Com­fort­able with one

One is not nec­es­sar­ily a lonely num­ber when you’re eat­ing out.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By TAN DAWN WEI

ARE you an as­pir­ing restau­ra­teur hop­ing to un­earth a yet un­tapped mar­ket in a food-ob­sessed city crammed with a mil­lion things and places to eat?

Are you hope­lessly lost for ideas be­cause ev­ery din­ing con­cept you can pos­si­bly think of, some­one else was there be­fore you? Here’s an idea for you: do a ta­ble for one. For too long, lone din­ers have had to live with the shame of eat­ing without com­pany. Tell the maitre d’, “Just one”, and he will par­rot, “Just one?”, then raise one finger for dou­ble con­fir­ma­tion.

Where do these sin­gle peo­ple re­treat to? Of­fice cu­bi­cles, eat­ing econ­omy rice out of a sty­ro­foam box? Roam­ing the food halls of depart­ment stores pick­ing up one bun here, one stick of fish balls there? Go hun­gry?

Sin­ga­pore­ans are so shy about eat­ing alone that two years ago, stu­dents at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore launched a cam­paign to en­cour­age un­der­grad­u­ates to bravely go solo in the school can­teen.

This, af­ter a sur­vey found they of­ten skip meals or eat on the go if they have no com­pany.

This fear of friend­less feed­ing is universal – there’s even a term for it: solo­man­gare­pho­bia.

As a teenager, I prob­a­bly suf­fered from solo­man­gare­pho­bia. Re­cess without friendly ban­ter over mee rebus in the tuck­shop was just un­fath­omable. Thank­fully, I wasn’t one of those kids no­body wanted to eat with.

Some­how, by the time I got to univer­sity, eat­ing alone wasn’t em­bar­rass­ing any­more. It gives off the aura of self-as­sured­ness and ma­tu­rity – you’re not one of those needy types hud­dling in a clique. You’re a cool loner.

Then I be­came a jour­nal­ist and eat­ing alone be­came a ne­ces­sity as you are of­ten out by your­self on as­sign­ments.

One too many meals alone, and I’ve de­vel­oped a love for soli­tary din­ing. It’s fuss-free. You won’t over-or­der and over-eat. And you’re free to check out any place you like without be­ing apolo­getic to your din­ing part­ner if the food turns out to be bad.

It’s a time to gather your thoughts, to re­flect, to ob­serve. It’s a time to at­tend to things, such as re­ply­ing to e-mail on your phone, catch­ing up on the news or book­ing your spa ap­point­ment.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, it’s also a time to let you feed that other ap­petite: the kay­poh (Hokkien for busy­body) ap­petite. Eaves­drop­ping on the con­ver­sa­tion at the next ta­ble can be quite sa­ti­at­ing some­times.

These are things you can’t do if you need to keep up with the con­ver­sa­tion from across the ta­ble.

With years of prac­tice, I think I’m about the equiv­a­lent of a black belt now in the art of eat­ing alone.

No need for books, mag­a­zines, an iPad or even a smart­phone. Just en­joy ev­ery bite of the lovely meal be­fore you. Af­ter all, it’s a bless­ing to be able to eat, and eat well.

I’ve even gained enough con­fi­dence to chat­ter with the wait staff, and have made a friend or two of fel­low solo din­ers.

And now, if a waiter dares to put me next to the toi­let or a ta­ble of rowdy men, I make even more noise or I walk out.

Sin­ga­pore still has a long way to go when it comes to be­ing solo-din­ing-friendly. In cities such as Tokyo and New York, you can eat stand­ing up, sit­ting down, walk­ing around.

Food trucks do a good job of fill­ing your tummy in Man­hat­tan, as do ra­men bars and con­veyor-belt-sushi shops in Ja­pan’s Shin­juku.

So imagine if you could run an eatery where sin­gle din­ers aren’t dis­crim­i­nated against, but are wel­comed with open woks. If your din­ing es­tab­lish­ment can draw them out of their of­fice cub­by­hole, you have a win­ner on your hands.

Here’s how: first, de­sign your menu for the solo diner. Have your food come in small, medium and large and let your solo diner mix and match. Sell an as­sort­ment of wines by the glass. Def­i­nitely en­cour­age doggy-bag­ging.

Se­cond, be thought­ful with the de­sign of your space. Bar coun­ters work best. Set small ta­bles where din­ers all face one di­rec­tion. Have scenery. Add shades and par­ti­tions. Have read­ing ma­te­rial.

Restau­ra­teurs should get their heads around the idea that a sin­gle diner is not tak­ing up a ta­ble for two, but is a cus­tomer gained.

Treat this guy well, he’ll come back over and over again. — The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore/Asia News Net­work

Il­lus­tra­tion by FchWaN

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