Food writer, Tom Flint

How do you feel about dining out alone?

Is that an activity you enjoy, or does the idea make you so uneasy you want to run towards your nearest and dearest? Chances are, if you don’t do it very often you’re not alone!

For most people, solo dining is as an occasional necessity rather than a pleasurable luxury, something they’re most likely to do in the daytime, such as grabbing a quick croissant and coffee en route to the office or a speedy sandwich and salad at lunch.

Italian Street Food, Restaurant Brighton, Eatalio, Queens Road

But what about solo dining in the evening, in a proper restaurant?

A lot of people baulk at that suggestion, on the basis that:

a) life’s busy enough, so why spend a couple of hours alone when you could catch up with a friend or tick something off your to-do list?

b) solo dining in the evening ‘must’ mean you’re some sort of Billy No Mates social pariah with nothing better to do and no one to do it with – in other words, a total saddo!

Instead, if evening comes and you’re at a loose end, it’s easier to cook at home or order in a takeaway and lose yourself in a film or podcast.

Salmon Salad at Edendum

But where’s the fun in that, or the sense of adventure?

To address the first point; there’s no denying how busy we all are with numerous demands on our time, energy and finances, so it’s hard to justify doing something as profligate as dining out alone in a fancy restaurant or gastro pub just for the pleasure of some tasty food in an engaging atmosphere.

But how can we justify NOT doing that?

Yes it’s important to spend time with friends and family and to get everything done on your to-do list – but not at the expense of quality time with yourself. If you can justify the time and money spent while out with a friend, surely you’re worth an occasional treat too?

If you don’t prioritise time by yourself or the idea makes you feel uncomfortable in some way, maybe it’s time to change that.

As someone who loves to eat out on my own as often as possible, I believe time alone in the present moment is not only enjoyable but VITAL to one’s emotional and mental wellbeing. And yet it’s often the one thing that so many of us don’t regard as a priority or even consider at all – at a cost to ourselves, of course.

Too Good To Go

Break the habit of distracted eating

All too often the very act of eating and enjoying our food and environment in the present moment falls by the wayside. We don’t eat mindfully in a present, aware state – we dissociate and eat while focusing on some other activity or issue. None of that is good for our body, mind or emotional wellbeing.

Did you know that eating when you’re distracted, ie watching TV or talking with a friend across the table, actually compromises your body’s ability to digest food properly?

Surely you (and your body) would benefit from time to yourself to just be, do, think and digest whatever you want?

Eating out alone gives you that – the opportunity to put your own needs and wishes first for a moment and to luxuriate in that experience.

When was the last time you were able to go wherever you wanted and ponder the big (or small) ideas that float through your mind when you’re not under stress, rushing around or surrounded by people?

Which brings me nicely round to the second reason people choose not to dine out alone:

Fear of what other people might think (and what you might feel being alone all evening).

This is, of course, another understandable worry. Freedom can be a terrifying, overwhelming concept! Whole books have been written tackling this topic yet we allow fear to govern us far too much of the time, stopping us from doing – and being – all that we want to be.

Food writer, Tom Flint

If people are sad enough to judge you for eating out alone, does it matter what they think anyway?That’s their problem, not yours!

Or is it you that’s judging yourself in some way?

In our modern ‘have-it- all’ society, most of us feel self-conscious and anxious about our achievements. There’s constant pressure to be all things to all people; to have a healthy happy family, a good job, a nice house and car, loyal longstanding friends, as well as all the other external trappings we associate with success and pressurise ourselves with – ie however you think you’re ‘supposed’ to be.

Maybe all those things are a distraction from what’s really important – and that if you’re able to eat out alone and enjoy the experience maybe you’re stronger and more self-sufficient than many others? That, in itself, is a huge part of what you need in life to be successful – to feel happy and comfortable enough in your own skin you can forget your hang-ups and just enjoy where you are, in the present moment.

Curry Leaf Cafe, Brighton, Kanthi, video masterclass, Temple Bar, restaurant

I love food and restaurants but I love people more – I enjoy being with them, sharing things, watching what they do and learning from them – but to really appreciate the special people in my life, I need nourishing and enjoyable time alone to refill the well, so that I can fully appreciate and give to other people (in fact, my sanity depends on that!).

I regard an opportunity to eat out alone, regardless of the time of day, like an Artist Date, popularised in Julia Cameron’s much-loved book The Artist’s Way:

The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly ‘artistic’ — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, ‘what sounds fun?’ — and then allow yourself to try it.”

When I head out my door on the hunt for some quality food in an inviting setting, I approach the whole thing as an exciting, fun expedition; a precious, rare jewel of a gift I’m giving to myself.

