There's a point during their discussion on solo dining when host Philip Boucher Hayes tells his guests Margaret Leahy and FM104's Crossy that, while dining on his own, he was shown a menu that the waiter partially covered with their hand, telling him, you won’t be needing that – it's the sharing section.
It’s a funny, but also slightly shocking, moment and a good illustration of how some people see those who choose to dine out on their own.
Margaret Leahy, who runs Irish Artisan Food Tours, began eating out on her own about 10 years ago, she told Philip, after her husband passed away and she spent a few years of not going out at all or going out with friends:
"I had a choice of either staying at home and wondering if somebody wanted to go, or just going. I love eating out and I didn’t see why going out on my own should stop me, so I just started going out."
The first few times she walked into a restaurant and asked for a table for one weren't easy, but Margaret stuck to her guns:
"The first couple were quite difficult, and I also learned quite quickly that, unfortunately, some restaurants, including in Ireland, don’t take bookings for one. And also that sometimes they sit you at the worst table, as in, beside the toilet. So I had to learn to say, 'Well, actually no, I’d rather that table over there, thank you very much.’ But once you get used to it, it’s actually great fun."
The "great fun" part for Margaret is people watching. For Thomas "Crossy" Crosse, the issue was that his friends weren’t the restaurant-going types. They met for drinks, they went to football matches, but sitting down to a three-course meal never seemed to happen. And Crossy really liked going out to restaurants.
"And I just decided one day, 'I'm gonna write a list of restaurants in Dublin from, you know, really cheap ones to really expensive ones and I’m going to work my way through it. On my own.’"
Crossy reckons it’s one of the nicest things you can do and that’s largely down to the freedom solo dining brings:
"You can go on your phone if you want, you can have that extra glass of wine if you want, you can get three sides instead of two sides. And it is a thing, I think a lot of people don’t have that confidence. I think we’re in a world now where if you go on your phone, you want to watch a video for 15 seconds, you wouldn’t watch it for 30 seconds. We’re worried about what people think of us all the time."
The self-consciousness of solo dining is obviously one of the main factors that affect people when they think about attempting it. The thought that the music will stop and everyone will look around at the sad person standing on their own in the doorway. As Crossy puts it:
"It’s a crazy thing when you walk into a restaurant and you’re going, ‘I wonder what other people will think?’ that you don’t even know. You don’t even know these people and you’re terrified that they’re going to look at you like you’re a weirdo."
When Philip gets down to it and asks the really important question – glass of wine or bottle? – Margaret doesn’t hesitate: "Oh, bottle!" And she has some sound follow-up advice if you discover you’re not actually in the mood for the whole thing:
"If you don’t drink the whole bottle of wine – which is quite a lot of wine – you can bring it home with you. Most places will let you bring it home. And then you go home and you have a nice glass that evening."
There has been some controversy about the rise in popularity if solo dining – Margaret referred to a recent story about a Michelin-starred restaurant in London charging a solo diner for two dinners. As Margaret aptly puts it:
"Well, if you’re going to charge me for two dinners, I’ll take one home in a doggy bag, thank you very much."
Quite right. People-watching and a dinner to take home. Totally worth it.
You can hear Philip’s full chat with Margaret and Crossy by clicking above.