Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Table for one: Are single diners given a warm welcome?

More and more diners are opting to eat out alone. What prompts them to go solo and what are the hurdles they face?

A solo diner at Pune’s Incognito which has a special arrangement for single guests. (Source: Sandeep Daundkar)

Gobbling down a greasy Chinese takeaway in the parking lot of a mall, occupying an obscure corner seat in a nameless Udupi restaurant or ordering a sandwich in the anonymity of her hotel room has never been her thing. A frequent traveller, software engineer Priyanka Kadam, doesn’t see dining out alone in a “proper” restaurant as an oddity. Having forked dinner without a companion in all kinds of places — from the dhabas in Punjab to fine dine restaurants in Mumbai — the 30-year-old doesn’t shy away from saying out loud those oft-dreaded words, “A table for one, please.”

“I don’t feel shy to go out and dine by myself. In fact, in a strange way, it’s kind of empowering,” she says. However her confidence doesn’t make her immune to the pariah status that she is often accorded for being a solo diner. “It irks me sometimes, why can’t people accept that some people might like to eat alone? At many restaurants, waiters keep asking if anyone is going to join me. I am a loner, not lonely. And I think girls who are eating out alone, have it tougher. Many people think we are either crazy or trying to pick up someone,” says Kadam, who lives in Pune.

One of the easiest ways in which a restaurant can make you feel unwelcome is at the time of booking a table itself, says Sutrishna Ghosh, 24, a content writer based out of Bangalore. Or worse, when you are waiting for a table and couples get preference over the lone wolves. “It happens on almost all busy evenings. I am waiting in a queue and a couple walks in after me and gets the table. It’s a no-brainer which of us is going to give them more business,” she complains.

The choice of tables offered to single diners is equally lean. Being made to sit facing the bathroom or the kitchen is something that Kadam has made peace with. “Sometimes, I do object. Thankfully, they always oblige,” she says.

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But the embarassment of being asked to share a table with someone is worse. “I face that quite often. Not at the posh ones though. But I guess everyone is out to maximise space and earn money, so I don’t mind,” says Ashwin Nair, 30, a banking consultant who lives alone in Mumbai and is a frequent solo eater.

While restaurateur Rajendra Kelshikar understands the “business first” attitude which leads most from his profession to give preference to numbers, at his own multi-cuisine restaurant Incognito, the single diner is given a warm welcome. He’s created a special nook — the Einstein’s table — for those who enjoy their own company.

Priyanka Kadam enjoys her own company when she eats out by herself. Priyanka Kadam enjoys her own company when she eats out by herself.

Kelshikar insists it’s not just about putting out a table and a chair. “It’s part of our business philosophy. An implied meaning of the word incognito is someone who is at peace with his own self in the middle of a crowd. He is a kind of a freethinker, an out-of-the ordinary person. In the hospitality industry, we call our customers guests. And in today’s age, when so many people are living by themselves, it’s time we made that added effort to make these guests feel at home,” he says.

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In fact, with business slow across sectors, no restaurant can afford to irk diners and lose a potential client. A food blogger and entrepreneur, Sahil Khan, says solo diners need to promptly remove themselves from their school cafeteria and shake off the self-consciousness. “It’s pretty normal to see a person eating alone. I don’t think I have ever faced a situation where other diners stared at me or waiters made me uncomfortable because I was a lone guest. It’s more about our internal conflict and how we perceive things,” he says.

Financial advisor Raksha Shetty, 31, agrees. Most of her single friends prefer ordering in because they feel awkward to eat alone at restaurants. “It’s not because they are made to feel awkward, it’s in their head. I personally feel people couldn’t care less what your dining status is,” she says.

So is there a mantra to make eating for one more palatable? “Carry a book or your iPad. Don’t just sit there staring into space or looking at other people’s food. That’s when people would think you’re weird,” says Khan.

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Contrary to perception, eating out alone can be quite a social experience. “I have eaten at community tables and bar areas where I have made good acquaintances. But sometimes, the company is unwarranted. Generally, restaurants don’t have a table for one. So when I am dining alone, I keep my bag on the empty chair to avoid someone from sitting there,” says Shetty.

Kadam remembers when she first began eating out on her own, she would look at the phone quite often, often in an apologetic manner. “Now I keep the phone by my side. Don’t give the impression that you’ve been stood up. There is no shame in eating alone. Celebrate it,” she says.

First published on: 29-11-2015 at 01:00:06 am
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