Imagine eating alone in a cubicle, isolated from all human contact. Popular Japanese ramen chain Ichiran’s has labeled this the ideal dining experience. For the more extroverted among us, eating alone may sound like something straight out of your worst nightmare. For others, however, it can be a time for precious solitude and the perfect way to get work done.
At Ichiran, eating alone is the selling point. The restaurant, first opened in Bushwick in 2016, is famous for its solo dining booths where customers have the option to enjoy their meal in solitude, separated by wooden dividers. Since its Bushwick opening, the chain has opened two more restaurants, both in Manhattan. At its Times Square location, the larger of the two, over 100 lonely souls can enjoy their ramen with minimal human contact.
Even at a place designed for solo dining, people still find a way to make it communal.
“I’ve been to Ichiran a couple times, but I go with my friends,” Stern first-year Matte Snow said. “We actually talk to each other. Even if there are booths, we’ll just sit there and talk.”
However, today Snow was eating by herself. She had class in 20 minutes and did not have time to meet up with any of her friends.
There is a lot of stigma attached to eating alone, as it is often assumed that solo diners have no one to eat with.
“When I was in high school and I would see someone eating alone, I would feel sad,” CAS junior Elena Carroll-Maestripieri said. “Because I would feel like maybe […] they’re lonely.”
But the act of dining alone is becoming more popular. There are many reasons why someone would choose to dine alone, like if you have a busy schedule or aren’t craving a social experience.
GSAS student Raj Bandhakavi often does work while eating, making it difficult to eat with others.
“It’s the nature of my work,” Bandhakavi said. “I have a lot to do so I work while eating. If I’m at a place like [the Kimmel Center for Student Life], which is quiet, I can do my work and eat at the same time.”
Though dining is viewed as a communal activity, people are often just too busy to schedule a time to gather.
Ichiran aims to minimize distractions so that customers can focus on — and properly enjoy — their food. However, the majority of students who eat by themselves at dining halls choose to do so in order to take the time to finish up schoolwork.
“Culturally, we like to think that eating together is a social event,” Maestripieri said. “We were used to having everyone sitting around the table, but there are totally times when you want to sit alone when you want to grab a bite to eat.”
It is easy to pity that lonely silhouette hunched over their Kimmel sushi rolls at their small round table, surrounded by empty wooden chairs. However, most times, their solitude is their choice.
“Sometimes you just want some time alone,” Snow said. “No harm in that.”
Email Arin Garland at [email protected]