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Dr. Helen

Are You Ashamed to Eat Out Alone?

August 10th, 2014 - 5:47 am

Seriously? This is a question posed to readers in a CNBC article entitled “Eating alone? The new American diner flies solo”:

All by yourself at dinner? You’re in good company. As lifestyles and demographics shift, Americans are emerging as a nation of diners who eat alone.

About 57 percent of eating and beverage occasions now occur when people are by themselves, according to a recent report from The NPD Group, a market research firm. The portion is highest for non-meal occasions (industry speak for snacking) followed by breakfast, lunch and then dinner.

Time constraints, active lifestyles and a record percentage of one-person households are fueling the trend.

Stigma starting to shift

“In the past, there really has been a stigma around eating alone, and it’s started to change over the years,” said Aaron Allen, founder of a restaurant consulting firm, in a phone interview. …

To make them feel at ease, restaurants are shifting their typical service for people eating alone. An extreme example launched in Amsterdam as a pop-up restaurant touted as the first one-person restaurant in the world. Another in Japan proposed a solution—dining with a stuffed animal if eating alone proves to be too lonely.

When I was in grad school, I had a roommate in NYC who loved to eat alone. Once a week or so, she would take a book and head out to a nice restaurant to relax and have a meal by herself. She didn’t want company. Why does society think that people are so ashamed at eating alone that a stuffed animal will help? Nothing like a stuffed animal sitting next to a grown adult to make them feel less conspicuous!

I was glad to see that the poll at CNBC asking readers if they were ashamed to eat alone showed the majority saying “No.” Maybe people don’t need a stuffed giraffe sitting next to them, maybe peace and quiet and a good book or their own company is enough.

Are you ashamed to eat alone at a restaurant?

Top Rated Comments   
Why does society think that people are so ashamed at eating alone that a stuffed animal will help?

Society thinks that because the overwhelming majority of American society (and perhaps others; I don't know about others) consists of extroverts. Extroverts think that introverts are less than fully human, and need help from extroverts. It's the same reason that the advice in so many "self-help" books (particularly about dating) amounts to "be more extroverted".
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Am I ashamed to eat out alone? No, absolutely not. I eat alone all the time. I live alone, so having dinner I guess would be called eating in alone? Although I will admit that it's always nice to have company, especially of the female persuasion.

When I was in graduate school, I mastered the art of eating out alone. Since I was on a budget, I aways chose an all-you-can-eat place, like Furr's, which is a cafeteria style restaurant, or a Chinese restaurant. All you can eat for $5.49. Oh, man, I would pig out. I only ate once a day, mabe twice if I made breakfast, but when I ate I really ate. See, the thing about a cafeteria style restaurant or a Chinese restaurant is that you can get so much more food and of greater variety than you could possibly make at home, and far cheaper I might add. Would I have liked to have a date? Yeah, sure, but I wasn't there for the companionship--I was there for the food. And I didn't mind eating alone. So the question isn't am I ashamed of eating alone; it's really am I ashamed of eating. And the answer to that is a definite NO.

But I'll tell you a true story, Dr. Helen, while we're on this subject. When I was in junior high, it must have been 6th or 7th grade--I don't remember because it was so many years ago--I as walking home from school, alone. And I thought I would stop by Pierce's restaurant, which was this 1950s style soda shop. You know, with a counter and stools and soda machines. It was hot and I wanted a root beer float. I love root beer floats, and I don't mind drinking them alone. (I also really love Big Red and strawberry ice cream floats, those are the best, but that's beside the point.)

So, I walk into Pierce's and there's these five really big guys sitting at the counter. There was only one stool on the end available, so I sat down. "May I have a root beer float, please?"

And this really big guy turned to me and said, "How's it going, kid?" I looked at him and asked in shock, "Are you Meadowlark Lemon?"

