Inside Wayan, where customers are still weird around one-tops.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam
This article originally appeared in The Year I Ate New York, a newsletter about eating through the city, one restaurant at a time. Sign up here.
“Excuse me,” said a woman’s voice at my back. I was sitting at the bar at Wayan in Nolita, just about to cut into an octopus tentacle. Before I could turn around, she continued, “I love your evening.”
“Huh?” I replied out loud, genuinely confused by what she meant.
“I love your evening,” she repeated, as I figured out this was the same woman who had just been sitting to my right. She explained that she and her date noticed I was eating alone, and they were happy for me, or something.
If I had to spend nights out with her boyfriend — who, I had noticed, repeatedly told the staff that he “works in restaurants, too” — I might long for some alone time, as well. But I hadn’t considered my choice to be particularly brave or praiseworthy. Even before I was a diner-at-large, I would eat the occasional fancy dinner alone when the budget allowed, so I wondered what this stranger saw in me at that moment. She was trying to give me a compliment, I know, but the comment was unnecessary and condescending. I bet this never happens to Platt, I thought to myself as I wished this couple a lovely evening in kind.
I’d stopped into this polished little French Indonesian restaurant as a kind of primer for a weekend trip to the Indonesian Bazaar in Elmhurst, and the vibes had been off since the moment I arrived. After a petite woman dressed in all black cut in front of me at the door, I pointed out to her that I had arrived first. She excused herself and continued to advance by saying her party was already seated. That turned out to be an obvious lie, since I would see this new nemesis again just a few minutes later, taking up a bar spot waiting for other people to actually show up. At least she moved her purse off the empty seat so I could sit, too.
I won’t bother to list all the advantages of dining alone, because you’ve read about them before, and besides, it’s 2022; we should be over this by now. Is a solo diner really still seen as some kind of marvel? It’s true that I rarely spot other women dining without companions, but I always figured that’s because most men turn into creeps when they see a woman who is alone. (Related: “Divorced men” make up a large contingency of the other solo diners I’ve met.) I still don’t think eating dinner alone deserves some kind of special pat on the back. What if I were just in town for work and staying at a hotel nearby? What if scallop satay on a bed of beurre blanc was my favorite food and I had a craving even though my friends were busy? What if I just really like to go out to eat and New York Magazine gave me a corporate card so I can write a weekly newsletter about it?
My octopus tentacle a la planca.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam
I don’t need a reason at all, obviously, which is why it felt so strange to hear someone express their approval of my decision. Granted, on the scale of grating things that have happened to me at a restaurant alone, this ranks below the guy who once showed me photos of his 26-year-old son and bragged that he (the son) was “on a date with an Instagram girl,” or the older woman who bumped into me and then turned around to declare, “I need more space.” (Don’t we all!) During a recent dinner at Scarpetta, the bartender seemed baffled by my unaccompanied presence, even though an older dude was eating agnolotti by himself two seats over and received no such weirdness. (The bartender did comp my drink, though, so that was nice.)
At Wayan, three finance guys sitting on the other side of me were drinking avocado cocktails they did not appear to enjoy and talking about why it’s a good idea to get a car and keep it at your parents’ house, “just to have.” Should I have congratulated them on getting together even though they had nothing interesting to discuss?
I would rather be alone than be stuck talking to the car-buying bros, and I thought about that when I first encountered a stray message that recently set Twitter aflame: “Please know, if you’re someone who brings a book to the bar … nobody likes you.” The blunt wrongness of the statement is self-evident (even, it seems, to the tweet’s author), but the voraciousness with which people jumped in to defend this imagined book-reading “someone” is what struck me. Why do people who are content to read or eat or drink in public need defending at all?
There’s this idea that a restaurant is an experience meant to be shared, but if you live exclusively like that, you’ll miss out on so much. Whether you enjoy or dread dining alone, it’s hardly a radical act or a move that benefits from any kind of external validation. And if you really feel compelled to interrupt somebody just to tell them you approve of their behavior, at least buy them a drink first.
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