Turns out, I’m not the only person who feels that way: solo dining is an emerging trend: which you can read about here:

Huffington Post: Why you should go out to eat alone

Elite daily: Party of One

Serious Eats: In Defence of Eating Alone

the breakfast club, review, brunch, breakfast, the lanes, brighton

So give it a go – relish in the experience and enjoy yourself!

 Choose a restaurant you’ve been hoping to visit but not yet had the chance.

 If offered a choice of seats, choose one you’ll feel most comfortable in that’s got a good view of the restaurant or pub you’re in.

 Settle into your seat and take some deep breaths to help you relax.

 Select something lovely to drink, such as a delicious juice, an interesting lager or ale or a glass of decent wine (or even a whole bottle if you want – this is your evening!).

 Order whatever food most takes your fancy (you don’t have to compromise or share!).

 Be friendly and polite to the staff – that’s always important, whether alone or with company.

 Savour every bite and every sip. Experience and enjoy everything – all the tastes, images sounds and sensations in your immediate environment.

 Check in with how you’re feeling. Are you relaxed or energised, happy or uncomfortable? Hopefully you’ll be feeling happy or be alive and part of everything going on around you (yes, even though you’re alone, solo dining can often leave you feeling like you’re part of everything because you’re out and about enjoying yourself, not sitting at home with a TV dinner!).

Bucket and Spade Cafe, Brighton, Children's play area, Brighton seafront

To sum up, here are my top five benefits to be gained from solo dining:

1) Freedom!

Solo dining is all about you, so there’s no need to match your diary against someone else’s and you can act spontaneously and go wherever you fancy, order what you want, linger as long as you like and spend the time in quiet contemplation if you so wish, enjoying your chosen venue, the food you’ve ordered and your own company. If you get this combination right you’ll discover how magnificently mindful an experience eating alone can be; a bit like a meditation session where each moment is spent entirely in the present.

2) Time!

We spend so much of our lives with other people, whether negotiating with colleagues at work or broaching some sort of compromise with friends and family. Eating out alone allows you to take time out to be in your own body and mind, catch up with some reading or to just be, without having to ruin your digestion by making conversation between bites. Bliss!

3) Space!

If you choose your venue carefully solo dining gives you a much better chance of getting a seat, particularly in sushi restaurants like Moshimo that have individual stools in front of a conveyer belt or in restaurants or pubs that have bar-style seating, as at 64 Degrees. An added bonus is that these places give you the chance to watch the staff in action while you munch.

4) People watching!

You’re eating alone and don’t have to focus on your dining companion(s) so you can look around and watch everyone else instead. It’s amazing what you can learn from observing how other people interact with each other.

5) New friends!

Waiting staff will often be friendlier to you when you’re eating alone, which means you can have a more positive and interactive experience than if you’re mainly focusing on your companion. And if you’re in the mood to meet someone then eating alone will increase those chances, as you’ll be more approachable because you’re not hanging onto your dinner date’s every word.

eat naked, gluten free, brighton, the lanes, review, takeaway

There are so many places in Brighton and Hove that are great for solo dining. Here are a few of my favourites:

Moshimo serves amazing Japanese food using fish from sustainable sources. It’s deservedly popular, particular on Mondays and Tuesdays when lots of dishes are half price if you have a members card. Turning up there with friends invariably involves a wait, whereas arriving alone means I’ve often slipped ahead of the queue and onto one of the stools facing the conveyer belt (which are the best seats because you can see everything!)

Curry Leaf Café has to be one of the friendliest restaurants in Brighton so I love eating there, whether alone or with friends. The staff are super welcoming, the décor is really warm and cosy and the food is always delicious.

Pho is a bit like Moshimo in that it’s always busy but I love the tasty Vietnamese flavours so have been there alone a fair few times. I like to sit on one of the stools facing the kitchen, so also get a seat here pretty quickly.

To stick with the Asian theme, I’ve eaten alone many times at Wagamama and Pompoko. Neither have stool seating so solo dining does mean sharing a table with other people, or taking up a table for two for just you. I often feel a bit guilty about that but the food is served quickly so I don’t need to linger for long.

Just along from Pompoko is Côte, for which I feel a certain fondness. I love the French bistro fare and adore the high ceilinged venue, in which I always feel transported to another country or era. The staff are efficient, attentive and always courteous to solo diners and there’s a good buzz about the place. I always feel plugged into Brighton life when I come here.

Joe's Cafe, 24 Upper Hamilton Rd, Seven Dials, Brighton, breakfast

Other good places where the food’s delish and the welcome warm enough to help ease your lonesome worries:

Edendum; Julien Plumart; Eat Naked; Cup of Joe; Kooks; Breakfast Club; Eatalio; Burger Kult; Joes Café; Bucket Spade Café.

What about your favourite places to eat out alone?

Let us know where you go in the comments section below.