Eating breakfast alone? No big deal. Solo lunch? Psshhht, I'll sit at a table and check emails. But dinner all by yourself? That's a whole different can of Spaghetti-Os, especially when you decide to sit at a table, not the bar, and keep phone use to a minimum.
That's what I did when I stumbled upon Hola Arepa's soft opening (side note: I loathe that term. YUCK). It's a cute, small restaurant specializing in the Venezuelan arepa... think of it as a mashup between a taco and sandwich, housed in a delicious corn pancake. I was hungry, alone and wanted something easy but delicious for dinner. Plus, I am still trying to stay Whole30-ish and I knew Hola Arepa had lots of awesome options. It's almost completely gluten-free (if you're into that kind of thing), but not because it's trendy, it just happens to be gluten-free.
I wedged my car into a spot I think was a parking space (the lot is small... whaddayagonnado?) and marched right in. The hostess asked, "How many in your party?" I replied, "Just me!" (probably with a little too much enthusiasm). I was seated at a two top, and selected to sit along the banquet so I could see the rest of the room, which is decked in reclaimed wood and dangly Edison bulbs (obviously, as it's 2014 and this is the thing to do. No complaints!).
Initially, I didn't feel awkward. It's totally normal to arrive before the rest of your party and wait it out. Sitting alone is not weird... until your server asks if you're waiting and you say no and then they whisk the extra plate/silverware/glass and menus away.
This is when it gets weird.
I challenged myself to leave my phone in my purse (aside from taking a couple of photos and sending one text). I just sat there and read the menu, absorbed my surroundings, fabricated stories about the people around me and who they were with. I was totally content.
Every person, from the bussers to the waitress, asked if someone would be joining me and every time I said no. There was almost a wince that momentarily appeared on their face. This was not limited to the staff. The two men sitting next to me felt the need to engage me in conversation, asking about what I ordered and whether or not it was any good. I enjoyed talking to them, but definitely didn't need to.
My food arrived literally four minutes after I ordered. If I'm being honest with myself & you, I probably gobbled up my arepa (ham and eggs... not my favorite, but I definitely plan on going back and ordering something else) and side salad in less than seven minutes. I am a fast-ish eater, but this was waaaaay faster than normal.
Aside from my Speedy Gonzales consumption, I found eating alone wasn't a big deal. If I'd allowed myself to use my phone or brought a book along, it would have really been no big thing.
But even sans crutch, it was fine and here's why:
Guess what? Hardly anyone goes out to dinner to sit and feel sorry for the person eating by themselves. They are too busy enjoying their own food and trying to convince their Ok Cupid date that they're awesome, even though they lied about their height. The staff doesn't care because they are busy working. The people next to you might feel the need to chat you up (which I did love, really!), but that's actually all about them projecting their feelings regarding eating alone on to you. Honestly, they probably think you're incredibly confident for eating by yourself (they might be thinking, "I could never do that!"), not that you have a million cats and zero friends.
In the end, no one really cares that you are dining solo. And if they do, they probably just think you're cool.
This is what makes you a badass. Own it.
Have a good dining alone story or tip? Share in the comments, por favor! Oh, and here is another scary thing I did by myself.