It was the Harlem Globetrotters! THE Harlem Globetrotters. The original Harlem Globetrotters, all five of them. They were in town to perform an exhibition game at the university. And there they all were eating at Pierce's restraurant. I freaked. "I watch your cartoon every Saturday morning!" They laughed. These guys were big, I mean really big. They were all over the news, they had their own cartoon, they were travelling all over the country playing exhibition games--they were famous. Nobody could play basketball like them.

I was just a kid, 12 maybe 13 years old. All I wanted was a root beer float. And suddenly, there were the Harlem freaking Globetrotters. I met them all, hand shakes and high fives all around; they were very nice to me. In fact, they bought me a burger. Yeah, that's right, I ate a burger with the Harlem Globetrotters when I was just a kid. I don't know if any of you reading this can wrap your mind around this story, but it's true.

Hey, just goes to show, you never know who you're going to meet when you're out alone.

I just wanted a root beer shake on my way home, and I didn't mind drinking it alone. There is no way, in my wildest imagination, that I thought I would meet the Harlem Globetrotters. But I did, and I was just a kid. And they bought me a burger. Go figure.

5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (42)
All Comments   (42)
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Bizarre! I've gone out to eat by myself my entire adult life. I enjoy it! (Going with my boyfriend is wonderful, but I don't crumble or wilt when unaccompanied!)
4 weeks ago
4 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nope, I am never ashamed when eating alone. I do feel guilty if the waitstaff gives me a 4-top and the restaurant is filling up. I will use a counter if one is available. I have noticed that when not at the counter I get worse service - slower, less refills, etc.

--ZilWerks
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Huh, being "ashamed" of eating alone has never occurred to me. 'Tis more than passing strange what some people think is worthy of shame....
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've been eating alone for years now, never bothers me. I think years back, when most people were married, there was more of a stigma about eating alone. I also remember it was more of a stigma for women than men, or at least women worried more about it. But now, when most people are single, I think there no stigma at all. I usually just bring in a good book and read while waiting.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
As I get older, I'm less reluctant to eat alone in a restaurant. When I was young (and dumb), the thought was "OMG, people will think I don't have anyone." Now I see older people eating alone all the time (to be fair, probably not always willingly), and it has finally occurred to me that people in a restaurant are interested in their food, not who's sitting by themselves.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've always enjoyed a good meal with friends, as well as a good meal alone with a book.

As for the extrovert/introvert thing -- extroverts get noticed, so people tend to see extroversion as a norm thanks to selection bias.

I suspect it's not a norm, but introverts will never stand up to be counted ;)

FWIW, I'm an introvert, but I can play the extrovert, albeit at a cost in energy that can drain me in a few hours to a few days, depending upon my starting point.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
This just strikes me as an incredibly silly question. For starters, anyone who travels on business -- as I have done for nearly 20 years -- eats alone a lot. Sometimes I would take a book with me, or a small notepad/notebook and pen, but other times I would simply sit, think, and observe other diners. Nowadays, between my smartphone and tablet, I'm well prepared.

That said, I've been aware for at least as many years that there was a certain stigma (that many be too strong a word) attached to eating alone, but that always struck me as a Northeast US (Bos-Wash corridor) trope. Being from California, I gave it no more weight that I did many of the other BosWash idiosyncrasies (or idiocies).
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Am I expected to have an attitude to eating alone? I never thought about it.
Trying to sit Teddy Bear next to me only because I eat alone seems abnoxious. I can't see how it is comforting to pull attention to the fact that a person's eating alone.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
Am I ashamed to eat out alone? Certainly not.

But I don't do it very often 'cause I'd rather just make a quick salad with tuna or something on it and save the time, effort and cost of eating out.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
There's a very nice restaurant in San Francisco called "The Boulevard" that has, or had, it may have changed, a nice bar in the back where deserts were prepared. It was a very nice place to have dinner alone and I did so many times when I was in town on business. The web site says it opened in 1993 which is later than I remember so it may not be the same.
5 weeks ago
5 weeks ago Link To Comment
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