Table for one

We need more interaction and less isolation.

The Japanese ramen chain Ichiran is all about ‘zero interaction’ providing ‘flavour concentration booths’, solo spaces where diners can ‘….be one with their ramen.’ They’re meeting a demand. Bookings by solo diners increased by 62% in the US in 2017.

No doubt mindful eating is healthy, but for anyone interested in connections and community, this is a little discouraging.

Breaking bread with others, strangers or family, is at the heart of social interaction, which as Hugh MacKay says, builds social cohesion and ultimately a strong society. He’s optimistic about the future of community, despite the fact that we seem to spend more time looking at our phones than talking to each other.

There’s the Good Karma Network, for example, which goes from strength to strength. It’s a grass-roots, problem-solving network where people ask for help and respond with help. The first one was set up in 2016 in Kensington, a suburb in Melbourne’s inner-west. It now has 6,700 members. There are now 40 networks in Australia and New Zealand with a combined 27,000.

And apparently Ichiran’s Brooklyn outlet has had to adapt. Waiters said that customers tried to have conversations with them (!) and they’ve added moveable walls to meet the demand for dining as couples or in groups. They’ve even set up a group dining area.

As the latest wave of school leavers shoulder their backpacks and embark on their adventures, I hope they enjoy breaking bread with strangers like I did before smart phones and social media. Dining solo is a welcome relief from crowded hostels and public transport. But eating out solo when you’re travelling is also an invitation for great conversations – with the café owners, other solo travellers, families, couples and groups.

Here’s to more connections, more community and more social cohesion.

Love to know what you think.

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart.” Cesar Chavez