My anxieties about the oddness of eating out alone were confirmed when a waiter asked me, "Will someone be joining you?" after I finished my meal in a cafe alone. Afterwards, even though I knew there was nothing wrong with being alone, the fear of looking lonely and the guilt of taking up a seat began to eat away at me.
Food has a great purpose in our lives as a source of nourishment. However, meals are also an opportunity for people to bond in South Asian culture. The custom of eating together is such a strong part of Bangali culture that even seeing someone eating alone at a dinner table urges people to sit down with them to provide company.
Bangladesh is a place where relationships hold the utmost importance and food is our love language. Syeda Ramisa Anan, a student of North South University mentions, "I dine out for the food and to sit at a convenient place to spend time with people."
The fear of eating out alone is a complex one. Where meals are equated to socialising and bonding, the desire to get an experience you would at a restaurant diminishes. Sara Kabir, a student of North South University says, "I don't dine out alone because I'm anxious about people constantly staring and judging me."
"If I'm eating alone and craving something particular, I order in, as it is much more hassle free," She added.
When we are so used to being around people, it is easy to mistake someone alone for being lonely. Loneliness itself brings a negative impression as they are perceived to be unsocial and incapable of making friends.
On the contrary, the reality for those eating alone is quite different. In a city that almost overwhelms you with people and a life that is too busy moving forward, eating alone gives you the moment to pause with your thoughts.
The experience is not just enjoyable, it is recharging. Nawar E Jannat, a student of North South University, says that she enjoys eating alone at restaurants and cafes because, "It is a way for me to prioritise myself and take out some time, even from a hectic schedule, to spend some peaceful moments with myself."
Eating outside alone can help one get through their workload in an environment that helps them focus. Sadia Anjum, a Machine Learning Engineer, mentions, "I go out to get some air as I am currently working remotely and it gets pretty suffocating. During that process I plan to eat out alone so I can stay out for longer hours."
It seems that even the act of dining out is affected by culture and social constructs, making it almost abnormal for people to sit at a table alone. However, having yourself and your own thoughts as company for lunch at a new food joint does not seem too bad. You only need to try to discover it.