As the world looks at ways to accommodate the growing number of lone diners, restaurants in Chennai are fast catching up on the trend

If you, like Joey Tribbiani of Friends, don’t like to share your food, dining alone might be a good option. The city has had a gradual and steady increase in the number of people choosing to live alone and by default, dine alone.

Now Chennai might not have an Eenmaal (the first one-person restaurant in the world started in Amsterdam) but it does have a fair share of restaurants that cater to people who prefer eating alone. The phenomenon isn’t new to the city: a few years earlier, Lotus at The Park used to place a little globe with a goldfish in it on the tables of guests who were dining alone.

When Dine at Escape in Express Avenue was launched in 2010, the space lent itself to a certain design. Preetha, a representative from the restaurant, says, “An entire wall was free, and we just converted it into a dining area with bar stools. It wasn’t intended as a place for lone diners, but it worked out that way.” 

Since a fair number of patrons come to the movies alone, they choose to have a quick bite before or after the show. This led the restaurant to set places for one. One of the waiters says, “We have at least 15 to 20 people eating alone on weekdays, and the number triples on weekends.”

If Dine has a moving crowd, Spoonbill on T.T.K. Road has a community of people who keep coming back to savour the solitary feeling. Charlie Singh, the proprietor, says, “From the businessman who trades on the stock market to the sound engineer who works on his music, everyone who comes here regularly has their favourite table. Many of them are here almost on a daily basis, and so we’ve become great friends.”

The little square tables in Spoonbill comfortably fit one person, with enough space for a laptop and a meal. With large picture windows overlooking the road, there is plenty of natural light during the day to settle down with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. “This was a deliberate move on our part since we wanted to be a welcoming place for those who like to hang out alone,” says Charlie. He points to a laptop on a table in the corner of the restaurant and says, “That belongs to one of the girls who comes here frequently. She needed to run an errand, so she asked me if she could leave it here and pick it up later. That’s the kind of atmosphere we have fostered.” 

Speciality South-Indian restaurants like Apoorva Sangeetha, Saravana Bhavan and Hot Chips have for long had those round steel tables where anyone eating alone can wolf down their meal and leave at once. Even if lone diners wish to occupy a table by themselves — God forbid it’s during the lunch-hour rush — they are directed to this designated area. In other places, one is given reproachful looks for occupying a space rightly meant for two. It’s mostly in laidback boutique cafes like Amethyst or Anokhi that the practice is not frowned upon.

Srijith Gopalakrishnan, a marketer in a software company who frequently dines alone, recalls visiting a restaurant where they are more intent on giving him the bill than showing him the menu card. “I got an increment in my pocket money when I was in class VIII and so I went alone to Cakes ‘n’ Bakes. It wasn’t weird for me then nor is it so now. I don’t understand why people should feel awkward to eat alone. You don’t need a crowd to eat food,” he says, adding that he usually ignores people who throw him pitying looks. 

One might think that a woman eating alone might attract a lot of (unwanted) attention, but Aishwarya S. says otherwise. “The place I go to for lunch sometimes has lots of people who come to eat alone. People just mind their own business. It’s quite a relief! I eat alone because it’s easier and I don’t have to make small talk with anyone. I actually find it quite fun and liberating,” she says. 

So the next time you feel like going out for a bite, don’t hesitate to step out alone. The city has its oases for loners as well. 

(With inputs from Apoorva Sripathi)