Is this stereotype real or made-for-TV?
July 18, 2012 11:14 PM   Subscribe

Is this stereotype real or made-for-TV?

In Friends S4:E7 there is a storyline about Rachel going out to restaurants by herself, and Chandler says that he thinks there is something wrong with a woman who eats alone. At the end of the episode, a guy who Rachel wants to date says to himself "Yeah, you'll never hear from me because you are a freak who eats alone".

I have never heard of this stereotype anywhere else. Everytime I see this episode it bugs me. Is this just a case of the writers taking liberties for the sake of the story, or is this a real stereotype? Okay, I understand that there will always be people who judge others based on their own issues, but my question is, is this a common stereotype that I have somehow been (blissfully) unaware of?

Sorry if this comes across as chatfilter-y. This question has been on my mind for a very long time and I am genuinely interested in hearing people's opinions / experiences with this.
posted by vignettist to Human Relations (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have a female friend who often dined alone because she loved to eat out, whether or not she had anyone to do so with, and yes, people would apparently find it odd. She had said that she often saw people speculating about her, but just did not give a fig.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 11:18 PM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it's more that people are afraid that others will think they're weird if they eat alone. I know it used to be a thing that was discussed in travel books, especially books for women, that you don't have to hide out in your hotel room just because you don't have a dining companion, you can bring a book, it's fine, etc. I really can't imagine any sane person thinking someone is a freak for eating alone today. At least I hope not, because I do it all the time.
posted by HotToddy at 11:21 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's definitely A Thing, and not just for women (and not just for dining -- see e.g. going to the movies). There's lots of discussion over the merits of the idea in this Mefi post about a controversial "eating alone" Tumblr blog.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:36 PM on July 18, 2012

To me it seems obvious at face value that going to a restaurant alone can be an awkward thing.

Maybe not like a diner at lunch, but imagine going to a romantic "date" restaurant alone on Saturday night. See also the scene in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

Thinking "something is wrong" with a person who does it is a bit much in real life- but the character Chandler overthinks things and is neurotic, and thus you have comedy writing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:45 PM on July 18, 2012

There's a post on eGullet about this too that lays out most of my fears - fears of what the staff might think, and what the other patrons might think, that there's something wrong with me if I have to dine alone in someplace fancier than a diner, that I couldn't find anyone to eat with me.

Eating out is such a social thing in our culture these days, and excellent food is valued as more of an experience to share than something to be enjoyed personally for what it is.
posted by WasabiFlux at 11:47 PM on July 18, 2012

The population is (perhaps roughly evenly?) divided into three groups of people:
-Independent people who do the things they feel like doing, with or without others.
-Social people who much prefer to do things with others, but will go it alone if it matters.
-Group people who won't do things alone, except unwillingly under some kind of pressure.

I think eating alone only comes across as odd to the last group, because it's kind of alien to their way of doing things. It's not all that noteable to the others.

Perhaps the biggest risk is that it might be interpreted that alone = single, and you might have your reading interrupted :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:05 AM on July 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think it depends a lot on where you eat alone. I frequently (almost daily) had lunch alone in a small diner and there were many regulars, women included, who came there almost every day. I never thought anything more than "another person who is too lazy to cook/likes this place/did the same math I did: You can't make this cheaper at home" of anyone.
In a restaurant, it might - depending on her outfit - cross my mind that a woman eating alone had a date who cancelled (and she gave a damn and decided to have a good meal anyway), might be on a business trip or something. But "something wrong" wouldn't be on that list.
posted by MinusCelsius at 12:13 AM on July 19, 2012

Yeah, it is a thing for some people, like going to the movies or gigs on your own. To the extent that some people have never done those things on their own because of the stigma attached to it.
posted by heyjude at 1:19 AM on July 19, 2012

This is a thing for people. I do things alone (eating out, shopping, movies, museums, concerts, whatever) a good portion of the time and tons of my friends cannot believe that I enjoy doing this. I do not give a shit - I have stuff to do, man. I have regular nights out with my friends but really most of the time can't be bothered during the week to try to track someone down to do the things I want to do.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:42 AM on July 19, 2012 [29 favorites]

I think this is a changing stereotype (at least in some countries). It used to be that going out to a restaurant was an expensive treat that people did rarely - my parents had never eaten in a restaurant until I was five, and after that, our family ate out a couple of times a year, for birthdays or other celebrations, mainly. So of course you wouldn't eat at a restaurant alone (or go to a movie alone, similarly). That would be like throwing a party just for yourself and not inviting anyone.

