Whether it’s sitting in sushi bars reclaiming our lunch breaks, flying solo at street food pop-ups, or wining and dining the most important person in our lives (us, of course), eating out alone is big business right now. A study by restaurant booking website OpenTable revealed that reservations for parties of one grew by 62% in 2015, with numbers climbing ever higher since.
Far from the hackneyed idea that dining alone is never volitional – remember all those shame-faced singletons in ‘90s romcoms who left restaurants still hungry after being stood up? – these days, the maître d’ doesn’t bat an eyelid.
Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely, especially when it comes to eating. Just ask food writer Kelsey Traynor, one of London’s frequent solo diners. The 28-year-old juggles long days in PR with freelance journalism and her restaurant blog, slotting in reviews during any spare moments – often unaccompanied.
“The ‘table for one’ stigma is a thing of the past,” she tells me. “More restaurants than ever are now doing bar service, which is made for eating alone.”
Kelsey and her group of friends’ busy schedules mean dinner meet-ups aren’t always an option, but that doesn’t make her meals out any less enjoyable. “I love eating out on my own as it gives me time to appreciate the food in a different way,” she says. “When you’re alone, the focus is all on the food – rather than the company.”
If you’re going ‘solitaire’ and end up fancying a chat, Kelsey suggests striking up a conversation with the eatery’s bar staff: “You can often learn more about the food if you chat to the bartenders – plus, there’s the perk of the odd free drink.”
Aside from the prospect of complimentary booze, there’s another big benefit of dining out alone – and it’s all to do with your self-esteem.
“Eating alone means you’re comfortable with being alone,” psychologist Claudette Brockbank explains. “Feeling at ease in your own company is a vital part of building self-worth. Showing yourself that you don’t need others around to feel positive emotions, such as during a delicious meal, affirms the message: ‘I am enough’.”
For those apprehensive about placing that ‘table-for-one’ booking, Claudette says the experience will prove even more beneficial – as facing your fears is a sure-fire way to boost confidence. Bonus points if you ditch the armour of books and smart phones (it really does work).
As for any niggling insecurities, quash them with the knowledge that – chances are – no one else in the restaurant has even realised you’re eating alone. Dubbed the ‘spotlight effect’, people tend to overestimate how much other people notice them and what they’re up to.
Ready to reclaim your restaurant independence? Check out our pick of the top three London spots to dine ‘me myself and I’-style at the bar counter…
Authentic, high-end tapas dreamed up by head chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho. There are no tables here – only smart red leather stools at the bar – so it’s an ideal option for a solo dining first timer.
26-27 Dean Street, London W1D 3LL
Modern Italian fare with a Brooklyn edge. Expect all the low-lit, wood-panelled ambience of an NYC eatery, with none of the attitude. Hint: the watermelon salad is a must-order.
434 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AA
Pizza East, Shoreditch
Get a first-hand view of chefs rustling up rustic pizza and too-good-to-share antipasti, or people watch to your heart’s content, in this welcoming city hotspot.
56A Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6PQ