Get Stuffed 

Number One is the loneliest: The art of dining alone

When I worked at what was then a terminally hip Greek restaurant on Vancouver’s west side known for its terminally baroque social scene, the tables were small and lightweight. As the night progressed, their arrangement often became highly open-ended, depending as much on the amount of ouzo and retsina consumed as anything else.

As friends or potential friends of patrons drifted in, we, the so-called servers there to provide service when we weren’t sitting around enjoying ourselves as well, or the patrons themselves dragged tables together at random to create various free form configurations. These were obviously in total disregard of traffic paths, never mind fire regulations. They made wonky T- or L-shapes, or long rambling bar shapes, with maybe a table angled in when somebody wanted to sit beside a particular man or woman worth hitting on. The whole scene made for a lot of exciting dynamics and an obviously welcome sort of anarchy.

The point was no one who walked through the door alone felt out of place.

Compare that to the last time you walked into a restaurant solo and followed the host or maitre d’ down a long, long, ever-darkening aisle to some forlorn little table squeezed in beside a mildly smelly bus station.

The silverware looks like it hasn’t been changed in two months. Your server invariably ignores you or hovers about so solicitously you finally take pity on the poor guy and gobble up your food so you can get out of there before he has a breakdown.

OK, maybe we women suffer from an extra deluxe kind of paranoia arising from gender-based stereotyping surrounding dining solo, or at least we suffer more from it. For despite our best efforts – including but not necessarily restricted to choosing a likely comfortable restaurant, religiously but hopefully not too self-consciously carrying books/newspapers/guidebooks along for the date, and/or making sure we’ve got our Blackberries or Palm Pilots at hand – dining solo often feels about as comfortable as public speaking.

One well-travelled pal says not to make it sound like a bad Kathy cartoon, but… in a Japanese restaurant in Toronto she was once seated solo on a banquette next to an older gentleman at an adjacent table also seated solo. I mean, really, this set up is so ridiculously loaded your head can’t help but spin. What does Lonesome Joe think? What do the other diners think? What the hell did the maitre d’ think when I walked in the door?

Luckily her encounter turned out graciously. The gentleman, who asked her to join him, turned out to be an interesting and articulate widower. But still…

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