Eating Well Enough Alone

When I traveled to Copenhagen last fall, I scrambled to make a last-minute reservation at Noma, the restaurant ranked #1 in the world by Restaurant magazine for three years and counting. It was a shot in the dark: Noma has an entire page on its website dedicated to explaining its reservation policy, which tells you something about how elusive it is. Tables are reserved months in advance, and “on days that the reservations book opens for a new month,” warns the site, “the system can become overloaded … Please note that it can be hard to get through on the phone as well.”

The polite disclaimers are about as reassuring as a casual “thanks” in response to a proclamation of undying romantic love. Not to be deterred, I frantically signed up for every spot on the waiting list for lunch. A chorus of angels sang from the grey Danish heavens when Noma’s maître d’ called me the next day to tell me a spot had opened up.

That I snagged my table was not a stroke of luck. It was because I had requested a table for one. This was largely practical—I could find no one else who was ready to blow their summer savings on a lunch date—but it was also strategic. Demand for one-tops is low. The stigma on dining alone goes back to kindergarten, where the cool kids eat in crowds and the losers eat in the corner. It’s perpetuated by this glimmering ideal we have of eating as a communal activity (one that is unfounded in the realities of fast food and cubicle lunch).

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2 thoughts on “Eating Well Enough Alone

  1. I had a similar experience the first time I dined alone at a restaurant. It was nerve-racking for the reasons you listed, but I got to chat with the staff and even go into the kitchen to check out their wood-fired oven! And while I always prefer sharing the treasured experiences of good food with friends, dining alone has its benefits for sure. On another note, thanks for sharing the strategy of getting into Noma. Was it worth the hype?

    1. Hi Dave! I found Noma to be worth all the hype and then some. As “fine dining” experiences go, Noma was casual, and it felt very authentic and sincere. No contrived menu pronouncements or pretentious foams or hard-to-pronounce dishes. The one thing that was *too* good was that, every time I got up to go to the bathroom (which was several times since my meal lasted over 4 hours!), a server walked me out of the dining room and then returned to my table to pull out my seat. It was so polite and impressive, but after two rounds of it, I wished it wasn’t such a to-do. I’ve actually written another piece dedicated to that meal, if you’re interested: Thanks for writing!

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