Wednesday, January 7, 2004




Dining alone can be a satisfying experience



A story released today by the Knight Ridder News Service reports that  unmarried people are the fastest growing group in America. Right now, 27 percent of the population lives alone. That's more than married couples with children.

Yet, despite the growing numbers, singles still get shuffled to the most undesirable tables at restaurants. They're forced to get creative when it comes to grocery shopping. And try finding recipes for one.

Most people will live alone at some point in their lives -- and everyone has to eat. Armed with a strategy, dining alone can be just as satisfying as eating with company -- and you won't have to worry about anyone eating the last piece of cake you've stashed away.

We talked to singles about the way they eat. All are empty-nesters. 

When she's in town, Mary Holmes does a lot of cooking for herself at her South Minneapolis home. Holmes, 50, used to order room service while on business trips for St. Paul's Musictech College, but she no longer feels shy about asking for a reservation. "I encourage people to dine alone," she says.

"I travel year-round, except summer, so I'm pretty comfortable dining out alone. It's difficult sometimes if you're at a P.F. Chang's or a place that's very loud and boisterous and more of a trendy place. The dynamic is not real conducive to single people.

"Rather than support the chain restaurants, I try to support mom-and-pop restaurants, if they're interesting and not greasy holes-in-the-wall. I like places where the decor is nice, the food is great and the place is welcoming. . . . I ask the locals, 'Where's a good Thai restaurant or Italian restaurant?' I really prefer eating in the main dining room. I like the whole dining experience.

"I usually ask for a table by a window or a booth where you can look outside or watch people rather than being in the middle of the room. I was just in
L.A., and I went to the Palm. I had to eat in the bar. It's not comfortable and not relaxing. Another spot I went to had a lot of big pillars. I was kind of stuck behind one. That time I said, 'Would you mind if I sat elsewhere?' At some places that are well known, you have to share a table. I always bring some kind of reading material. It's fun to people-watch, too. It just depends on the place.

A St.
Paul kindergarten teacher, Kathy Sullivan hardly ever dines out alone. Sullivan, 50, prefers takeout or doing her own cooking. But the divorced mother of two has had to make some adjustments since her children have moved out.

"When I dine out alone, it's for fast food, like going through the drive-through at Taco Bell.

"I'll do some takeout, if I don't have anything in the house. Or I'll get something at the deli, like those rotisserie chickens for something hot that's like a home-cooked meal. At [one local] deli, you can put together your meat, potatoes and vegetables. Or I try the salad bar."

"How much I cook at home varies every week depending on how busy I am. I don't like repeating dishes I had for lunch. If I'm eating late, I want comfort food like tomato soup and grilled cheese or a bowl of cereal while I watch the news."

"Other nights, I might crave pasta or tortellini and garlic bread. If I'm craving a burger and I don't want to run out in the cold, I make them with my George Foreman Grill. Sometimes, I make pizza; other times, I put grilled chicken strips and cheese and whatever vegetables I have on a Boboli crust and bake it."

"Shopping has been an adjustment from when I cooked for my kids. I've been scaling back from servings for six to servings for two, and I usually have leftovers. Some of the fresher things you just have to buy small. Instead of a package of four tomatoes, I buy them individually. You hate to buy a whole big thing of herbs, but I look for the smallest bunch. . . . Bread is another thing I find I have to keep in the refrigerator. If I leave it out, it gets moldy."





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