THE BLOG

Eating Out Alone (After 6pm)

03/04/2014 12:15 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

As something of a food connoisseur, there are times when "Two for Tuesday" at Dominos or "Number 119" from The Golden Dragon, simply won't do.

You know what I mean. Returning home from a long day's work, the cupboards bare and you're in the mood to relax - be wined and dined.

Then comes the unenviable task of finding a companion. At short notice friends tend to be busy and if you live alone and are single, options can often be limited.

Of course luckily it's just as simple as popping down to your local Michelin star restaurant, to be greeted warmly by the sound of commercial jazz and a waiter's courtly beam.

Or is it?

Solitary booze ups, trips to the movies or even concert sessions are all deemed socially acceptable, applauded as "independent" and "confident" - but what of eating out alone?

I used to work in a Michelin star restaurant. Twice a week a woman would come in alone, order a meal and read a book.

She was early-40's, perfectly polite and always tipped, yet there were all sorts of rumours. Obviously she had a problem - A widow? A loner? Some sort of social outcast?

Besides smoking (and possibly polygamy) this is one of the few things that complete strangers feel free to comment on rudely. The normal social requirements of manners and tolerance exchanged for winks and a nod.

We live in an era were gay marriage is celebrated, Human Rights are championed, and personal choice is promoted - yet eating out alone remains a step too far?

Without doubt this is the last great taboo of our era.

Having dined as a solo traveller right across the globe - from Cape Town to Bangkok, Auckland to Singapore - I've never had an issue eating out unaccompanied.

Here in Britain however, there appears to be an invisible pressure, some connotation of desperation to the dreaded "table for one".

Even more strangely - your level of weirdness appears to be directly related to time.

Breakfast through to lunch breaks are deemed socially acceptable - a quick sandwich here, a bite to eat there, is all well and good.

But once the clocks strike 6pm - instantly everything changes.

Dark clouds gather menacingly, as friendly smiles and jovial laughs are replaced by pity glances or suspicious glares from overprotective mothers.

But what's the cause?

The truth is that this has nothing to do with food...in fact it's not even about restaurants. This is about society.

From an early age we're ingrained with an abject view of normality. The distorted idea that success is measured by numbers of friends or followers - the size of our social circle.

True independence draws fear...suspicion.

More than 50% of us are single. Over 32% live alone. Yet we appear to be a country uneasy with solitude.

But things are changing I hear you scream - take for example the rapid rise in communal dining.

These are places where a single person can sit, eat and glance awkwardly next to total strangers - because of course simply eating alone and enjoying one's own company is never satisfaction enough.

While personal freedom has never been more celebrated, paradoxically we remain frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops "eccentric" habits.

And by eccentric habits I don't mean tweeting a picture of yourself, on some mountain top, staring wistfully into the distance - hoping a few of your Facebook friends will comment, making you feel connected, part of something bigger than yourself.

For all the talk of social media destroying personal communication, the toxic truth is that we are now all addicted to interaction, to peer review, to social oversight.

What's next? The Solo Dining Selfie?

Tonight guys, I'm going friend free for charity.

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But it's not all doom and gloom. For those daring enough to attempt a solo dining experience here are a few bite sized tips to make your experience that little bit more pleasant

Pick the best time (before 6pm). Avoid date restaurants. Bring a book. People watch. Savour each spoonful.

Congratulations you've finally done it. Eating out in a busy restaurant after 6pm on a week night - that's no mean feat.

Now gesture for the bill, (remember to tip) and walk proudly out the door.

Take a moment, pause and smile. You've done something special today - challenged society one bite at a time.

Now go home and update your status.