But now it seems many people eat out a few times a week and it's not a social event so much as an alternative way to feed yourself. So it's not so weird to eat out alone. In fact, among some of my friends, it's weirder to cook a dinner for yourself alone, because it's a lot of effort and too much food for a single person.
posted by lollusc at 2:05 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having eaten out alone before, and having a friend who regularly eats at Very Famous Restaurants alone when she travels, I can tell you that it is hard to get good service alone. The number of times I have been ignored in a corner while dining alone is quite staggering, and the friend backs me up on this. We are both women; I'm not sure if men have different experiences dining alone. (Or maybe the both of us just have terrible luck?)
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:35 AM on July 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

There are definitely people who think it's weird to dine alone. I'm not very impressed with such people. Fortunately, restaurants I frequent don't seem to have the slightest problem with it, and I'd stop going to any that did.
posted by Decani at 4:46 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to think it was weird. But after traveling for work and eating by myself (with shitty service), i now assume most people eating alone might be on business and want to spend that per diem on some decent food.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:53 AM on July 19, 2012

Having eaten out alone before, and having a friend who regularly eats at Very Famous Restaurants alone when she travels, I can tell you that it is hard to get good service alone. The number of times I have been ignored in a corner while dining alone is quite staggering, and the friend backs me up on this. We are both women; I'm not sure if men have different experiences dining alone. (Or maybe the both of us just have terrible luck?)

I'm a man and my experience agrees. I often eat out alone, both when traveling and also locally when I want a dinner out and my partner wants to stay in or is out of town. I enjoy eating alone, but I've learned that some restaurants are great about this (bar seating is usually the best), and some are super crap about it. I don't know if there is any real stigma attached -- certainly there isn't at places with bar seating -- but there is a practical issue of needing to figure out which places are going to be good to eat at alone. (And, as noted above, for a woman there's the additional issue of whether a place is going to bring on the creepsters.)
posted by Forktine at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think any stereotype is due to sour grapes on the part of the people who are so hung up on what strangers think of them that they can't do it! What always bothered me more was an obviously married couple sitting there for a half hour and not saying anything to each other.

Women eating alone tends to spell bad service sometimes, but not all the time. (Forktine's comment makes me think that this is true for men, too.) If they try to put me in the worst seat in the house, I calmly ask for another table. And if the table service is so bad as to suggest to me that they want a crappy or no tip, I'm happy to oblige.

And I have never been bothered by a creepster when sitting by myself at a restaurant table. I think the typical restaurant area is way too open (and well-lit) for most PUA or other nonsense.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:49 AM on July 19, 2012

I'm going out on a limb and say that while there is some weirdness about whether "you" would ever go out to eat alone, I don't think there is an "ooh I would never date that person because she's eating alone" stigma.

Look at the answers here - most of them are about how people would feel THEMSELVES about eating alone, and the ones that talk about what you think about seeing OTHERS eat alone are not expressing the stigma. If you google "eating alone" and look at older replies on other forums (, yahoo answers, etc), you see the same thing. Most of the replies are about how people feel themselves, not a stigma about others. Though the stigma does get mentioned occasionally, it's not the big issue.

I do think you hear that stigma about others going to the movies alone - people think that's weird and sad, but everyone's got to eat and lots of people travel so eating alone is not that weird.

Just for fun, I did a Google fight for "eating alone" vs "movies alone" and the results were 6 million to 90 million.
posted by CathyG at 6:07 AM on July 19, 2012

This was touched upon in an episode of Sex and the City as well ("They Shoot Single People, Don't They?"); specifically, the need for having "Eating-alone armour" (like a book or newspaper to read). I guess it's a bit of a trope for insecurity vs independence.
posted by Paper rabies at 6:11 AM on July 19, 2012

"Dining out" is generally a social activity so to do it alone is unusual, i.e. less common. To those who need the approval of others being alone may be "weird".

Speaking just to the good/bad service aspects of dining alone, excellent restaurants aside, because they are, well, exceptional, busy places don't like and often try to hurry and/or discourage singles of any gender because they are taking up space that could be used for more people. Fewer people equals less food equals smaller bills and smaller tips. Singles rarely buy bottles of wine.

Even in places which seem uncrowded, where you would think "one is better than none" would apply (and does in management's eyes), servers often work in rotation on walk-ins and getting a single versus a full table is unpopular.

