I love good food, but sometimes what most attracts me to a restaurant is the setting and the views. At one of my favorite Santa Barbara restaurants, I can sit out on the porch on the top floor, and soak in the spectacular views of the harbor just in front of me and the mountains off into the distance. I’ve gone there with friends, relatives, and people I’m meeting for the first time. I also go on my own.
Most recently, I went there alone. Shortly after I was seated, the server came and put one menu in front of me and another across from me. Maybe some people who are reluctant to dine alone would like that – it makes it look as though they are not alone. But I enjoy the solo dining experience, and I think it is important to de-stigmatize it. I took the second menu and tucked it under my own. I didn’t want to pretend I was with someone else.
When the server returned to take my order, I handed both menus back to him. Then he returned with two glasses of water.
I wonder whether he was trying to protect me from the supposed embarrassment of dining on my own. Or maybe it made him uncomfortable to see someone out alone.
At the time, I was the only person in the restaurant dining alone. But I’ve seen solo diners there before. And going out to restaurants on your own is becoming more and more popular. A few years ago, the Open Table online restaurant reservation service reported that the fastest-growing type of reservation was for tables of one.
Before I started doing my own research on single life, I thought that solo diners would be stigmatized. I assumed that other people would look at them and jump to the conclusion that there was something wrong – no one wants to be with them. In one of the first studies I ever did, my colleagues and I conducted a very sophisticated study to test that idea. It turned out, we were totally wrong. Sure, there were some observers who evaluated the solo diners harshly, but people who were dining with others, including couples, were just as likely to be viewed judgmentally. Some of the people in our studies had very positive, maybe even envious, reactions to the solo diners.
On my way out, my server gave me a card to fill out to provide feedback to the restaurant. They were also trying to collect my snail mail and email addresses. Maybe they would offer me something, since they asked me about my birthday.
The card also asked, “When is your anniversary?”