Solo Diner: Table for One

Copyright of Ian Fuller

There’s a great difference between eating and dining, the latter seemingly reserved for groups and the incurably sociable. I’ve eaten alone when travelling or grabbed something quick while working, but these rare occasions have been about necessity and not pleasure. To tackle my shyness I decided to go for dinner by myself, with no book, phone or crutch to lean on, and see if there were any redeemable aspects and possibly even to enjoy it.

I love Japanese food and it’s common to see single people passing through sushi bars, so I didn’t feel like a target requesting a table for one. There were several couples mid-meal and one girl alone in the corner at an empty table (who, incidentally, remained this way for the whole time without eating, drinking or looking up from her book). The maitre d’ was polite and the legion of waiters meant that, although service was rapid, staff were restless.

I was led to my seat in the centre of the room where I had an unhampered view of five bodies fighting to change a single till roll, next to the speaker which played one unrecognisable song on repeat.  Food was at the forefront of my mind.

I’d normally chomp down rolls between sentences and coo over flavours without really paying attention, but this time I was alert. Avocado had been substituted with squishy cucumber in my veggie maki and the seaweed wrappings were chewy and stale. Surely a diner with no distractions could be expected to spot such a fob-off, but I was smiled at for approval and faintly smiled back. Perhaps fresh ingredients were reserved for customers with higher tabs.

I would never normally order another dish when by myself and disappointed, but I was hungry so treated myself to pumpkin croquettes. They were smooth and sweet with a satisfying crunch and, as they didn’t come with a health warning, led to an emergency aloe vera cooler to douse my burning lips and bring an end to the meal.

Exiting with dignity was marginally more awkward as my plate was whipped away before my chopsticks touched down and the waiters-of-the-living-dead smelled the mints on my table and started to close in. The hour and half had passed quickly, the couples had long gone and it felt necessary to pay up and clear out.

The experience had been a success; I had been comfortable and content throughout but, as I nodded my thanks and slipped out the door, I noticed the slumped girl still in the corner and even I thought that the lone diner was a strange creature.

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