A woman looking happy eating by herself
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BREATHING SPACE

How to master the art of eating alone

Rebecca May Johnson loves nothing more than eating on her own, each solo meal mapped out as a happy milestone. Here are her tips

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By Rebecca May Johnson on

Learning to eat on my own in restaurants – and enjoy it – is among my happiest achievements. When I order a plate of deep-fried fish and chips with peas, bread and butter and a pot of tea, untroubled by anyone else’s tutting (real or imagined), I feel so wonderfully alive. I apply the excesses of salt and vinegar that delight my palate, shatter the crisp batter with my fork and pull out pearly white flakes of fish. I order a second pot of tea and read my book. As well as dinner, it’s a joyous act of self-authorship and an everyday resistance to the idea that a woman by herself is not enough.

Different moods call for different menus and different dining rooms, of course – a mismatch is at best unsatisfying and at worst brings self-doubt and indigestion. When I’m alone, my eating tends to fall into the categories of “private pleasure”, “somewhere I am living out a fantasy of how I’d like to live (but can’t really afford to)” and “comfort food”. Memorable successes include: pistachio milkshake at Kaspa’s ice cream parlour before catching a train; an elegant plate of sweetbreads and peas in a Soho restaurant with leather banquettes; and aubergine parmigiana and a basket of bread in Newcastle when I started a new job. Like working out precisely which clothes will make me feel good and then wearing them, identifying the exact location where my appetites can be satisfied and I feel relaxed enough to enjoy what’s on my plate feels like a significant achievement.

 As well as dinner, it’s a joyous act of self-authorship and an everyday resistance to the idea that a woman by herself is not enough

My unchaperoned feasts are a kind of public disobedience. Disapproval, squeamishness or outright horror at the idea of women satisfying their own desires, rather than serving someone else’s, is persistent. Women I’ve spoken tell me they feel uncomfortable – selfish, indulgent, vulnerable, conspicuously unwanted, shameful even – at the thought of dining out alone. Anxieties like these are a big deal. They are a reflection of the toxic environment in which we still find ourselves, but there are strategies you can deploy to overcome or lessen them. Here are a few that have increased my solo dining confidence:

Find role models

To get going, find women you admire who are good at taking themselves out to eat on Instagram and follow them for inspiration and courage. A few I like are @tinietempeh, @anissahelou, @dconfusion, @fuchsiadunlop@dearlovelucy

Research

If in doubt, read reviews of somewhere you’d like to try before you go, so you can order with confidence.

Make sure a restaurant can look after your needs

If you have dietary needs or allergies and are unsure if a restaurant caters to them, give them a ring first – there is literally no point wasting a potentially delicious evening with yourself in a place that can’t feed you what you need.

Eat somewhere you can afford (including paying a decent tip)

Nothing is more stressful than worrying you can’t pay for a meal while you are eating it (I’ve been there so many times).

Try places you’re familiar with first

If you are really stressed about the idea of eating alone but are keen to try it, go to a restaurant you’ve been to with friends already – somewhere that feels a bit like home.

Take a picture of your food

Because it’s fun and will help you build a record of places you’ve enjoyed eating on your own and, if you’re feeling vulnerable or lonely, you will be showered with love and comments from friends – and, also, boo to naysayers who say you shouldn’t. WOMEN, BE PUBLIC!

Bring a book

If you want. Mostly, I get so engrossed in eating I forget to read, but if it’s somewhere that will let me hang around after I’ve finished, then it’s dreamy. Also a good prop if nervous.

@rebeccamjohnson

 

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Photo: Getty images
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