Better restaurants provide excellent service to everyone because you are, after all, their guest.
posted by uncaken at 6:17 AM on July 19, 2012

There are perameters in which this is acceptable. When I worked at restaurants, most of the people eating alone were male, and they would usually eat at the bar. The single diners (male and female) who dined at a table always seemed to be on business and would invariably have a book or newspaper with them. The single bar diners tended to be men there to watch the game or grab a drink after work.

As far as stereotypes, I always assumed any woman alone was on business. A woman alone drinking at the bar, however, looked like she was trying to pick up men.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:34 AM on July 19, 2012

I like to dine out alone, at nice places, and nobody has ever looked at me funny or said anything about it. (Once you say, "Just me" to the hostess, the waiters don't even say, "Will anyone be joining you?" And you often get extra attentive service from waiters. I don't know if that's because a single lady reading a book is an easy table, or if they want to make sure I'm not lonely. When I eat alone, it's usually during a slow period -- late lunch or early dinner -- so that may be part of it too.)

But whenever I TELL other people I like to dine out alone, there's always someone who says, "Oh, I could never do that, I'd be afraid people would think I was weird!" and someone agrees, "Yeah, people might think I was a weirdo with no friends!" I'd say about half of people claim they couldn't go to a restaurant alone ... unless they were traveling for business, when suddenly and magically it's a whole different category of eating alone!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:55 AM on July 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm even gonna say that this is part of a bigger ... I don't know if 'stereotype' is the right word, but I believe that some of the more social among us have trouble understanding those of us who like to be alone some of the time. So maybe this was also part of that.
posted by troywestfield at 6:57 AM on July 19, 2012

I sometimes eat alone at Disney World, if I'm there for a race. I suppose this makes me a huge loser.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:59 AM on July 19, 2012

It's definitely a stereotype, but in my experiences in New York, there's other few places where it's less of a big deal to eat alone.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:59 AM on July 19, 2012

Long-time solo diner here -- both in town and when I travel (which is 99% by myself) -- and I've had a few experiences of really slow or inattentive service, but have found that -- at least locally -- if I keep going to the same restaurants, they learn who I am, are glad for the repeat business and treat me well.

It probably helps that I'm a generous tipper. You get me served and out in 45 minutes or less, and that tip will make you very happy.
posted by gsh at 7:19 AM on July 19, 2012

As someone who travels most weeks for work, I eat alone often and attend movies and performances by myself as well (and there's often great single seats available at the box office). I love the opportunity to experience entertainment/cuisines that don't interest my husband and it helps me be more generous about doing things he prefers when I'm home again.

Love/sex scenes can make me feel like others perceive me as a little forever alone, but the only time in recent memory that I felt awkward was during a movie set in my home town, Boston, that I attended in Texas. There was an inside-Boston joke that struck me as very funny, but no one else laughed. Not one.
posted by carmicha at 7:27 AM on July 19, 2012

I travel for work frequently and therefore, dine alone all the time. At home I do the same thing if no one is around and I feel like going out and if the BF is away on business or something.

I think seeing a 30-something woman dining alone could weird out narrow minded people who are not very independent and prefer going out in groups. I think it's not a huge deal, but for some people could be seen as "odd" only because they would probably never do so themselves due to it being way outside of their comfort zone. These are probably the same people who later down the road will judge your parenting skills, marriage and XYZ.

I say eff them and do what you want. Just because you're by yourself (meaning either single or paired and there's no dining companions around) doesn't mean you're chained to the house with the only options of takeout, cook or starve.
posted by floweredfish at 7:35 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't forget that most of the characters on Friends are judgmental assholes (especially Rachel, ironically).
posted by schmod at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

i accompanied my husband on a business trip to las vegas, and he was busy with work and client meals and such most of the time, so i ate by myself a lot. during a nice solo dinner, the waiter asked me why i was eating alone, which i thought was weird and rude!
posted by sabh at 7:45 AM on July 19, 2012

I eat alone on occasion. I do a lot of things alone. I do a lot of things not alone, too, but there it is.

My experience is this: The difference between getting great service when eating alone and getting not-so-great service is how informal the place is. Specifically, if there's a maître d' and whatnot, then when you show up by yourself and tell them it's just you and get seated, you might not get such stellar service. Servers have never been shitty to me or anything, they're just not necessarily swooping by to make sure I have everything I want every couple of minutes.

