Dining is supposed to be social and convivial. You break bread (or eat a bowl of rice) with family and friends as a way to connect and bond more tightly. But there will always be times when we end up eating dinner alone. For most people, that means a night at home of leftovers or pizza delivery. But more and more of us have come to terms with going into a restaurant and stoically asking for a “table for one”. Dining alone used to be embarrassing. It also meant eating at the bar. The assumption is everyone in the restaurant is staring at you and thinking, “who’s this pitiful guy dining by himself?” Self-conscious anxiety automatically reminds some of us of the high school cafeteria. Once again, we’re the nerd, the pariah, the outcast, with no one to eat lunch with. If we’re feeling especially pitiful, All By Myself by Celine Dion is playing in the background in this memory. Now that I’m a little older, I view my solitary meals with the muted melancholy of an Edward Hopper painting. We’re not really loners, we’re meditative philosophers, contemplating the world passing existentially through a fast-food restaurant, with a plate of pork chop fried rice and ice lemon tea (hold the straw). Pizza, soufflé: favourite Hong Kong restaurants of a Chinese-American artist Eating alone no longer means being lonely. The same way some of us got over seeing a movie by ourselves when no one else wanted to go, more and more of us don’t care what others think when we dine solo. In many ways, it’s actually a treat to yourself. You order whatever you like, eat at any pace you want, and don’t have to be bothered to engage in any conversation. Nowadays, plenty of couples and groups sit together but they’re all totally disconnected, wrapped up in texting or scrolling through Instagram. Well, they might as well be eating by themselves. Some places fully embrace hungry single guests. The Japanese ramen shop is designed for the miserable solitary salarymen. Sitting at a counter lets you engage with the noodle cook if you like. At Ichiran, they’ve perfected the solo diner experience with private booths, where partitions between diners allow you to enjoy your own tonkatsu soup noodles in peace. What I don’t tend to like are places that force customers to engage with each other. Communal tables are, in general, horrible. It feels like I’m forced to go speed-dating except that the dates aren’t over in five minutes. Noodle joints and cha chaan tengs are also good places to eat alone. Overseas, neighbourhood pubs are social hubs for people to gather and chew the fat. In Hong Kong, we do that in noisy, fluorescent-lit rooms serving comfort foods such as baked spaghetti and curry beef brisket rice. Admittedly, single dining is more awkward at Chinese banquet restaurants. It’s just harder to order because they don’t do single portions of steamed grouper or braised eggplant and salted fish stew. On the other hand, table for one is not uncommon in Michelin-starred restaurants. Many gastronomes prefer to dine by themselves to focus fully on the food experience. If you’re a hard-core epicurean, you don’t want to bother with socialising or pointless banter. You would rather pay complete attention to the details of every dish to taste the hint of kombu foam and truffle morel stock with your sous vide veal cheek. Wherever you decide to spend some me-time with your meal, be mindful of others. Reading a paper or checking your phone is a reasonable way to pass the time. But if you’re going to catch up on your Korean drama with the volume up at the table, please just stay home and order takeaway.