushido, The Soul of Japan and my notebook which I write my daily journal and extensive research notes in.

This turned out to be incredible downtime for me to get a serious amount of writing done. I started writing my next long article piece which needed some real focused time spent on it and ended up writing roughly 2,000 words in 2 hours!

Recently I appeared on Nerve Radio on the host’s ‘Get to know show where we spoke about the concept of ‘third-party jobs’. These are tasks that you don’t plan to take on at the start of your day. They vary from being asked to take the bin out from a family member to a more axiomatic duty of feeding yourself. Either way, they don’t sit in-line with your priorities and so by sitting at a restaurant alone, I could work and read uninterrupted — evading any third-party jobs.

Necessary reflection upon unusual silence

I had had a long week that week. Not a bad one, in fact quite a thrilling one. My work week usually consists of very early mornings, the gym, interesting commutes and full working days of high-level thinking (basically a lot of work), followed by long hours of writing until I eventually fall asleep at my desk or the floor between my desk and the bed.

Basically, my lifestyle is a jam-packed, caffeine-induced, high-energy marathon-sprint. This meal taught me how little priority I actually have for observing life around me, enjoying little moments and sitting in silence. If I’m not talking to someone, I usually have music playing through speakers or headphones. Otherwise, I have the active noise of London engulfing me constantly. Sitting in silence was not something I thought I wanted nor needed — but was definitely a welcome reward. The unusual silence paved way for the necessary reflection of a mightily restless lifestyle.

Other diners talked about me, but…

‘Is he actually eating alone?’

‘I wonder why that guy is on his own?’

These questions were occasionally uttered throughout my time at the restaurant. I did notice that me being alone quickly seeped into the obvious for most people, it was only newly sat diners who really noticed my solitary feast. There was a Greek family who gathered at the table beside me who looked at me a few times, and as I, unfortunately, don’t speak the language, they could have really been saying anything about me. Luckily, I got a few smiles, so I’ll just assume that none of the comments were malicious.

People are curious, but there is nothing much that lies beyond that. No loaves of Focaccia bread were hurled at me, nor were there any schoolgirl-type laughs in the distance. Guests acknowledged me, were curious and then swiftly moved on to their Zuppa Di Funghi.

There was actually one statement I overheard that really caught my attention, however.

“You know, I’d love to do that one day.” A voice articulated from a few tables behind me.

It was the very sentence I had uttered to my girlfriend the time I had seen the suave, champagne-drinking gentleman.

Had I possibly inspired someone else to go through the same mini-challenge that I was going through? Potentially. It was the last statement I had expected to hear whilst at the restaurant. Curiosity has often gotten humans to very interesting places, and it was nice to know that I would be the catalyst for someone going on a similar adventure.

Is ignorance bliss?

As I got the bill at the end of the meal, I realised that I had learnt the practical value of uninterrupted time, silent rest and being a physical metaphor for the beginning of a new journey for others.

All that from simply having a meal out on my own. Not exactly a huge feat, yet somehow I had received a great reward.

I’ve heard the term ‘Ignorance is bliss’ many times in the past, but maybe the statement is not true at all. Maybe ‘ignorance’ is just… ignorant.

Would I eat alone again? I’m not sure. Here’s the thing, life lessons seem to come from the most unusual of places. Finding these valuable lessons are hugely important for character-building, but for some reason unbeknown to me, they lie in the most unusual places and they require you to give something a go. It could be talking to that person you see at the train station every morning. It could be walking to work through the park, rather than taking a bus. It could even be eating alone at a restaurant. It could be anything…

As long as it’s something new.

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