This makes a certain sense, since it's just you, which means: Your table is set up for more than one person, but it's just you, so that's a table which you're taking up and they can't seat a bigger party, and you aren't likely to eat and drink enough by yourself for there to be a substantial tip.* Also, here's another consideration: Drinks tend to take up a huge chunk of the check, so if you're ordering drinks, there'll be more of a tip. If you're with a group, it's a social thing, so everyone's likely to order a couple and have dinner conversation and it's great. If you're by yourself then either you'll order little to none (which means less of a tip) or you'll order a lot (which, being that you're by yourself, sets off alarms that you could be a drunk and might be a problem).

The tip factors into it because servers live and die by tips. At the end of the shift, a lot of places make their servers tip out - this means they share out a portion of their tips with everyone who helped get you taken care of (the maître d' and the busboys and so on) but was not actually handed money.

So! At a more casual place where you can seat yourself, the number of people involved is lower. At my favorite haunt in Cambridge, there's no one seating you and there are no busboys. So at a place like that, while they might still have to tip out, that amount is going to fewer people; when the server sees you, they're not thinking that you only represent maybe like eighty cents of actual money.

This might help to explain why service can be a little shitty when dining alone: They don't resent you or anything but as you're not statistically likely to represent much of a tip, you're sort of at the bottom of their list of priorities. Anyway, this may be partly responsible for the stereotype.

And yeah, I know people who think dining alone is weird. I know people who think going to the movies alone is weird. I also know people who don't.

So - and I apologize for the long-windedness - yeah it's a relatively common stereotype in that I know people who think that way, but I don't think it's a strong or commonly-held enough thing that one could say a majority exists one way or the other.

* Another habit of mine is that I tip way, way too much as a matter of course, so usually if I come back to a place, the service is better - everything shy of a backrub, pretty much.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:57 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I often do things alone like go to restaurants or the theater and I have had people tell me they would never do something like that alone. But I learned early in life that if I wait around to do things until I find someone to do it with I'm going to miss a lot of stuff.

But yes some people do think it's odd.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

A list of things you do that you think other people care about enough to make silent judgement or snicker among their friends but actually no one cares and if they notice you at all it is likely in the most passing, fleeting way that is quickly forgotten – "Hey look... string."
  • Work out at the gym.
  • Wear the same outfit more than once per week.
  • Go to the movies alone.
  • Swim in a bathing suit.
  • Wear the wrong shade of lipstick.
  • Brown belt, black shoes.
  • VPL
  • Dine out at a restaurant alone.
Friends whole schtick is making a big deal about things that are not a big deal in typical histrionic, early-20s, I-don't-know-how-to-be-a-grownup-yet fashion. And there will always be those people who care a lot about trivial things. As someone said above, eff them!

I don't eat out alone a lot because I'm married and I have a toddler. However, when I have a hankering for something and my husband is not interested, I go alone. I bring something to read and enjoy ordering what I want. If people are noticing me and commenting (how rude!), I have not seen it.
posted by amanda at 8:12 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like eating alone and it hasn't been a problem, except that they do sometimes try to give me a bad seat. I don't mind if the waitstaff aren't checking in very often- I actually prefer it to what happened the other day when I was at a restaurant with my brother, and the woman brought our bill before we were done eating. I don't like feeling rushed or hustled, and it doesn't seem to happen often.

Sometimes you get a funny look or a double-take, but most people are too involved in their work/ freinds/ meal to care a whole lot.

Depending how you're dressed and where you are, as a woman, dining alone can make you seem very glamorous and mysterious. I once read a book or article on how to "properly" dine alone (at a restaurant, not a diner or somewhere that it doesn't matter) as a woman. I still remember a lot of the tips: don't let them seat you at a bad table. Do dress nicely. Don't bring a book or magazine or other distraction to hide from people- you don't need to avoid or excuse your aloneness. Do sit up straight and smile at people who look at you. Don't look around the room desperately or nervously or often; you don't need approval or to be rescued. Do enjoy yourself. Don't rush- you'rd a paying customer with as much right to be there as anyone else. So it's definitely a little odd, but more so for the person alone than anyone else.

The joke was probably that Chandler was being petty and neurotic- his character.
posted by windykites at 8:15 AM on July 19, 2012

The sad-person-eating-alone trope was the basis for a scene in The Muppets, the most recent Muppet movie. Sarah Silverman as a diner hostess looks down on Amy Adams's character for eating alone then Adams sings "Me Party." Watch the whole thing for singing Muppet food.
posted by Sock Ray Blue at 9:17 AM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Obama's Approval Rating Down After Photos Surface Of Him Eating Big Sandwich All Alone.

