Column: Table For Juan

This column first appeared in the Evening Post.

I am out for food on my own.

‘I’ll have a nice burger and watch the world pass by,’ I think to myself, ‘this is my time.’

Eating alone has had some bad public relations. For decades, centuries, it has been regarded as a symbol of failure. People have sniggered and sneered, mocked and maligned. Popular culture is littered with characters whose desperation, loneliness or unpopularity has been portrayed through scenes of them eating alone. The idea that those requesting a ‘table for one’ cut a tragic figure has been cemented into the national psyche. Some say we are past the point of no return. I disagree.

To have a platform on the pages of this fine newspaper is a great privilege. An honour, in fact. And I often wonder to myself – ‘do I use it wisely enough?’ It is all good and well to grace you with whimsical stories and comic observations, we all need a break from the rough and tumble of modern life. But perhaps it is time for a change. Perhaps it is time to raise my head firmly above the parapet and call for, heck, demand, the change we want to see in the world.

That time is now.

It is time to rip up the old stereotypes and say resolutely – without fear or favour – that dining out alone is a fine and noble pursuit.

Dining alone is a revelation. It allows us to cut loose and be the person we want to be. It is a break from the constant tug of expectation. It is the time and space we all crave to be ourselves.

Sometimes, I want to order chicken tikka masala at an Indian restaurant. Under the watchful gaze of others, this is practically impossible. There will always be somebody in your group standing by to chastise your lack of adventure.

Sometimes, I want to have a milkshake with a steak. Sure, convention tells you a glass of red wine or a cold beer best accompanies a rib eye, but I just want, occasionally, to relive the carefree utopia of my childhood. I work hard. Is that too much to ask? Of course, there will always be a member of your party ready to mock your choices.

Enough. I am calling time on this judgemental nonsense. I am eating alone.

‘Table for one’, I declare with pride as I arrive at the restaurant. I glance around with my chin up.

‘Fantastic’ says to waiter in his thick Italian accent, throwing his arms in the air and ushering me on to follow him. See, he gets it. He does this all the time. Taking people to tables is literally his job and he too recognises the wonder of a table for one.

‘This for you, Juan, enjoy’ he says as he hands me the menu and… wait… what? Juan?

‘Actually, I’m not called…’ I begin but he hasn’t heard me and he potters off towards the kitchen, taking with him my chance of a correction.

‘Any drinks for you, Juan?’ he asks on his return, and I think about explaining but it’s too late, it’s too awkward.

This waiter must have thought I’d declared my name on arrival – and asked for a table in the third person. Or, wait, what if somebody who is actually called Juan has a booking. The waiter thought that was me and now I’ve taken Juan’s table. This would never have happened if I hadn’t been eating alone.

And now it is too late. I am Juan.

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By Darryl Morris

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