One of the challenges for me as a solo female housesitter is dining out. Despite years of business travel when I worked in the corporate world, there is still something dissatisfying about dining out alone.
In fact, even eating alone at home means a missing key ingredient, no matter how delicious the food. Meals are meant to be shared. From our earliest history as cave dwellers, food was hunted and gathered not for immediate solo consumption but to be returned, prepared and shared around the fire by the whole family or tribe.
There is something about the shared experience, exchanging our taste sensations and pleasurable experiences with others that adds additional flavour to our meals. Everyone knows that a chip (french fry) taken from someone else’s plate tastes twice as good!
Solo Dining – Unique Challenges
Dining out comes with its own set of additional challenges for the solo housesitter.
A Lukewarm Welcome
The welcome often isn’t quite so warm. No matter how friendly a restaurant, they are in business to make money at the end of the day and giving you a table means half the revenue compared to that table seating two people. So you start to notice the slight stiffness to the smile and the glance behind you to see if they have really understood that you want a table for one.
If Looks Could Kill
Then there are the stares. Your curious fellow diners who subtly or blatantly stare as you make the ‘other walk of shame’ across the restaurant to the least appealing table – alone!!!!
Some stares are of the pitying kind. You see whispered conversations – ‘Oh look, that poor woman’s been stood up’
Others are more inquisitive. What on earth must be wrong with this woman that she can’t manage to find someone to eat with her?
Occasionally the look is one of admiration for your bravery and sassiness in walking into a restaurant alone – You Go Girl!
Your Fate Is Sealed
As if that wasn’t enough there is then the moment where the waiter seals your fate to dine alone. He removes the additional cutlery and glassware that briefly tantalised you and your fellow diners with the glimmer of hope that you may be joined by a ‘sorry I’m late darling’ dining companion.
Waiting For Waiters
Reading the menu as a solo diner is a completely different experience too. No-one to discuss it with, debate which dish to choose and whether to have a starter or not. Just read it and pick something.
You order and try desperately to fill the time until the food arrives without seeming rude by looking around the room too much. Checking emails on my phone is not something I ever do when dining in company but it keeps me occupied until the food arrives.
Food, Gloriless Food
Then there is the actually eating of the food. Again, with no-one there for company, all there is to do is eat. In company, one chats between mouthfuls. Pause for too long when dining alone and a waiter is hovering to take your plate away so he can hasten you on your way and get another set of diners on your under-performing table.
It is perfectly normal to react to you food in company, to make noises of delight, to comment, to send a forkful across the table for tasting. But any outward signs of enjoyment as a solo diner leave you looking like that famous scene from When Harry Met Sally – except you’re Sally and there’s no Harry to be seen.
At Last, The Bill
And so, to everyone’s relief, the time has come for you to pay the bill and depart. You have eaten a (hopefully) delicious meal – every bit as tasty as that of your fellow diners, but the experience you have had as a solo diner is not the same.
The consumption of food is always a multi-sensory affair – the taste, the smell, the sight, the feel of the food – and if you’ve chosen a dish that comes on a sizzling plate even your hearing gets a look-in. But its enjoyment, like so many other pleasurable activities, is taken to a whole new level by it being done in the intimate company of others.
A Different Way To Dine
So what can a solo housesitter do to avoid the ignominy of the lone diner experience? I’ve been giving this some thought lately and here are a few ideas – some of which I am yet to try but will do at the earliest opportunity.
Get To Know The Neighbours
Hopefully your homeowner will introduce you to at least one neighbour, even on the shortest of housesitting assignments. If your client is happy for you to do so, consider inviting the neighbours around for lunch or dinner. You may well get invited back and then you have two opportunities to dine in company.
Find Local Restaurants That Offer Refectory Dining
Refectory Dining – where everyone sits at long tables together rather than individual party tables, is a great way to dine out as a solo traveller. There is an unwritten rule (certainly in the UK and other parts of Europe) that one does not engage in conversation with people at neighbouring tables unless they are of your acquaintance. To insert yourself in someone else’s dining experience is considered impolite.
Refectory dining gets rid of this taboo. You are all at one table and talking to your neighbours is therefore permitted. Even if you don’t manage to strike up a conversation, you are at least in a group and therefore avoid the glaring spotlight of a table for one.
Find Shared Dining Experiences
I’ve just joined a website called EatWith.com who offer dining experiences, cooking classes and food tours. Think of it as AirBNB for Food! Local food enthusiasts organise events and you can book to attend. Solo diners are very welcome as generally everyone is eating around one big table.
It’s free to join and you just pay for the events you attend. They have a Refer a Friend programme – so if you’d like to give it a try I’d like to give you a “€10 off your first dining experience” voucher – just enter the code 35F9D2C5 once you’ve signed up and are paying for your first event.
Another similar site is MealSharing.com.
Equally, TripAdvisor.com and its subsidiary Viator.com can be useful. Search for ‘Eat with a Local’ or other terms to find special dining events where you are or going to be on your next housesitting assignment.
Eat At The Bar
Depending on your location, and the kinds of eateries available, you may find some that are a bar as well as a restaurant and which have seating at the bar. The ‘speak to your neighbour’ taboo that exists for tables also disappears when you sit at a bar it seems.
Join Mapahub.com & Other Meetup Groups
Mapahub.com is a membership website just for housesitters. You create a profile, post where you are going to be (whether that’s housesitting, holiday or at home) and the dates. The website then alerts you and other housesitting members when you are going to be within 100km of each other.
I’ve been a member for a while now and I’ve met some lovely people through it. It’s a great way to connect with people who are living a similar lifestyle – and whether they are single, a couple or a family – who want to meet-up and get to know other housesitters.
How About You?
I’m interested to hear from other solo housesitters as to their experiences – and suggestions for how to tackle dining in isolation. If you have a story to tell or a valuable tip to help other solo housesitters, please leave a comment below.