Table For One - The Rise of Solo Dining

Loneliness and comfortable solitude are two different things. Learning to enjoy your own company is both liberating and empowering. To eat independently allows you to enjoy the joy of food and life in a way that communal eating cannot. When you dine alone, you don’t have to answer to your dining companion, be seated against your will next to someone who makes watching paint dry more exciting, and you get to dine with the freedom of knowing that you are not being judged by mixing your mayo with BBQ sauce and ketchup. 

Alissa Wilkinson for Vox asserts that “dining out by myself is a form of self-care, a way to derive immense satisfaction from the experience — the ambiance, the flavors and textures, the chatter around me. Without a dining companion to entertain, I can sit with my thoughts, watch the world around me, eavesdrop on fellow diners, and maybe converse with the bartender if I’m seated at the bar.”

And for all those diners brave enough to face the dining experience with nothing but a book, aptly justified by Lauren Martin,  “the answer is always the same: For the same reason I’m not dating some assh*le, I enjoy my own company too much to ruin it.”


The development of the luxury restaurant after the Civil War created problems for the solo diner. Now, there were no communal tables. Every table was private, and the assumption was that no one dined alone. Portions were meant for two, so patrons made sure to arrive with a dinner companion.

The history of dining alone for women has been different and fought for modern liberty. Until 1910, the meaning of a phrase such as the following 1894 New York Herald headline “Lone Women Not Wanted [in First Class Restaurants]” is ambiguous. Usually, what was meant by a “lone woman” was a woman unaccompanied by a man. Thus, “lone women” could apply to a woman alone or several women together. None would be admitted to a fine restaurant.

"Dining Alone Can Pose Problem for a Women." New York Times. June 16, 1964. 

Even as late as the 1960s, bars may be societal watering holes, but they have rather famously only sometimes been for everyone. Public spaces are often inherently political, and, for much of history, there were strict social rules—or even laws—about where women were and were not welcome.

A post written by Dolores Alexander. Cred.: The Sisterhood by Marcia Cohen.

In early February 1969, Betty Friedan and fifteen other feminists entered the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Like many other hotel bars and restaurants, the Plaza excluded women during weekday lunch hours, from noon until three, to not distract the businessmen from their deal-making.

Demonstration for women’s rights, 1970Demonstration for women’s rights, 1970 via Flickr.

But Friedan and the group of activists walked past the maître-d’ and gathered around a table. They held signs that said, “Wake up, PLAZA! Get with it NOW!” and “The Oak Room Is Outside the Law.” The servers refused to serve the women and silently removed their tables. Four months after the protest, facing media coverage of the event, the restaurant overturned its no-women policy.

The Art of Solo Dining

Shared meals and the pleasure and ritual of eating with others conjur up some of the best food memories for most people. But there is a different kind of pleasure that comes from being more mindful of what you eat. When eating alone, it’s easier to focus simply on the food: its colours, texture, taste, smell. 

Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude : Scherl, Nancy, Pressley, Laura: BooksSource: Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude. Nancy Scherl, 2022. 

The art photographer Nancy Scherl recently released a book called Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude, containing decades of her photos of solo diners around the world. “I feel that sometimes the phone becomes a bit of a crutch for people — that they are pulling out their cellphone instead of people-watching, or smiling at someone who might be sitting next to them, or starting up a conversation with someone who might be sitting across from them or two tables down,” she said. “It’s nice to break down the barriers and feel that you can say hi, instead of whipping out your cellphone.”

Eating alone at a restaurant is always a doubled experience. The diner looks out but is also seen. And in that seeing there is judgement. Or better yet, there is the perception of being judged.   In a Foreword by Laura Wzorek Pressley, Executive Director of CENTER Santa Fe, she writes: “What does it mean to dine alone? What does it mean to dine alone during a pandemic? What is our relationship to solitude in light of technology? Dining Alone: In the Company of Solitude invites us to consider these questions

Source: Dining Alone: In the Company of SolitudeNancy Scherl, 2022. 

Leo Coleman, an anthropologist who has written on “being alone together,”and gave museums as an example: “You can have an encounter with something that’s meaningful and beautiful. And you know that there are other people sharing that experience, even if it’s just a glance or overhearing a conversation that someone else is having with somebody there.”

Somehow, the "romance of food, drink, and their various joys seems to go out the window when we go from eating with another person to dining with ourselves." And much of the advice available on eating alone amounts to "bring a book," yet "there is freedom in eating alone, even if we need a little help to relish in it: no discussions of what we should order, no small talk, no sharing."

Source: Dining Alone: In the Company of SolitudeNancy Scherl, 2022. 

Mindful Indulgence

A new generation of food lovers are heading to restaurants, according to British Vogue, seeking a level of sensory engagement you can only get by going solo. “For them, eating out alone is an act of mindful indulgence; one where they’re liberated from coordinating diaries, making small talk and compromising on sharing dishes and can, instead, eat what they want, where they want, while dedicating their full attention to the flavours in front of them.”

"It takes strong and self-assured people to eat alone. They aren't socially perverse, but socially enlightened. They have graduated past the social norms so many of us are attached to, like blankets and Netflix before bed, and have reached enlightenment," writes Lauren Martin

Even if you take a picnic to your local park and BYOB (Bring your own Barbet), the solo experience of eating alone is one to be savoured. 

Or head out for some alone time where Barbet is on the menu!