Sunday, 8 March 2009

Dining alone

I am probably one of the few people in the world who prefers to eat out alone. I know this makes me sound like a misanthrope, but let me explain...

I tend to eat out for lunch, partly because I can't afford dinner, but mainly due to my forgetfulness on the packed lunch front. I have good intentions, but I prefer to come home for a hot lunch, especially in the cold weather. However, the distance I live from uni, plus cooking times, means that to get a decent lunch I need a two hour gap. What tends to happen is that I forget about a project meeting, a tutorial overruns, or I end up spending longer than planned looking for a book in the library. Suddenly my two hour gap is gone and I decide to get lunch out. (Actually, it's probably raining and I'm grumpy and can't be bothered to walk home.)

I've realised in the last year or so that going for lunch alone is usually better than trying to get people to come with me. I like to try new places, whereas a lot of my friends always want to go to the same place (a rather nice falafel take away, but there is only so many chickpea based dishes I can take). I also don't like having to deal with other people's food issues. My sister has a lot of food allergies, and my brother is picky, so as a family there were only a few restaurants we visited. It's marginally better now we are all grown up, but when they came to visit me in Edinburgh last summer I spent at least an hour online researching menus to find somewhere everyone could eat something.

The other day I went out for coffee with my flatmate. The cafe is one of my favourites, and I was looking forward to relaxing with a cappuccino and and a delicious baked good. Instead, my flatmate went up to the counter, decided it was too crowded, and ordered to take away. We sat outside in the drizzle and wind, trying to eat cake out of a cardboard box. Then she complained that the icing from the cake had made her hands sticky and that the cake was too hard to eat as it was crumbly. If I'd had my way, we would have waited two minutes for a table, and enjoyed our cake from a plate with a fork.

I also hate it when people complain about the price. If I wanted to eat with the bare minimum of cost, I wouldn't be eating out in the first place. Obviously some places are better value than others, but for me, the price consideration includes the quality of the food. Peter's Yard in the Meadows is probably more expensive than many other coffee shops, but the coffee is easily one of the best in Edinburgh, and the food is much higher quality (and more interesting) than the many other coffee shops serving up ham and cheese paninis and mediocre coffee. When the difference between the total bill is a pound or two, the extra quality in the food is worth that to me. I don't want my enjoyment of a well cooked meal with good ingredients being ruined by someone who just sees food as "fuel" complaining that Burger King does a 99p deal that would have been better.

I suppose it's not really because I don't like eating with other people, it's more because lunch is an important thing for me. I don't have enough money to eat out as much as I would like, so when I do go it's a treat. I don't want my treat spoiled by other people not appreciating it in the same way I do. It's the same kind of feeling as when somebody hates your favourite book or film. I want to enjoy my lunch, and I want the people I'm with to enjoy it too. I don't want to worry about money or other "real world' problems. I want to eat a bowl of soup with some bread, drink a decent coffee and dream that one day I could do something foody instead of just overly savouring my lunch breaks.

I need to find myself a lunch buddy. In first year, I went out for lunch every week with a friend, but that has tailed off a bit now as our schedules don't match up in the same way they did. I guess I should also make the most of lunch out while I can, the job I have got for September is in an office in a business park so opportunities for eating out are limited to a burger van and the on-site canteen. Then I really will have to work the packed lunches!