Eating alone’s becoming the norm - do you love or hate it?

Eating alone doesn't have to be lonely Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Eating alone doesn't have to be lonely Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More of us are eating on our own by choice in 2018.

I’m going to come across as a miserable hag, but allow me to explain to you why I love eating on my own.

Now it’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of others. I don’t recoil in horror if approached by a kindly passer-by asking if I’m OK as I bite into my cheese scone (warm with salted butter please). And I’m not without options for dining companions when I want to grab something to eat. I’ve got a great network of friends, colleagues, neighbours and family who I thoroughly enjoy spending time with. But there’s something meditative and quite liberating about sitting down to eat alone.

Perched at a café bench with just a paper or a gripping tome, it almost feels selfish and indulgent to take time for myself. But I don’t care. I enjoy the peace. I enjoy not having to tell people (children) off for turning their noses up at one tiny element of their meal. I enjoy being silent. The simple pleasure of not having to make small talk.

And it appears I’m actually not alone. Last year the Waitrose Food Report found that eight out of 10 people surveyed believed eating solo was more acceptable than five years ago. Nationwide online booking systems back this up, with a reported more than a third of reservations via some providers being for one.

While many of these will be folk who are on their own through circumstance – divorce and bereavement being just two of them – I wonder how many (like me) treasure a bit of time away from everything over a bowl of soup, a slice of cake, or a late lunch?

Do you choose to eat by yourself now and again? Let me know why by emailing me

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But for now, here are a few local recommendations for you. Places where you can eat alone without feeling lonely.

Applaud, Ipswich

A multi-award-winning café run by sisters Hannah and Beth. The flagship café is on St Peter’s Street with another at Crown House. At both the focus is on excellent, proper barista-made coffee – part of the reason for the brand’s success. Supplementing this is a small menu of very tasty sandwiches, soups and salads, and a range of wonderful, ever-changing and interesting cakes, including gluten-free options. Diners can often be found eating at St Peter’s Street alone. It really is one of the perfect places for a cuppa by yourself.

Ipswich Market

A world of food is at your fingertips in Ipswich Market’s new food quarter on Queen Street. You’ve got Indian snacks from Biryani Hut (the biryani is spicy but very tasty indeed), Peck with their flavoursome buttermilk fried chicken, Gourmet Yorkshire Wraps selling filled yorkies (Thursdays only), The Latin Table for quesadillas, and The Ipswich Bagel Company for…well, bagels. That’s not to mention all the other foodie gems. Grab a bite and sit at the Giles statue watching the world go by.

The Tea Hut, Woodbridge

This café, overlooking the town’s model boating lake, is a bit of a treasure. It’s dog friendly and blankets are provided outside so you and your best friend (pooch) can take a long walk nearby before settling out for an hour with a cup of tea and the kitchen’s homemade food – made using as many local ingredients as possible. We like the breakfasts and the local burgers, served in locally-made buns. Delicious.

The Thai Pavilion, Sudbury

This may seem an odd one, but in the many times we’ve visited here we’ve been surprised at the number of single diners who’ve popped in for lunch…and dinner. The owner makes everyone genuinely welcome, and the prices are very reasonable, whatever time of day you visit. We especially like the spicy Thai yellow curry and the punchy larb salad, packed with herbs, spices and vegetables which simultaneously stimulate and refresh.

G & T’s Café and Kitchen, Yoxford

A former winner of Eat Suffolk’s Best Café/Tea Room. This café is a proper little village hub. Lined with books (have a read if you like), it is honestly like being in the front room of a fun, amiable aunt. The ladies welcome every single diner with open arms, and cook a mean breakfast- with local ingredients of course. But the biggest joy to behold is the array of cakes. Sometimes there are more than 20 to choose from. We rate the sticky ginger cake. And some say the carrot cake is the best they’ve ever had.

Don’t forget your prop

Our columnist Steve Downes says he likes eating out alone during the day, but finds it trickier in the evenings:

“There is a time and a place for dining alone: about 6pm in my front room.

Wearing lounge trousers and a hoodie, the singleton can stare into the eyes of Sophie Raworth as she reads the news - or Homer Simpson on Channel 4.

Why would you go out and pay handsomely for the privilege of being whispered about by other diners? “Look, Nigel, he’s been stood up.” “Fenella, I bet that sad man has no love and no life.”

Dining out on your own offers too many opportunities for supercilious strangers to stare into your lonely soul – at least it does in the evening.

For I reckon there’s a fundamental difference once it gets dark.

I’d have no problem going to a café or a restaurant on my own in the morning or at lunchtime. The expectations are different because evening meals are when romance is in the air and single people have Netflix for company.

But I do have one bit of important advice for anyone venturing out alone for lunch, brunch or even a coffee and a scone: if you are alone, you need a prop.

A book, magazine or a newspaper sends a signal to other customers that you intended to be on your own and had planned for it.

Sitting on your own on your phone or just twiddling your thumbs makes you look as though you’ve been stood up.”

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