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Solitary dining and self-reflection in drama Cheers to Me

Cheers To Me

Cheers to Me is a wonderful hidden gem of a K-drama, lost in the annals of 2015. Was it because it aired on a lesser-known cable channel instead of a well-known network? Or was it the format? At ten episodes of about 20 minutes each, this wasn’t a show to stick in your typical primetime slot. The episodes feel more like vignettes than full-fledged episodes, but that’s part of their charm.

Cheers to Me is the Korean remake of a Japanese manga called Wakako-zake. The execution of manga or anime compared with a Korean drama is obviously very different, but the general storyline is the same. It follows the main character — a single working woman — who, at the end of a long day, likes to enjoy a solitary dinner out. The story in Cheers to Me is simple, but it has a lot to say about enjoying yourself, about independence, and about solitude.

Our lead, Ra Yeo-joo, is played by Yoon Jin-seo, whom I hadn’t seen in a drama before this one, but she has been in some biggies like Heirs (I don’t even recall her in that!) and The Return of Iljimae. She’s joined by Lee Jae-yoon, Bae Nuri, and Kim Nan-hee as her colleagues at a big publishing house, where she works as a successful editor.

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I first heard of this drama because I’m a huge Lee Jae-yoon fan (there, I said it!). I love his warm masculine presence on screen — and I appreciate actors that are content with great supporting roles. Not everyone needs to lead a drama, after all, and we’ve all seen how supporting characters can add so much depth and personality to a show. If I came to Cheers to Me for Lee Jae-yoon, I didn’t stay for him. It was actually the beautiful pacing and tone of the show that caught me. Cheers to Me is even-keeled, quiet, and simple. It’s a drama that hums along on its merry little way.

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The episodes have a bit of a pattern to them — they start with Ra Yeo-joo waking up in the morning and starting her day, sometimes with flashbacks to her rustic childhood by the seaside and the food she ate growing up. The rest of each episode follows her through her work day, and generally ends with her choosing a place to eat, ordering, and enjoying her food in solitude. Yes, it feels a little bit like the Let’s Eat series in moments — but the eating sequences are less comedic, less meokbang, and more about self-reflection and the memories that food can evoke. Each meal she chooses over the course of the drama is purposefully selected. Once it was because she had a bad day and needed comfort food; another time it was because she woke up missing her mother’s steamed kimchi and went to a favorite place that served food reminiscent of her mother’s.

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Cheers to Me is hard to classify, but my best try would be a workplace-foodie-healing drama. The idea of food and mealtime as healing and restorative is a theme of the show from the start. In the very first episode, after we’ve been introduced to Ra Yeo-joo, her daily routine, and the colleagues she spends her day with, we see her looking forward to her evening dining plans. There’s none of the embarrassment or self-consciousness we got from Lee Soo-kyung in Let’s Eat trying to eat by herself at a restaurant. In fact, Ra Yeo-joo often tries to escape company so she can dine alone.

One evening, when her team is getting roaring drunk at a BBQ place, she fakes a phone call, hides her purse, and expertly escapes the noise and smoke and chaos of the restaurant. Where does she head instead? A tiny restaurant that buzzes in their customers, where she can enjoy some quiet and the dish she’s been craving all day. As per her style, she orders confidently and strategically — Yeo-joo knows what she wants to eat, and she knows what drink to pair it with. At the restaurant that night, it’s a simple draft beer; she sips it slowly with a smile and says to herself (and her co-workers who are texting her and getting wind of her disappearance), “This one glass is mine. I’m sorry but today it’s cheers to me.”

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Food brings Ra Yeo-joo comfort, and also rest. Sometimes it’s the respite she needs from the hustle and bustle of the city. “Why do I endure this existence?” she asks herself in the morning while commuting with thousands of other office workers. But, in the evenings over a meal and a drink, she seems completely content. “Don’t think of drinking as a waste of time,” says a quote from the Talmud that ends Episode 1, “It’s a time where your mind goes to rest.” This idea of enjoying a meal as rest is often echoed throughout the drama — for instance, Yeo-joo gets a text from her mother that reminds her not to just swallow her food, but to “think of it as restorative.” It turns out watching Ra Yeo-joo enjoying her meal and finding peace and quiet is actually contagious. It’s not only pleasant to watch, but if you’re not already a solo diner, it makes you want to try it out (if you’re anything like me).

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There wouldn’t be the foodie/healing side of the drama if we didn’t have the workplace side — this is where we see Ra Yeo-joo and her department go through the ups and downs of working for a big publishing house. Yeo-joo’s thesis about office life is that “each worker survives by their own methods.” For her manager, it’s checking the stocks every hour, for Lee Jae-yoon’s character it’s drinking all night and then nursing his hangover the next day, and for the office maknae, it’s checking her social media feed all day long. For Ra Yeo-joo, as we have already learned, it’s the simple pleasure of that solitary dining experience.

