There’s good news and bad news about dining alone. The bad news is that many people are intimidated by the mere thought of dining solo. They think that other people will see them as lonely, pathetic – as people who do not have a friend in the world. The good news is that they are wrong. In research my colleagues and I did, we found that on average, other people were no more likely to think ill of a solo diner than of the same person dining as part of a couple, a group, or any other arrangement.
I don’t know how many people actually do go out to restaurants on their own, but I bet the number is substantial and maybe growing. There are more than 100 million single people just in the US – a number that is constantly increasing, there are married people who are not joined at the hip, and plenty of people travel on their own for business.
There is good and bad news in the ways that restaurants are responding to solo diners. Some, sadly, practice singlism and try to drive them away. Sometimes hostesses betray their own discomfort with solo diners by trying to seat them where no one else will see them.
Other restaurants seem to be trying to find ways to make solo diners feel more comfortable. Some have stashes of newspapers available for anyone who wants them (though I suppose that was more popular before everyone started staring at their phones all the time, even when they are not dining alone). Others have communal tables, where people arriving solo can join others.
In Japan, the Moomin Café chain has an entirely different idea. Apparently there is a popular Moomin book series, and the cafes are Moomin-themed, complete with huge stuffed animals that look like the hippopotamus-like characters. If you walk into one of those cafes solo, the waitress may just ask you if someone can join you. If you say yes, you may then find yourself dining across from a giant stuffed hippo-ish creature.
My sister Lisa DePaulo sent me an article about this (thanks!), saying that she thought it was a joke until she got to the end of the story and realized it was serious. The writer wrapped up the article with this quip: “Only in Japan would they invent the practice of supplying you with a temporary friend named ‘Stinky’ to make you less self-conscious!”
I don’t know anything about Japan so maybe I’m missing something. Maybe the book series is so much fun that it is delightful to go out to dinner and play along with a big fat toy. Maybe it is considered ironic or hip. Really, though, I don’t get it. I’ve gone out to dinner on my own and will do it again, but I think I’d steer clear of establishments that seem to feel sorry for me.
Dining image available from Shutterstock.