EVEN WITH THE DECLINE of the work-from-home protocol, it’s not always easy to meet up for lunch at a restaurant. The sudden cancellation two days before a confirmed appointment (I just tested positive) can throw off even a long-planned get-together.
Attempts to book another lunch mate at short notice can look a bit desperate. So, why not just go solo for the calendared lunch? Dinner or a karaoke outing is easier to cancel altogether, unless it is a big group or a special occasion.
Restaurants have introduced table settings for the unaccompanied diner, offering tables with single settings. It must have been the social distancing practiced over two years now that spaced out the table layout for good, complete with outdoor seating.
There is now a menu intended for “solo serving.” This single offering is a countertrend to the traditional group style of dining where the ordered menu (no allergies here?) is shared by all. Now, even Chinese restaurants offer dim sum and rice toppings for the solitary patron.
The soloist is anxious to show that choosing to dine alone is intentional. He communicates with body language that if he wanted to, he could easily have been with someone interesting and attractive. He projects a relaxed demeanor.
Eating alone allows the soloist to order without pressure his plant-based diet of salad and bottled water. He keeps busy reading his kindle app on his phone — the Spanish Civil War, in this case. He does not crave company, putting down his gadget only to summon the waiter for the dessert menu. He knows he will order fruit.
More noticeable is the solo diner looking out the window at passers-by, as if anxious to talk with anyone. Even if he seems to be having a video call with his wireless earplugs, who can he possibly be chatting with — please check if the terrapin has been fed? Is he just making up some fictitious conversation?
Here are possible mischaracterizations of the solo diner.
He’s been stood up. Somebody who was supposed to be with the diner somehow neither showed up nor bothered to send regrets. Note the frantic texting of the abandoned one sitting by himself at a table for four — is this lunch for next Thursday?
He is politically radioactive. Maybe he has been in the news lately getting trolled on social media and subjected to threats of legislative investigation. There could be scandals on sugar imports, face mask overpricing, and forbidden mergers. This solo diner may later opt to work from home and go for food delivery, just to avoid being seen in public.
He is an introvert. He prefers to have lunch by himself. He tries to eat at different places, making up food reviews in his mind — the only Italian taste in this restaurant is the décor.
Dining alone can really be a personal choice, even if done only occasionally. The solo diner is not averse to occasionally taking the stage at karaoke parties, without masks.
Mastication of food by itself does not attract curiosity. Just sitting down and putting food in the mouth and watching out for food splatter on the white shirt offers little interest to other tables caught up in corporate gossip and recent deaths.
Solo dining, however, can elicit an unexpected invitation from an acquaintance — you want to join me with a couple of strangers who wonder what you’re doing here by yourself?
Managing a solitary lunch requires confidence. Most will just order takeout at the office rather than step out of the cubicle farm to sit in a public place alone. It can be daunting to take soup and salad alone, without any props to pretend one is busy and doesn’t want any attention, except from the waiter.
Still, there are some benefits in occasional solitude even in this most social of settings. It is best to project that one is not in desperate need of company. Only a secure person can maintain equanimity at a table for one.
Asking for the bill and completing this ritual requires a complete indifference to what people will think. It helps if one steps out to the curb to be picked up by a new car with a driver. One just needs to check the mobile app to see if this is the right car.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda