Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hiatus Complete; Thoughts on Dining Solo

Hello faithful blog readers!

I hope you will accept my most sincere apologies for my long, dreadful blog silence. Although I wish I could spend my whole life in foodieland, I do have a professional career, and it has kept me awfully busy for the last month. I've been traveling out of town mostly every week since my last post, so my meals and moments at home have been fewer and far more precious. Add my upcoming move to the mix (more on that soon), and you've got one distracted blogger.

There are ups and downs to work-related travel. It's obviously contingent on where you travel, a factor I've experienced firsthand. A brief trip to the heart of Washington, DC in springtime? Not too bad! A 3 day trip to the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama in  August? Not so much. Racking up travel points is an obvious silver lining, but time spent away from family and friends is a major detractor from the merits of business travel. When I first started traveling for my job, I thought that a major pro might be the chance to dine out at restaurants while on the road, since the B household budget only allows for so much of that at home. Surely, a fully comped meal is something to get excited about, I thought.

That's only so true, I soon found out. First of all, I usually stay at hotels that accept my special per diem rate, so sometimes I am limited to accommodations outside of town, off interstate exits, without much gustatory choice. On these nights, I'll order room service, eat some non-memorable salad or sandwich while watching TV, and call it a night. Other nights, when I am traveling with coworkers, I am limited to the group choice (usually a predictable and safe chain restaurant like Cheesecake Factory or Chili's). These were my experiences up until this year, when I began traveling alone to DC.

In DC, I stay in a lovely hotel in the heart of DC. Nearby are several fine dining options, including the hotel's restaurant (a noted hotspot in the city). On my first trip there, I was excited for dinner. I had my whole day's food per diem burning a hole in my pocket, and was thrilled to see that the menu was adventurous, the atmosphere swanky, and the service attentive. "Table for one!" I told the hostess with a smile. The enthusiasm was quick lived. I soon learned that dining solo isn't much fun.

I sat there awkwardly, looking around but trying not to stare. One can only read a menu for so long before they take it away (duh), and when it goes, you are left with your drink and an empty chair staring back at you. The waiter came by to refill my water glass and like a vulture, I pounced, hungry for conversation. The waiter, although polite, clearly wasn't interested in sharing his life story with me or chatting about the weather. Bummer. Despite the fact that I am usually pretty anti-smartphone, I wished desperately that I had a BlackBerry to fiddle with, so I could look like the sharp, engaged, independent businesswoman I wanted to be. Instead, I fiddled with my straw, instead probably looking much more like the far-away-from-home 23 year old who missed her husband that I really was. My meal was fantastic--a rockfish bouillabaisse if I remember correctly--but I was relieved when my tab was settled and I could retreat back to my room.

In college, I was always more than happy to visit the dining halls with a book as my meal companion. I am equally comfortable at a coffee shop or cafe with a newspaper. But there is something inappropriate about a newspaper at a high end restaurant, where a fine meal is intended to be shared. It goes to show that so much about food and our relationship with it is inherently social. Had Mr. B been with me for that meal, it would have been a very memorable night out. Instead, even a perfect dish tasted bland. The spice of companionship truly can make or break a meal.

I've since gotten better on my travels. I have learned to pick restaurants with a lively bar scene, and am learning to be more comfortable meeting and greeting fellow solo diners next to me at the bar. On my last trip, I made fast friends with two other business travelers, Chris from Minneapolis and Rose from San Francisco. Over glasses of wine and big bowls of Moules Frites, we talked about our homes, families, work and travels. It was nothing like that first lonely night.

As I reflect on these experiences, I am continually reminded of how blessed I am to share meals daily with my family and friends, with a heaping side of laughter and a warmth of heart like none other.

3 comments:

  1. I'm lukcy not to have to travel much for work anymore but I spent about 2 months of 2008 in Singapore on business by myself... I got awful used to dining alone but it can definitely be awkward! It definitely makes you grateful to have friends and family who you can share meals with on a regular basis :-)

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  2. I always admire the lonesome diners! You deserve a dinner out as much as the couples around.

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  3. "The spice of companionship truly can make or break a meal."

    So true. I'm glad your experiences have improved :)

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