Solo diners are not alone: Why eating by oneself is popular and liberating

The UAE got its first restaurant with dedicated tables for one this year

Japanese restaurant IchiRyu has cubicles custom-made for solo diners. IchiRyu Ramen House Dubai
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In the background of increasing connectivity and busy lifestyles, a silent trend in the culinary world has been steadily on the rise. Solo dining has started to reshape the traditional way foodies visit restaurants, as more people get comfortable enjoying their own company and eating out alone.

Once seen as the ultimate social no-no, dining alone is shedding its stigma and has evolved into a weekly occurrence for many introverts and even extraverts. In the fast-paced world we live in, where time is often the greatest luxury, taking yourself out with only a meal for company has become an act of self-care.

Restaurants around the world, too, are adapting to this cultural shift, with more eateries in major cities catering to those breaking bread alone. In the UAE, IchiRyu Ramen House Dubai is the first Japanese-style solo dining experience, and is apt for those wanting a safe space to eat in peace without the small talk.

“Bocchi seki [table for one] offers diners a unique and immersive culinary adventure, inspired by the famous solo dining culture in Japan,” Filipino co-founder Nicolai de Guzman tells The National. Whether diners are slurping home-cooked noodles or savouring the ramen restaurant’s flavourful broth, they’re able to do so in the comfort of their own cubical space, shielded from the person next to them.

There are many who want to enjoy good food at their own pace and with minimal interaction
Nicolai de Guzman, co-founder, IchiRyu Ramen House Dubai

“It’s an introvert's haven,” de Guzman adds. “The concept allows guests to enjoy their ramen in a discreet and personalised setting. There are a lot of foodies out there who want to enjoy good food at their own pace and with minimal interaction.”

Despite having opened less than six months ago, the venue already has people queuing for its private booths, and plans are afoot to open more venues with solo seating.

Solo dining is nothing new in Asian culture. Bocchi seki, which also translates to “lonely seats”, are single-person dining areas common in restaurants and even major educational facilities including Kyoto University. In Korea, #hobbap has close to two million posts on Instagram, while the Japanese have a dedicated word for “silent eating” – mokushoku.

Earlier this year, Toronto’s first solo dining restaurant, Yunnan Noodle Shack, opened its doors. Jane Yu, the restaurant’s co-founder, tells The National the decision to open was based on a gap in the market. “The concept of solo dining is relatively new to North America, but we recognised there is a demand for solitary experiences and a tranquil dining environment,” she explains.

“Separate seating areas provide a sense of privacy and comfort, allowing customers to enjoy their meals without any forced interaction.”

Single-person restaurants may be growing, but the idea isn’t being welcomed by all in the food industry. London Hotel Cafe Royal recently came under fire for charging solo diners double to protect the business from the empty seats left by those eating alone.

The two-Michelin-starred restaurant has only 11 tables and cited increased supplier costs and higher salaries as reasons for the extra fee for individual diners.

As a solo female diner, people tend to immediately assume you’re lonely
Judy Cogan, freelance writer

Celebrity PR manager and regular solo diner Mayah Riaz disagrees with an individual surcharge and says it could deter solo diners should it become commonplace. “I do understand why restaurants feel the need to do this, but it would be punishing solo diners and might put an end to me dining alone,” she says. While having not yet experienced an additional fee for eating on her own, Riaz has previously been refused entry for asking for a table for one in both London and Cape Town.

Despite this Riaz has not been put off solo dining. “It’s my me-time. I look forward to it because I listen to a podcast or audiobook, or use the time to think about a project.”

Another regular solo diner is freelance writer Judy Cogan. While she’s never been turned away from a restaurant for being alone, she has on occasion been given the worst seat in the venue. “I was given a stool at a bar despite having booked a table,” Cogan tells The National. “I questioned it and was eventually given a proper table, but I then felt a bit guilty so I rushed the meal to leave quickly.”

Cogan has had both positive experiences eating alone in restaurants, as well as a few toe-curling ones she’d sooner forget. “As a solo female diner, people tend to immediately assume you’re lonely. I treated myself to a fancy meal at a restaurant in Morocco and the food arrived on a huge, tiered cake stand to the tune of Here Comes the Bride, which was a bit embarrassing.”

The rare bizarre reaction aside, fans of the trend say eating unaccompanied not only allows them precious time for themselves, but also affords them total freedom to order anything from the menu.

As Riaz explains: “It gives me a chance to sample the menus I want to. It’s not always easy to be as spontaneous with friends as they may not want to visit the restaurant of your choice.”

Updated: October 24, 2023, 9:06 AM