The Guide to Eating Out Alone

Eating alone in public was a fear that I was unable to get rid of until college. High school’s universal lunch times and cafeteria really didn’t do much for the person that ate alone. Ill-intended or not, thoughts of “this person’s a loner” inevitably occur to the bystander. In college, this got a lot better because everybody’s schedules would be different; there would also be ample one or two-seater options in the dining hall. Also, all the other things on your mind just made it that much easier to stop caring about any potential judgments.

However, this does not mean that my fear has been completely eradicated, as an extension of the notion of eating alone is still deeply troubling. It is one of eating alone in public, except this time I mean the REAL world: eating at a restaurant. Cafes and coffee shops don’t count, since often it’s meant to be enjoyed alone anyway. I’m talking about the restaurants where there’s a hostess at the door that asks you, “Table for – oh god forbid – one?” In which you have little option but to hold your head high and offer a subtle nod in hopes that nobody else saw your independent pursuit to eat out.

There are a couple of things to do that could ease the pain in this experience. Although I have yet to fully commit in eating out alone at a restaurant (I really need to learn how to get over it soon and I will definitely reflect the experience here), here are some actions that I would take to make the experience that much more rich and vivid.

1) Getting seated: It’s likely that you will be led to what’s really a small two-person table. Therefore, there will be two sets of plates and silverware. You have an important decision to make here: do you keep it there to maintain the illusion that someone is coming? Or are you just going to screw it and let it be known loud and clear that nobody else is coming. This one is a toss-up, since eating with an empty chair and dining set can also give off the impression of being stood up, which might be less noble than owning up the fact that you had always intended to enjoy this meal alone anyway.

2) Ordering. This could go in several directions too, depending on your budget/what kind of food you like to eat. There’s the option of ordering elegantly – what you would eat on a date that would still maintain the same level of attraction is what you’ll order here. However, I would probably go all-out. Order anything and everything you’d like – so what if it’s 3 appetizers and 3 desserts? You’re alone! This is the time where all the other judging diners don’t really apply since it’s unlikely that you’ll interact with them once the night is over. Honestly, order something that you want to eat all by yourself and as ugly as you may be while eating it, it’s going to be delicious.

3) Waiting for food: This is a point I’d like to stress: NO SOCIAL MEDIA. No distractions. Giving in would be a personal failure because your interactions with others, cyber-based or not negate the point of eating alone. However tempting this may be, refrain from falling into the trap. It’s not worth it, and you would have endured so much for nothing, since it’s not really eating alone. It’s cheating. So…just wait patiently. Start people-watching. Honestly, there are few opportunities that top people-watching alone at a restaurant.

4) Eating your food: Alas, your food has finally arrived! It’s time to enjoy all of it, and don’t hesitate to eat that corn on the cob shamelessly while corn pieces fly out of your mouth and the others get stuck in your teeth. Open your mouth wide to eat that hamburger while the meat juices flow down your chin. Accidentally drop something. Make a huge mess on your table. Finish all your fries. Get more. Do whatever you want, it’s you against the world!

5) Order dessert. This is a must. I don’t care how full you are but you have to order dessert. It’s a sign of total acceptance and embrace of your independence. Again, get whatever you want, extra orders are not only accepted, they’re recommended.

6) Getting the check and paying: This part gets a little dark, since it is your wallet that has to take the damage. Gone are the days of sharing the bill or getting treated by others. You’re on your own. It’s going to be painful but I’d recommend using a charge card just so you don’t have to see each dollar ($54) being separated from you.

7) Leaving: This is a tough call. If you think eating alone is something that you will regularly participate in , then I would recommend you just to slip out discreetly without bothering the rest of the diners. However, for whatever reason, if this is something that is more of a once-in-a-decade activity, make a grand exit. You really have to master the full potential in this experience, so do whatever you think makes yourself known that you ate alone, and that you were a badass the entire time.

8) Reflect: You did it! You have finally fully committed to the experience of eating alone in a very public place. It takes a lot of guts and willpower to do so, but it’s one more thing to cross off that bucket list and you should feel triumphant. Honestly, I feel a little hypocritical to be writing up a guide that I myself cannot follow, but I promise that someday I will. To be honest, it sounds like an awesome time and getting over this fear would likely help me in getting over other ones. Who knows, you might meet someone on this personal endeavour, in which case you would put his/her number in your bag and the back of your mind until the next day because this meal is, and always will be, all yours.

The types of couples you see at the Shanghai subway

The commute to my internship is a daily, 3-stop subway ride. Although it’s not really a long time, it gives me ample opportunity to gather field research in observing all the different kinds of couples that I encounter there.

So here is an incomplete list of these couples; hopefully you will be lucky enough to see them all in your own forms of public transportation:

1. The Siamese Couple:

This couple is basically one larger person. They stick together no matter what, even if it’s in the most crowded situations you can always find them firmly attached to one another. They hold on to each other for support to keep balance and stand side by side on the escalator, blocking everyone’s way.

2. The Fighting Couple:

Clearly, these two people are not having a great day. Whatever repressed anger they have with each other masters its full potential on the subway, and it’s a great source of entertainment for everyone surrounding them. Their argument continues all the way until they exit the cabin.

3. The Lovey-Dovey Couple:

This one you can find in a lot of public settings, but an especially inappropriate place for excessive PDA is the subway, in my opinion. It’s not exactly the same as the Siamese couple because they’re not necessarily attached at the hip…just attached through the lips or some other form of touching and feeling.

4. The Couple with the Crazy Kid:

For some reason, this is the couple I encounter the most on the subway. Maybe it’s because it’s rush hour and everyone is invading everyone else’s personal space, but there’s almost always a howling kid that exercises his/her lungs to full capacity on the subway. The couple tries their best to soothe and quiet him/her, but in the end they have no choice but to give up even amidst disapproving stares from others.

5. The Couple with the Really Cute Kid:

You don’t always spot it right away, but when you do it makes your subway experience instantly better. This kid is so cute and obedient that you kind of just want it for yourself…and if you’re in China, sometimes they’re wearing huge, frameless glasses. You constantly fight the urge of snapping several stalker shots of this baby.

6. The Couple Not From Here

It’s not even so much that they aren’t speaking in Mandarin or the Shanghainese dialect, it’s their volume that makes their agenda clear: they’re definitely not from Shanghai. They also tend to carry several large bags that contain their personal belongings, which often causes at least some distress when they try to exit/enter the subway.

7. The WTF Couple:

Providing that they produce some of the best-looking people in the world, I really have nothing against inter-racial relationships. However, sometimes they just look so awkward from the outside that you really have to do a double take. It’s not necessarily always a huge burly guy with a tiny Asian girl that brings about the WTF moment, sometimes it’s a couple where you honestly can’t tell which one is the guy and which one is the girl.