Eating Alone and How Managers Should Do It More
During my summer internship, I met a friend for dinner one evening. During the course of our meal, I started talking about the night before when after a nice long walk along Marine Drive I had decided to get me a late dinner in a cosy little restaurant nearby. She interjected with a question over who I was eating with at that late hour. To which I replied that I was dining alone as I didn’t quite see the point in dragging somebody (who was surely already well-fed and watered) out of bed at 1 in the a.m. and out to the corner where I was.
Her reaction to that quite surprised me. She was astounded that I could go to a restaurant and eat all by my lonesome. Her words as best as I can remember them now, went something like “I get really conscious of myself when I’m in a restaurant alone. It’s great for you that you can eat alone. Shows you’re comfortable in your own skin.”
Now that I think about it again on an insomnia-riddled school night, I wonder if it is indeed just being comfortable in my own skin. Are others not? Is there some kind of social taboo that prevents people from doing this more?
Memory conjures up hazy recollections of an article I had read some time ago about how people often carry a book when they’re going to a coffee shop or restaurant alone. Before that all I thought was how much more interested the dude at the next table looked in his John Kennedy Toole than in his overpriced latte. Apparently it meant that the person was hiding behind a façade of pseudo-intellectuality to mask being considered alone or *gasp* antisocial.
Now, the battery of psychological tests I underwent in first year (it’s part of the curriculum) have given me the luxury of feeling assured that I am in fact not a misanthropic old coot fit to play Ebenezer Scrooge but actually an extrovert bounding with energy who loves mingling with people and thrives in their company.
So why don’t I shudder at the thought of a solitary meal? Why unlike the 2.77 people I asked this question to, do I not feel the eyes of the entire restaurant upon me as I’m shown to a table unaccompanied except by the maître d’. Apart from the fact that I would have to skip quite a few meals if I always waited for company, it’s just that eating alone gives me the chance to take stock of things. Without the distraction of conversation, I have drawn up to-do lists, prioritized class assignments, dissected David Lynch movies, calculated the number of hours I’ll get to sleep, weighed the pros and cons of reading The Economist vs. Calvin and Hobbes and come up with solutions to many a problem regarding world peace and sustainable living.
So apart from being a narcissist who loves to talk about his random thoughts, why am I telling you all this? It is because I feel that managers should get into the habit of eating alone once in a while. To which you’ll tell me that most of the busy corporate leaders and top managers are notorious for eating by themselves, generally closeted in their cabins and corner offices, often perusing the latest sales figures, locked in verbal battles royal with subordinates or being berated by the CXOs for only achieving 120% annual growth as opposed to the target of 120.37%; their cholesterol levels soaring like the Sensex has in the past week, futilely munching on their celery and beetroot, flummoxed as to why the ‘latest super-awesome healthy diet’ suggested by their top of the line and very expensive nutritionist isn’t working.
And this is precisely the behaviour I frown at. These working lunches although sometimes considered to be the only way of catching up with the backlog, end up becoming habit. Higher management is a lonely place to begin with, it not being easy for a manager to eat with his/her team without putting all of them on the defensive. As a result managers often have no option but to eat alone, and they choose to get through some more work while they finish a meal.
What if a manager chose to just get out of the office for an hour, maybe once a week, and go to a quiet place and eat without being interrupted by annoying phone calls or pesky assistants? For starters he’ll notice the flavour of what he’s eating. And this quiet meal might be the perfect opportunity he needed to take a step back and look at a situation from an objective distance. He may be able to analyse the various ideas thrown at him in the latest brainstorming meeting and perhaps decide on a course of action. He may get the chance to plan out the rest of his day or even his week. He may become really good at this and introspect. Or he may just be glad to be away from the office clamour for a little while and go back a little refreshed.
So maybe the next time a manager seems to be getting bogged down with work and it becomes difficult to put things in the right order, maybe a quiet solo supper may prove the answer. If nothing else, it’s at least the chance to loosen that tie for a while.
Nadeem is still trying to make sense of Life, the Universe and Everything having just started his second year and planning to have a great time while he tries to figure all that stuff out. You can follow him at nadeemraj.insideiim.com
He’s an amateur storyteller at 42shadesoctarine.wordpress.com