You won’t be surprised to learn that there are no sweeping romances in this drama — nor back hugs, rain confessions, or anything like that — but what we do get are some interesting work relationships that feel a lot more like real life. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Ra Yeo-joo and Lee Jae-yoon.

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It’s sometimes professional, sometimes flirty, and the two actors do a brilliant job of setting up the familiarity between two people that have worked together for several years and spend the better part of their days sitting at neighboring desks. “Overpass,” Jae-yoon instant messages her when something’s happening in the office. They meet there many a time, and their chats and snack machine drink breaks were some of my favorite moments of the show.

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While the episodes are similar in feel, and create a pattern that mirrors the repetition of her work days, the show is also about Ra Yeo-joo’s journey as well. This is another thing that Cheers to Me captures so well — that even when it seems like there is not a lot happening on the surface, there’s a whole inner life going on that brings color to everything. The memories and emotions behind each of Ra Yeo-joo’s meals tells this story, and her conclusion at the end of the drama is this:

“Ten years later, twenty years later — I am unable as of now to tell where I will be. Right now, I can make the happiest choices of the moment, and spend the most me-like day I can.”

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The drama, then, isn’t so much about the food and drinks as it is about our heroine’s process of learning who she is, and letting herself grow. It’s a subtle message, but it stays with you after the drama has ended. What brings you joy, or makes you feel the most “you-like”? Just like our heroine, we’re left to contemplate these thoughts over a nice meal and drink. Cheers!

Cheers to You!

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Nicely written article! I'll check out this drama - I find that quiet food dramas (and movies too) really make me happy!

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I agree! I am not even a foodie and have a lot of dietary restrictions yet when I see such shows it makes me feel calm and happy :)

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Nice article. Thank you!!!

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Sounds like a must see. Will have to look for it on VIKI, Netflix,, etc... now that DF is no longer. We remember her in "Heirs," she was main girl lead,'s older sister in L.A.

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I have watched a bit of the Japanese version...I did not know about this. Thank you 😊

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Thank you @missvictrix for this nicely written article 👏👏👏

Cheers to Me sounds a good drama, a soothing for an exhausted office worked, perfectly suitable for me who eat alone 3 times per day and whom the waitresses always tried to put in shame for eating alone in a restaurant which only got 4 seated tables.

I cant wait to check it soon.

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No shame! ^_^

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This drama sounds delightful. I’ll check it.

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I will check this out, thanks! I like short dramas, and the theme of solitary dining reminds me of Drinking Solo.

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You had me at Lee Jae Yoon. Hello fellow fan.

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Fandom unite!

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Yoon Jin Seo was playing the big sister of Park Shin Hye in Heirs, the one in USA.

I didn't watch this drama. I should try :)

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Finally someone wrote about this drama! I watched it early this year and absolutely loved it.

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Definitely checking it out. It’s on Viki US!
Am kinda dropping dramas lately. A short one might just be right. And the theme seems good.

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I also saw it out on youtube!

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Thanks @missvictrix After reading the first half of your article, I found the show and watched Episode 1. Then I read the rest of your article.

It's just about like everything that you say. I really like the 'real' feel to it. Nothing over the top, everyone comfortable, no overt gossiping or trying to pair off colleagues. It's probably true-to-life too that small companies expect their teams to work and eat together, even after working hours. I can't blame Ra Yeo Joo for wanting alone me-time at the end of a hectic workday, constantly with others. I do too!

I also like the natural colour of the show. Nothing too bright or too garish, more played down than most kdramas. It does not look like a movie, but more like I'm right there looking in on those people in normal lighting. The music too I found plaintive and pleasant, a character all by itself, changing constantly to suit the different situations, and giving us hints of what to expect.

I hope the relationship between the 2 sisters will not be totally set aside in the rest of the episodes. In just a first few minutes of the show, the very sweet sisterly care and companionship of the little girls was lovely to see.

Looks like I'll be watching this show because the episodes are manageably short and I really don't feel like facing any more tears or suspense other than those with Terius, Fox Bride Star, (maybe Player) and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. 😏

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So glad you're watching! Yes, it's quite lovely and calming all the way through.

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I was surprised how *mild* the drama was, or at least how mild the first few episodes are. I came to this series after attempting to watch 'The Undateables' ('Handsome guy and Jung-eum') which I found to be cloyingly formulaic. This is a refreshing low key (so far) change of pace.

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