Some of us would hate being caught dining alone in public. It’s social suicide, we think. But an increasing number of people are actually turning to solo dining as modern-day eating becomes more experiential, and work demands turn us into people on the go, eating at our desks, in the car or on the street.
If surveys in the West reveal that one in three consumers are ‘regularly eating every meal alone’, there are quite a few people in the UAE too who don’t mind eating out alone. People are becoming less self-conscious about solo dining, says Lea Katrina R. Realon, head of corporate communications at ASA Ventures and a regular solo diner herself.
From the Philippines, Lea has been a UAE resident for the last four years, and says she loves dining out alone on weekends and considers it ‘as a sort of weekly ritual’. She doesn’t mind dining out with a group but has no qualms about eating alone either. There’s something therapeutic about dining solo, says the 29-year-old.
‘I prefer to dine out alone because I use that time to recover from the "noise" of the daily grind. I find it therapeutic, like hanging out with people over dinner, too, but dining out alone allows me to just focus on myself and regroup. It’s my quiet time. It’s my way of rewarding myself and discovering new dishes, too.’
Lea says that when she dines solo, she makes sure she ‘disconnects from everything and really slows down’.
‘My work can be hectic and sometimes I barely get the chance to appreciate what I’m eating. Versus the usual work lunch that takes just a mere 15 to 20 minutes, I take the time to really soak in the [solo] dining experience. Sometimes I bring a book along and read it while having dessert and coffee. In some ways, it’s part of taking care of my mental health,’ she says.
Her favourite food haunts are Al Seef, La Mer, The Dubai Mall and Burjuman. ‘I like to try all sorts of stuff that Dubai has to offer. Thai and Japanese top the list, and of course I also crave for decent Filipino food. Since I moved to the UAE, I’ve become more acquainted with Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine. I’m a huge fan of garlic naan and palak paneer – no fuss but extremely satisfying. There’s shawarma and mandi, too,’ she says.
Lea says she spends more than an hour when eating out by herself, and forks out more money when dining solo compared to when dining with a group.
‘When I go out with friends, we share the food so we all chip in to cover the cost, and it also makes sense to use dining apps for deals on mains. When I’m alone, I usually order the main course, dessert and a drink,’ she says.
Does she ever feel out of place in crowded restaurants? ‘Never. It’s my time out, so I focus on me. I never feel alone either; sometimes the staff strike up a conversation. Once, I’ve stayed at a restaurant for two hours just reading after my meal. They didn’t seem to mind.’
Lea says the weirdest thing that happened to her while dining out alone was when ‘the people in the next booth didn’t notice I was walking back to my table and I heard them saying how lonely I must be that I’m dining alone.’
She suggests everyone try eating solo. It allows you to discover yourself and what you like when it comes to food without being swayed by another person’s opinions, she says.
Dining solo can have dietary benefits, too. ‘Because I eat slowly when I’m by myself, I get full faster,’ Lea says. ‘Also, I can really concentrate on the quality of the food on my plate. I barely notice how much I’m eating when I’m engaged in conversation.’
People usually dine out only for special occasions, ‘but I dine out because I don’t want to wait for something special to happen. Life’s short, so try that restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to even if no one wants to come with you, or even if you’ve never tried their cuisine,’ she says.