Voters describe recent images of Obama eating a gigantic hoagie all by himself "somehow very sad."
posted by Winnemac at 9:45 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm female, I like to eat out and I've traveled alone a lot so it's meant a lot of eating out alone. The only comment I've ever had was from a waiter who thought I was brave to going to a dinner show alone and bought me a free dessert. I have always been confused by his resaction but appreciated the dessert.

If you prop a book up in front of you it somehow mitigates a lot of the stares, I think people assume if you are sitting there eating alone you've been stood up, the book makes it clear you are there by choice.

In the US I've noticed the waiters don't like it as you take up a table for 2 but they only get half the tip as you don't order as much food.
posted by wwax at 9:53 AM on July 19, 2012

Yeah, I think stereotype is the wrong word for this, but it's definitely a stigma among many 20-something Americans, and it may also be an indicator of the introvert/extrovert divide.

the need for having "Eating-alone armour" (like a book or newspaper to read).

I do my best reading while eating, so wouldn't dream of dining solo without taking along my current book, and I always feel a little sad when I spot someone in like circumstances without something to read. But then I know, some people just aren't readers.

Note that some can't imagine living alone, but in NYC and Tokyo, I've heard the number of people living alone is now like 50%. (And note that Japan is a wonderful place for solo dining!)

I also have no problem at all with attending the cinema alone, in fact if you're the kind who must discuss what's happening on-screen in real time, I certainly would rather see the movie by myself, than with you! On the other hand, I can't imagine visiting a theme park alone.

A go-to book related to this topic is Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone.
posted by Rash at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2012

I've never really noticed the bad service aspect when eating out alone, but then again I'm fairly oblivious so maybe I've just been too wrapped up in my book to realize I was somehow being slighted. As far as being a stereotype goes, I'll add my voice to the people saying that yes, it is something of a thing - I've had people react with surprise and "oh, you're so brave, I could never do that!" before at the thought of eating out alone - but that seems to speak more of them than of those of us who will go it solo.

One of the best times I've ever had at an amusement park was when I was pet-sitting for my sister in Orlando and she gave me a free ticket ... I had half a second's misgivings at the prospect of having to say "one" every time a ride attendant asked how many were in my party, but it turned out to be a ridiculously fun day - getting to use the Single Rider lines all day means I got to ride All The Things several times over! Highly recommended, if you ever get the chance.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:10 AM on July 19, 2012

I eat alone a lot, always with a book though. Here's a trend piece on the topic from the NYTimes.
posted by telegraph at 10:39 AM on July 19, 2012

Wow, I am genuinely surprised by some of the responses here and by the attitudes described in the NYT article linked by telegraph. "I almost feel sorry for them because they’re alone," really?? I'm married, I have friends, but if I'm hungry now and no one's around, I don't give any more thought to eating out alone than I would to fixing myself a sandwich alone. Do you always have someone sitting across from you when you eat at home? No? Then why is it sad to do the same thing in a restaurant? I'm especially surprised that this feeling still exists in NYC, of all places. Most of my solo dining is done in Seattle and I'm rarely the only one eating alone, and I usually get better service, not worse, than when I'm with someone else.

I truly thought that the Friends thing was more about weird 20s paranoia about not seeming cool, the joke being that no real person would possibly care about you dining alone.
posted by HotToddy at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't like to go to bars or restaurants or movies alone - I dislike being in public alone (something I've never understood but wonder if it has to do with my social anxiety). I feel fairly neutral about other people doing it as it's just not something I enjoy.

Now, is it a common stereotype? From what I've seen off MetaFilter, yes. People who eat or drink alone in public without a prop such a book or a laptop are perceived as lonely.
posted by sm1tten at 12:10 PM on July 19, 2012

I feel weird eating alone unless I have a book, but that's more of a "my brain needs constant input" kind of thing, and less of a "what will people think?" thing. I also read a book when I'm eating alone at home.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

For some reason, I (33 year-old woman) am perfectly fine dining out alone...but going out to see a movie alone? I don't enjoy it; it makes me feel uncomfortable. Which is odd, of course, because with a movie all you're doing is sitting there silent in the dark watching a screen. Not really a group activity, is it? I have no idea what separates the two into Yes and No in my head.
posted by Windigo at 1:13 PM on July 19, 2012

We did one of those personality-test things at one of my old jobs, and one of the traits of my personality type was that i like spending time by myself, and that that personality type frequently like to go out to eat alone. Myself and the two other co-workers who fell into that type all agreed that we liked going out to eat alone, while the rest of our co-workers all said things like "really? i always feel badly for people who are alone" or "i always figure that people alone in restaurants have no friends because eating alone is terrible". I was really surprised how strong people's negative feelings about it were, since my attitude was always "aahh, gonna read this magazine and eat lunch and it will be so relaxing!".

