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