There's a social stigma attached to eating alone. I've done it on several occasions, and you probably have to, but for whatever reason, the feeling of embarrassment always rears its ugly head whenever you tell a waitress, "Table for one, please." And then of course we must always have our smartphones or books to look at while we eat, partly to preoccupy us with no one there to talk to during the meal but also so we can avoid the judgmental stares coming from your fellow diners.
But in all actuality, no one should feel weird about eating by themselves, for one because it's just a meal, and just because you are eating alone doesn't mean you're lonely. And second of all, because most people do it.
A recent study has found that more than half of the meals people consume are eaten alone. Global information company The NPD Group has found that consumers eat alone most of the time for breakfast (about 60 percent of the time), lunch (55 percent) and "non-meal occasions" like snacking (a little more than 70 percent). However, we usually find the time to come together with our loved ones to talk about our day at dinner. Only 32 percent of dinners are spent alone.
There are a few factors at play that help explain why we eat alone. One is that our lives have become less household-oriented and more independent than previous generations, according to The NPD Group. More than a quarter of the population also lives by themselves, 27 percent to be exact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Breakfast, lunch and quick bites during the day have also become less about sitting down and enjoying the meal and more about food that you can eat quickly or on the go.
However, gathering around the dinner table at the end of the day is still common in most households. The NPD Group found that nearly half of all families with children eat dinner together at least five times a week.
A photo series of people eating dinner in New York and Tokyo made the rounds online last month, and this recent study really puts them into perspective. Photographer Miho Aikawa captured people eating dinner, often solo, at their dining tables, beds or couches and usually looking at their TVs, smartphones or laptops. When I first saw the photos, I remember feeling kind of sad for these people who looked so bored eating alone, but they really do show the way we live now.
"My photos are voyeuristic, but my attempt is to capture and convey the subtle and important moments that so often pass us by, in our daily lives," Aikawa told Co.Design in July.
If eating alone has still got you down, you could always go to the Moomin Cafe in Japan, which seats you with stuffed animals if you're dining by yourself. On second thought, it's probably just better to go solo.