More of us are eating out alone - does that include you?
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Charlotte Smith-Jarvis likes to eat alone - and isn't afraid to say it.
I'm going to come across as a miserable hag, but allow me to explain to you why I love eating on my own.
Now it's not that I don't enjoy the company of others. I don't recoil in horror if approached by a kindly passer-by asking if I'm OK as I bite into my cheese scone (warm with salted butter please). And I'm not without options for dining companions when I want to grab something to eat. I've got a great network of friends, colleagues, neighbours and family who I thoroughly enjoy spending time with. But there's something meditative and quite liberating about sitting down to eat alone.
Perched at a café bench with just a paper or a gripping tome, it almost feels selfish and indulgent to take time for myself. But I don't care. I enjoy the peace. I enjoy not having to tell people (children) off for turning their noses up at one tiny element of their meal. I enjoy being silent. The simple pleasure of not having to make small talk.
And it appears I'm actually not alone. Last year the Waitrose Food Report found that eight out of 10 people surveyed believed eating solo was more acceptable than five years ago. Nationwide online booking systems back this up, with a reported more than a third of reservations via some providers being for one person.
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While many of these will be folk who are on their own through circumstance – divorce and bereavement being just two of them – I wonder how many (like me) treasure a bit of time away from everything over a bowl of soup, a slice of cake, or a late lunch?
Do you choose to eat by yourself now and again? Let me know why by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org
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But for now, here are a few local recommendations for you. Places where you can eat alone without feeling lonely.
Alby Tea Rooms and Bistro, Erpingham
Traditional café homemade seasonally changing food, guten-free cakes, good tea and offee, is in the upper courtyard of alby crafts & Gardens. Relaxing, high ceilinged by intimate space has the feeling of your own front room with snug areas, and retro touches like billiard table on the ceiling! Have a mooch about shopping amidst the crafts then stop in for a bite.
In city centre the bright, white, clean space is mind clearing and unfussy – much like the Hawaiian inspired food. Readers recommend a solo breakfast here of the smoothie bowls which include Green Mana (spinach, kale, avocado, spirulina, banana and strawberries topped with gluten-free granola, kiwi, banana, raspberries and desiccated coconut). Then there are the authentic bowls of poke – raw marinated tuna or spicy salmon with brown rice, fresh mango salsa, spinach, avocado, corn, pickled ginger, grated carrot and poke sauce. Fresh, light and perfect for one (no sharing).
The Pantry at Jarrold, Norwich
Ideal for spying on people outside struggling with their Christmas shopping as you look out from your third floor perch. With its elegant wide windows and relaxed vibe, this café is an excellent informal spot for a bite on your own from breakfast through to lunch, when a carvery is served every day. The cakes are lovely and the scones are said to be 'legendary'. We like the salad bar too.
Eric's Fish and Chips, Thornham
Steal yourself away to the north Norfolk coast where, after a stroll along the beach, and a nosy in the shops at Drove Orchards, you can take a pew at the bar style seating area to the front of Eric's and indulge in some of the county's best fish and chips. Senior citizens can enjoy cod, chips and a pot of tea for just £6.50 between 12noon and 4pm Monday to Wednesday. Or pick from the really quite exciting main menu where Kansas city wings, Japanese style fish burgers, black pudding fritters and gruyere and spinach arancini sit alongside all those fish shop favourites. Don't miss out on the homemade sauces – the dark mayonnaise really is something to behold.
A world of flavours is at your fingertips here and many of the people visiting are eating alone. Either sitting at the few chairs available outside some of the foodie outlets, or heading to a nearby wall or bench to tuck into their fare. We like the new offering of hot pies, mash and gravy from Walsingham Farm Shop, slices of hot lasagne from Lasagneria, Jakey the Bakery's French-style street food, Sicily Market's fist-sized arancini, and the sweet and savoury steamed buns from Bun Box.
Season, Wells next the Sea
'We have lots of diners who eat alone,' say the team at this seafood and grill restaurant. 'They come for coffee, lunch or dinner and they say they feel comfortable with us. We provide lots of magazines and possibly one of the best views for watching the fishermen, people watching, the tide and birds.' The menu here is fresh and as locally sourced as possible, with a focus on prime fish and shellfish. Swing by for a seared tuna, herb pesto, red onion and Blakeney leaf salad sandwich, Wild Craft brewery IPA battered hake or baked Wells next the sea crab.
Don't forget your prop
Our columnist Steve Downes says he likes eating out alone during the day, but finds it trickier in the evenings:
'There is a time and a place for dining alone: about 6pm in my front room.
Wearing lounge trousers and a hoodie, the singleton can stare into the eyes of Sophie Raworth as she reads the news - or Homer Simpson on Channel 4.
Why would you go out and pay handsomely for the privilege of being whispered about by other diners? 'Look, Nigel, he's been stood up.' 'Fenella, I bet that sad man has no love and no life.'
Dining out on your own offers too many opportunities for supercilious strangers to stare into your lonely soul – at least it does in the evening.
For I reckon there's a fundamental difference once it gets dark.
I'd have no problem going to a café or a restaurant on my own in the morning or at lunchtime. The expectations are different because evening meals are when romance is in the air and single people have Netflix for company.
But I do have one bit of important advice for anyone venturing out alone for lunch, brunch or even a coffee and a scone: if you are alone, you need a prop.
A book, magazine or a newspaper sends a signal to other customers that you intended to be on your own and had planned for it.
Sitting on your own on your phone or just twiddling your thumbs makes you look as though you've been stood up.'