Food franchising was in its infancy when I was born, so we grew up together. The first one I remember in my small Midwest town was an A&W. I went there with my parents on hot Sunday afternoons, at least until I was old enough to not want to be seen with them (by then, A&W was a teenager hangout).
Others like KFC came along in short order. And Big Boy, Howard Johnson’s, chains like Denny’s.
It started out as a treat for the family to eat out. During my life span, restaurants moved from luxury to necessity. Daily meals served by someone else were commonplace.
Now it appears the pendulum is swinging again, but not always as expected. The pandemic made a lot of people more comfy cooking at home again, and that continues for many.
However, the cost of food to prepare at home has risen at nearly the same rate as the cost of eating out. So restaurants can still thrive. When we do eat away from home, we’re not trading down to lesser offerings; instead, we’re just not going out as often.
All in all, we’re preserving the idea of eating out as an activity we treasure.
One thing that hasn’t changed much, as far as I can tell, is that eating out alone still sucks.
I think that especially for women, it is still a social pariah unless it’s eating at your desk between Zooms. Sort of like going to a prom alone, it’s a head’s up that you have no conversational skills, no friends.
But there are tricks to it, learned after years of business travel:
• Cease giving a damn about the attitude of others. Once you master this, the rest of the list is irrelevant. In fact, the rest of a lot of things becomes irrelevant.
• If you haven’t mastered Bullet Point Number One, request a table behind a support post. If you can’t see others, they can’t see you. It helps hide your shame of eating alone.
• Eat at odd hours. Servers will be glad to see you; you will be given a table with a view.
• Order foods you never order when acquaintances see you eat (fried chicken, cheese sauce, double chocolate anything). If you are already a social misfit for dining alone, you might as well be one for gluttony, too. In for a penny, in for a pound.
• Check the time frequently, look agitated, and order in a huff. People will assume you’ve been stood up. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
• Bringing a book to the table is a dead giveaway you are a social misfit. Instead, lug a weighty report that telegraphs you must finish it before your audience with the King.
BTW, I am well aware that “Eating Out Alone” is a small concern when so much of the world isn’t eating at all. In general, it’s a good thing to have more friends gardening and neighborhoods sharing. Human outreach is the foundation of bringing everybody back together again.
Or, if not back together, to stand close enough to try to see eye to eye without poking them out.
Linda B. Myers is the author of 10 novels, including Starting Over Far Away, available at Port Book and News, Pacific Mist, and Amazon. You can reach her at email@example.com.