Sunday, April 25, 2004

Dinner for One

A column published today in the Baltimore Sun focuses on attitudes a solo diner sometimes receives from restaurant employees who don't understand how someone can enjoy eating a meal alone.

Here is what columnist Scott Dierdorf had to say:

As a chronically single person, I've noticed that society seems to have an interesting attitude toward people who eat alone. I witnessed a demonstration of this recently.

I went to a steakhouse to eat a decent meal and work on a writing project. When I walked in, I asked the hostess for a table by the window. The restaurant was pretty dark, and I needed to see to take notes.

"Certainly," she said. "Right this way."

She showed me to a table and indicated a chair facing the window. Instead, I sat in a chair with my back to the window so that the light would fall on the table instead of directly in my eyes. She acted confused for a moment, and then looked concernedly at me.

"Do you want something to read?" she asked.


"Something to read? The Sunday paper, maybe?" She spoke in hushed tones.

"Uh, no, I have something to work on," I said, taking the note cards from my pocket.

"Oh, you came prepared," she said, slightly surprised, and walked away stiffly.

It wasn't until she left that I understood what had just transpired. When I asked for a table for one by the window, she must have assumed that I wanted to look outside while I ate, staring with dead eyes at the world that had so cruelly rejected me, pining for some meager morsel of human contact.

When I sat facing away from the window, she wondered what I was going to do while I ate. She quickly offered me something to distract me from the reality of my mean existence, lest my quiet sobbing depress the other customers and keep them from ordering from the dessert cart.

OK, I'm being dramatic, but do you see my point? Why did she assume that I'm some loser who can't make it through a meal on my own? Isn't it possible that sometimes people actually like to be alone? Must we always assume that those who are by themselves without any visible diversion are sad sacks who require the restaurant staff to entertain them?

What is it about meals that requires you to be with someone else, anyway? Practically speaking, meals are some of the worst times to be around another person. Not only are you more likely to offend your guest with your lousy table manners, but it's also impossible to talk for a good portion of the time because your mouth is full of food. I think it's surprising that the majority of people don't choose to eat alone.

Nevertheless, in spite of the numerous advantages of not having a dinner date, it is unlikely that society is going to change its attitude anytime soon. I would therefore like to propose a new online venture aimed at reducing the ridicule people suffer when eating by themselves. It's kind of like Friendster, except that instead of attempting to set you up on a date with some weirdo in Tucson, Ariz., who you don't know but who also happens to like the Propellerheads and Barton Fink, this service would help you find a beard to sit with you while you eat.

I'll call it "LoserNet," or maybe "Eatster." You'd log in on your mobile phone and enter your coordinates, and it would tell you the locations of other single people who are preparing for a solitary meal. You would pick someone and view their picture, so that you could greet them at the restaurant.

You then, by mutual agreement, would eat your meal without speaking. The hostess would still give you knowing looks, but instead of thinking you were a couple of losers she would assume that you were a feuding couple on the verge of splitting up. Let's face it - feuding couples are far more socially acceptable than single people.

I'm still in the process of raising venture capital for this new business, but rest assured that I'll make an announcement here as soon as it's ready. And if anyone wants to work at Eatster, please send me e-mail. Note that our company won't have a lunchroom. Everyone will be expected to eat in their cubicles. By themselves.

Scott Dierdorf is a writer and technology professional.


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