Bring a Book

My travel schedule has calmed down quite a bit, but I was thinking about something odd: why is it so weird to eat alone at a restaurant, but it’s not weird to get coffee by yourself?

I got funny, mostly sympathetic, looks while dining alone during a business trip. I got knowing looks while dining alone at a tradeshow. I get no looks while consuming coffee alone at Starbucks. Why? I think it’s partly because there’s nothing to “do” during the longer wait period at a restaurant. You are seated, and you wait. You order, and you wait. You hand your credit card to the waiter, and you wait. During this waiting, you have nothing to do but awkwardly glance around the restaurant, occasionally catching someone’s eye, and quickly looking away. I think this is less problematic at a coffee house, because the time between ordering and drinking (ie: doing something!) is so much shorter. And, at tradeshows, you’re probably flipping through marketing collateral or glued to your Blackberry, and the lunch is only about 5 minutes to scarf down stale pizza, so there’s much less time between actions.

Hence, the reason people advise you to bring a book if you’re dining alone. Except, I never just sit quietly. Have you ever forced yourself to just sit quietly with your own thoughts? Maybe it’s just me, but this can be unnerving! You’re just sitting there…. quietly…. thinking the thoughts that come into your head! As business people, we’re always working out the next deal, hustling to the next meeting, or trying to answer email while talking and walking. Maybe it’s weird to go to a restaurant alone because no one just sits quietly alone. We always need something to entertain us, someone to talk to, some purpose other than reflection. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, and I think bringing a book is a viable solution to avoid the funny looks from people in the restaurant. But, for those who rarely find themselves alone, I might suggest leaving the book at home, and absorbing the quiet time between sitting, ordering, and paying.

How do you make dining alone feel a little less awkward?

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