Two Sundays ago, I ate by myself at New Dragon Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Walking into an Asian restaurant as a single Asian female means I’ll either be seated with some weird looks from the staff, or the owners will automatically adopt me as their Lunch Daughter and refill my glass of water faster than I can say xie xie. At New Dragon, it’s always the latter. Why? 1. Because I’m cute, 2. They probably pity me.
I ordered the usual: War wonton soup filled with juicy whole shrimp and spicy salt tofu – deep fried soft tofu tossed in garlic, white pepper, jalapeño slices, and a phatty layer of MSG – with a side of rice. Sure, the group of old dudes sitting next to me assumed I must’ve been “lonely” and tried to spark up a conversation about how my tofu looked like cheese, and a group of ladies who lunch seemed baffled by my solitary appearance at the restaurant.
I realize for some weird reason it’s still not cool for people in 2015 to eat alone. In Japan, there’s even a café where they’ll seat you with a creepy stuffed animal to stare at – you know, just to keep you company. Seriously. Solitude is that taboo.
Me, personally? I love eating alone. I love everything about it. If you think eating alone’s pathetic, I’m gonna try to win you over. Right here, right now. Below are some of my favorite things about dining solo, accompanied with a few terrible stock photos of lonely people eating:
DINE AT YOUR OWN PACE
When you’re alone, you order whatever you like, eat as fast or as slow as you want, and flip over that check whenever you want to, too. If there’s anything that gives me more satisfaction after a great meal than flipping that check whenever I’m ready, on my own time, then leaving a fat tip, I don’t know what it is. There’s simply too many social mores that dictate when and how to split a check (my least favorite thing to do every time), whether or not to box your leftovers, etc. etc. Also, is it just me, or does everyone hate that food etiquette rule where you have to wait ‘til everyone has their food before you can eat?
I’m personally a serial snacker that gets hungry too soon and full too fast, so I gotta really pace myself when I eat. Or else I’ll feel miserable at the dinner table practically going blind from food coma and sodium, and graduate into that gross person that leaves for a smoke break only to return with a lil cloud of cig smell following them for everyone else to sniff’n’enjoy.
Sometimes you just like to take your time with the crust.
PEOPLE WATCH TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT
People are hilarious. 3 out of the 5 couples that dine out in LA are on Tinder dates, and I love seeing the same people on different dates, doing the same exact things. I know a guy who sits at the same corner table at El Prado bar in Echo Park with every new OkCupid date (props to him, corner tables are great). Recently, I overheard an argument about whales and environmentalism between two drunk girls and a dude in Silverlake. That was real cool, actually. People also, for some reason, assume you’re not listening to them when you’re by yourself and/or on your phone, so I like listening to people talking about me, then confronting them or answering their questions when they least expect it after I leave the check. Maybe I’m just nuts though and no one else finds this funny.
Solo hat guy at the bar in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks looks like he’s tweeting about the “It’s Complicated” couple across from him.
HAVE ALMOST NO WAIT TIME
Usually, it’s pretty easy to be seated at the bar or at a table for one when you’re solo. This comes extra handy during the lunch and dinner rush. Unfortunately, for really busy restaurants, if you’re booking reservations online (like OpenTable.com), there sometimes isn’t even an option to book a table for one. In this case, just call the restaurant or book for two. Another thing: It’s polite to ask for a seat at the bar if you don’t have a reservation; and you’ll soon learn to love sitting at the bar alone if you don’t already. My favorite restaurant bar-type seating is at ramen restaurants – particularly Men Oh Tokushima in Little Tokyo, which is on my places to eat in Little Tokyo article.
BECOME A REGULAR
There’s something beautiful about becoming a regular. I’ve read some articles that swear by all the free perks and great service you get by becoming a restaurant/bar regular, and they’re mostly true, but it’s not about the rewards. And it shouldn’t be some manipulative end goal. It’s about connecting with people, and leaving an impression of respect. People remember these things. Eating alone makes becoming a regular much easier because you’re able to pay more attention to the wait staff that are serving you. Eat alone, and you’ll soon notice how observant you are of your surroundings. Recently, I ate alone during a particularly slow lunch hour at Koreatown Korean-owned Malaysian restaurant Café PappaRich (THIS IS THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT) and felt like two of the servers and I became, like, real homies that day. All jokes aside, sure, this notion may exist only in my head, but every time I’ve come back, there’s a palpable acknowledgement of respect and gratefulness that goes both ways.
GET SOME READING DONE THAT’S NOT JUST INSTAGRAM CAPTIONS
I’m constantly coming across great articles that I don’t have time to read ASAP. So I save all of them to this app I use called Pocket, so that when I actually have time to sit down, I have this whole roster of stories to read. Pocket syncs your account across all platforms, so you can easily read bookmarked articles on a tablet, phone, computer, etc. As an editor and writer, this is especially helpful if I’m researching a story I’m working on – I’ll just bookmark a shitload of articles and read them all once I sit down (I also will text-to-speech the articles to listen to while I’m driving but that’s a different story). Also, I don’t feel as empty as I do on an endless Instagram/Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook scroll.
Check out this woman smiling with her garden salad, pile of bread, and newspaper in hand.
FEEL GREAT ABOUT SOLITUDE
Basically. If you don’t feel great about being alone, you can pretend, because chances are, you might need more of it, or maybe you’re still learning to appreciate the company of your own self. Take your time with it, and while you’re at it, take your time to literally chew that fat, without, you know, having to chew the fat.