The hell of 'table-for-one' could be why room service was invented, writes Kevin Pilley.

Eating on your own is an unfortunate part of modern business life. It can be an annoying problem if you travel a lot.

At some time or another, we all find ourselves sitting at a breakfast table in some hotel somewhere pretending to look through reams of notes and ticking margins of memos in a very absorbed, executive-looking bogus way.

We try to give the impression that it is something that needs to be done.

Which it does - because we are feeling very lonely sitting there all by ourselves and feeling very embarrassed and self-conscious about having no one to pass the butter to.


But dinner is far worse. Eating dinner by yourself can be torture. There is nothing worse than the empty feeling you get when the maitre'd asks you how many you are and you reply "One" - qualifying it rather guiltily with "Just one. Just me."

And he looks at you with that "I'm-not-surprised-in-the-least" look and asks you "Smoking or Non-Smoking?" in a way that sounds like "Contagious? Socially-transmittable? Or merely non-infectious?"

Suddenly the tables seem very far away and you assume the status of a social outcast, unwanted, unloved and demonised. And you get the one-man leper colony table by the bog.

When you are on your own, the walk to your table is one of the longest journeys in the world. And then you are exposed to the ignominy - in sound and vision - of all the other cutlery being removed from your table, calling attention to your loneliness.

When you are alone all you want is a quiet meal. But this never happens unless you eat in your room. Or you bring down the "Please Do Not Disturb" notice from your door knob and hang it around your neck.

Sometimes I put a board around my head that reads "I Do Have Friends".

I have another that reads "Yes. No One Likes Me".

One I had for a while was "My Siamese twin didn't survive the operation".

You always get stared at. And you always get disturbed by the group in celebratory mood and party mode.

You want to be quiet and they want to large it up. The women are giggling helplessly and the men are laughing very loudly. Their high spirits increase in volume and inanity as they are shown to their table. The one, invariably, beside yours.

The business of where everyone is going to sit is always directed - with much loud scrapings of chair and bumping into table corner - by one of the women, the noisiest and the one with the voice like Dame Edith Evans at her deafest, who usually ends up sitting right behind you, suffocating you with her cheap scent, which is more rancid than the body odours she is trying to mask.

All this is accompanied throughout by humourless wisecracks from the self-appointed comedian of the group, who nearly always has a mute, unblinking wide-eyed wife with a haystack of ambiguously-coloured hair. He always seems to have a large head and goes to the lavatory every 10 minutes to check his money.

Eating on your own is nearly always hell.

Because hell is nearly always other people.