All over the big cities, in restaurants and coffee shops, there is an epidemic spreading faster than E. coli. Health inspectors have overlooked the records up until now. But of late the numbers of people dining alone has hit an all-time high. Is there a limit to how many loners can eat in the one restaurant at the same time, before the tension has been built too high? Is there a way to give them their own emergency accommodation during these times of date scarcity? Is there any light we can offer to them at the end of the tunnel, which is brighter than the single candle before them? I beg of you, this holiday season to consider the lonely who eat among us.
- The Chronic Singleton
We all know one. He has been single practically since birth. Despite what Mammy says about him being the best catch in the Midlands, he remains closer to his work than the ladies. He is an overachiever, with little time for romance but enough time to make a public display of an inbuilt allergy to affection.
- The Old “Friend” from School.
Should I talk to them? Maybe it’s not them. Then again we never got on. Is it even them? While all these questions mill through your head, the old “friend” has felt you staring at them and looked up to see you perplexed and totally at a loss for their name. Just like in secondary school, they spent lunch time alone. Today in this restaurant they blend into the background, as they had blended into the school’s canteen. Maybe next time we will stop to chat. Maybe.
- The Sporty Guy
University hoodie? Check. Gym bag? Check. Mobile phone in hand, pretending to text? Check. The lonely lad may be waiting for the bus home on a Friday night to get back for training. He is ready. Just text him.
- The Artsy Butterfly
Dressed in flowing capes and adorned with jangly home-made jewellery and what seems to smell like home-made perfume, the artsy type will unashamedly sit in the middle of the restaurant floor to accentuate their unique aloneness. She knows no bounds and no social limitations. One would almost applaud her for her courage for standing out, but not as to draw attention to oneself.
- The Tourist
Not a word of English and still looks for some reason quite astonished at how a restaurant works in this country. They just came from the Cliffs of Moher and will trek the country in chaotic directions. After one week of travelling the island they take a moment to reflect on their insane decision to come to Ireland, on their own and feel for a moment a sense of achievement as they tick of one box on their bucket list. Next stop, Ireland’s Eye.
- Staff on a Break
As they are not alone by choice, they appear as the only “normal” alone-eaters. Observing and judging, their Staff T-shirt gives them the right to sit comfortably while they eat alone without the need for a phone, newspaper or other paraphernalia.
- The Single Mother
Not technically alone, the stressed and tarried parent insists on sharing the musical talents of her 6 month old. She feels morally compelled to give to the kind strangers a chance to hear what their lives would be like in her shoes.
- The model
She sits like a beautiful vase, elegantly on display at her table for one. She is not waiting for a date and she has not been stood up. The world’s most beautiful woman is not to be approached, unless you are George Clooney or similar. A careless perfection would suffice but can only be pulled off if you have accidentally fallen into the restaurant to avoid adoring fans from the street. If this is not the case, please leave the beautiful lady to eat alone.
- The Binge-Purger
A little known creature who can be found to eat alone is the person with an eating disorder. If you are very quiet and sit still, you will notice there is one beautiful girl, shoulders hunched over a second slice of banoffee pie. See how she savours every mouthful, in pure bliss of spoon after spoon of velvety caramel sweetness? See how she begins every meal with vigour and delight, but finishes every meal with a visit to the bathroom. The meal got two thumbs up but her esteem gets two fingers down.
- Once-off Lonely Eaters
These are the temporary players of the part of alone-diners. They will not reappear for another act. They strut about on this stage once and are neither seen nor heard again. They have missed their train or due to weather conditions, have found themselves among the lonely diners. This type of once off mistake is quickly corrected and they will never, repeat never eat alone again after that one time.
Whether you have seen once of these characters or perhaps can admit to being one yourself, it is clear, the alone-diners walk among us. With the amount of people now eating alone, could it become a trend? Or should special restaurants be dedicated purely to the Artsy type and her monophages? Dear reader, I do not inform you of this epidemic to leave you on your own with no protection against the lonely elements. Below, please find a detailed list of instructions of how to treat this affliction of alone-eating.
How to Survive Eating Alone
Build your fort. Use anything you may find to build an imaginary wall. Keep the wine menu as they are normally twice as large as the food menu and can make a good portcullis when the waiter arrives to take the bill. Newspapers are also welcome, broadsheets are best. Shopping bags make excellent walls, which stand without the need to hold on. Place them on the table, one to the left, one to the right and one behind the dinner plate in front of you. The fortress has been successfully secluded.
Posture is key. For women, hair may be worn down, hanging in long curtains about your face to shield you from on-lookers. Men may choose a hat of their choice, but try to keep within the dress-code of the restaurant.
The mobile phone is paramount to surviving a meal alone. I cannot stress this enough. Ensure it is fully charged and on silent. Open your contact list, beginning with A for Auntie Kate and start texting about her cat.
Choose your place. The choice of seat is also important. With the exception of the artist, who takes aloofness in her stride, choose a seat in the corner of behind a wall. Do not sit to near the bathroom as the traffic of customers will be made more aware of your aloneness. Avoid sitting in front of mirrors. Ditto. And one last word of advice, avoid all other alone-diners. They will, however, naturally sit as far away from each other as possible. And then again, they are not alone, they are one of many.