When I got to the airport restaurant, there was a short line of people waiting to be seated. Everyone waiting in this line was a party of one. Frustrating, since as I looked around the restaurant there were plenty of empty seats and table space. But not very many empty tables. As you can probably guess, many of those that were seated were also parties of one.
If I had been in Europe I would have just gone up and asked someone if I could join them (something Julie and I learned to do when we lived in Germany). But that really isn’t something that most Americans take too kindly to. When I was finally shown to my table – a spacious 4-seater – I told the hostess that I was willing to share the chairs that were going unused at my table. She thanked me, and even mentioned it to the first few people standing in line. I was not really surprised that no one took the offer; not surprised, but disappointed.
Here we were, all in essentially the same boat: business travelers on our way to work some magic far away from home, or on our way back home after working said magic. And instead of taking the opportunity to meet someone new, to maybe have an interesting conversation we would probably never have otherwise, we chose to eat alone. Keith Ferrazzi – author of Never Eat Alone – would be rolling over in his grave if he weren’t still alive and kicking.
I announced my available chairs on Twitter and on Foursquare, knowing that it was very unlikely anyone would notice and be able to take me up on the offer. (@Your_Shirt_Guy noticed, but was sadly not at the airport at the time.) As I sit typing this on the airplane, having been reading Jane McGonigal’s (aka @avantgame) Reality is Broken while electronics were verboten, it occurs to me that this could make for an excellent location-based app/game. OK, maybe just a great app.
You’re traveling alone, and stop in at one of the airport restaurants for lunch (or dinner or maybe just a beer). You check in to Share-a-Chair to let other travelers at that airport know that you have a spare chair that you want to share. You get a +1 for posting the available chair(s). When others sit down with you and check in, you get another +1 when someone takes the first chair, with a multiplier for each new person that takes one of the chairs you offered. The players who accept your offer of a shared chair each get a +1.
Or something like that.
As much as I would love to play an app/game like this, I don’t have the coding skills – or the time to devote – to make it happen. If you happen to build something like this – or if you already have – I’d love to hear about it and join in the fun. And maybe have dinner with you one day at IAH (or STL or …).
In the meantime, I will be using #ChairShare on Twitter and Foursquare whenever I find myself eating alone.