I don’t mind eating alone. I don’t mind asking for a “table for one”.
But what I do mind is getting grief for dining by myself.
My Chinese-Malaysian parents are big on eating meals as a family, which is what many Asian families do. Growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, we ate dinner together almost every night. These days, it’s a different story. When I start putting my dinner on my plate before my brother is home, my mum asks, “Do you want to wait for your brother to come home and then eat?” No. No idea what time he’ll be back.
I love eating with friends: we have good conversations about life, work, love, the list goes on. But I also like eating alone, be it at home, a fast-food place or a fancy restaurant. Whenever I mention I ate alone the other day, I get pitiful looks.
We eat alone because we’re tired, not in the mood to talk over food. After a draining full day’s work talking to colleagues and clients on the phone, all I want is a quiet and quick dinner before flopping on my bed. Not much energy left in me to carry a conversation.
We eat alone because we want to enjoy our food. By ourselves in no hurry. Sometimes when we’re eating in a group, we might not get to eat what we want to eat. During big dinners with the relatives where there are ten or more Chinese dishes on the table, my mum always says, “Quick! Grab that piece of chicken breast or else other people will grab it.” Eating in a group can be one stressful competition.
We’ve something planned ahead and are in a hurry, so we eat alone. It’s convenient. No waiting for others to order and finish their food. Peace and quiet so we can finish our food and make a move. Weekends are the days when I actually have time to write; after a quick bite for lunch or dinner by myself, I can get right back into telling stories.
We eat alone because no one else wants to eat what we want to we eat or go to the restaurant we want to go to. Sometimes we simply need to satisfy our food cravings to feel ourselves again, with or without company.
Perks do come with eating alone. It’s easier to get a single seat at the bar than a table for two or more at some restaurants. Or a cozy one by the wall. Usually our food comes faster. No awkward silences between us and our eating companions when we’re chewing mouthfuls of food.
But then again, some look at eating alone the opposite way. Twice in the past six months I’ve walked into chain restaurants asking for a table to myself and got reluctant looks from the staff, and then they ushered me to a windy table for four by the door. Restaurants make less money off a single customer than two or more.
Eating alone is odd on some occasions, I won’t deny it. I’ve never had yum cha or Korean barbeque alone. It makes sense to eat some meals in a group – some dishes are meant to be shared. And eating by myself, I’ve gotten stared at, for reasons I don’t know. The interesting thing is that no one has actually approached and struck up a conversation with me while I’m eating alone (I look scary, it seems).
Whether we eat alone or with others, we should be grateful food is on the table.
We eat to live. When we’re hungry, we eat.
If we’re really that hungry and desperate for food, I think we can all find the courage to eat alone.
Do you like eating alone or with someone else?