So i think it's one of those things where a specific personality type makes you think that eating alone is totally normal, and a bunch of other types that think it would be unimaginable to want to do that.

As they say: different strokes for different folks!
posted by Kololo at 2:09 PM on July 19, 2012

I like eating out by myself and reading. I go to the bar, it's relaxing. I've lived in two cities as an adult. In the first city, I never saw a woman do this. In my current city, I often see women, but not nearly as often as I see other men, do this. Your city's culture may vary.

Also, I don't understand why people bother to see movies with other people. It always strikes me as a waste of a good "thing-I-can-by-myself" activity.
posted by ifandonlyif at 4:33 PM on July 19, 2012

The thing about dining alone, or movies alone, is the snobby factor and/or crowd factor. I will go to movies alone, but always for the matinee (cheaper anyway), NOT at 8 p.m. when everyone and their billion friends are going together in a giant pack. When you sit alone in the movies and it's a full/popular movie, I think people get annoyed at you after awhile, not to mention the "where the hell do I sit out of the way as to not inconvenience everyone else and their fifteen friends?" (Answer usually is: as far back and on the side as possible.) So it's doable, but also depends on the people demand.

Likewise with restaurants, don't go by yourself when it's super popular or super upscale. But if you go to coffeehouse-type places where they aren't utterly full all the time and it's okay to still sit at the table with your drink/laptop/whatever, then it's fine and nobody cares. There is just a certain stigma/inconvenience when a single person does something that is socially expected to at least have 2 people doing it every time.

And don't even try to get on busy rides at an amusement park alone. Argggggh on that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on July 19, 2012

I dine out and go to the movies alone, no one's ever personally called me weird. I had a best friend in high school who went to the movies by himself all the time-- I always thought it was neat and a sign of his independence. When I see someone eating out alone, I assume they're on a business trip or else in town for some reason that doesn't necessitate a group and wanted a nice meal/to not pass out on the way home. In other words, I dine out just for fun, but I usually attribute a pretty "normal" reason to strangers when I see them dining alone.

The only unusual reactions I've gotten to this "independence" were a boyfriend who was constantly stating his amazement (that a "beautiful woman" would dine out alone by herself, I must look so mysterious, har har, I think he was a bit jealous) and a man who prefaced asking me on a date by saying he was impressed that I went to a skating rink by myself, and that it was "adventurous" (I was biding time downtown while waiting for an event to start). So, only positive responses. Otherwise, it's never been an issue.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:42 PM on July 19, 2012

How silly! I love eating out alone.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:28 PM on July 19, 2012

I'd draw a distinction between casual places and nice restaurants. Eating alone in casual places - cafes, diners, coffeehouses - is considered normal, at least in big cities. Eating alone in nice restaurants is considered unusual, but I still don't think the average person is pointing at you and thinking "loser."

I eat alone at casual places in my city all the time. I don't eat alone in nice restaurants here, but that's mainly because I'd rather have a social experience if I'm going to spend the money. I will eat alone in nice restaurants while traveling (either for business or alone; I enjoy solo travel, which is another thing that will confuse a certain kind of person) because, hey, if I'm in a new place I want to sample the local cuisine and have a good meal, and I don't care if anyone thinks I'm weird. In either case, I nearly always bring something to read, not because I want to cover up my alone-ness, but because I like reading while eating. In the proper environment, it's relaxing.

I've never actually gone to the movies alone, but I'm not much of a moviegoer.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:33 AM on July 20, 2012

Thanks for all of the answers, they give me a different perspective to look at this from. I'm definitely the independent type who has never minded doing stuff alone. So these answers have reminded me that for a lot of people dining is a treat and should be a social engagement. But based on the answers here, I won't worry that people think I'm some sort of social outcast if I'm at a restaurant by myself.
posted by vignettist at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2012

Just the other day I heard two young women (maybe her late teens or early twenties) discussing things they would never do, and one of them said she never eats alone in restaurants. The other woman was surprised by this. So yes, there are people who think that way.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2012

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