#207. How to Dine Alone and Feel Like a Badass.

Well, hola right back at ya!
Well, hola right back at ya!

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.

If you're looking for me this summer, 50 percent chance I'll be on this patio. 
If you’re looking for me this summer, 50 percent chance I’ll be on this patio.

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!).

Can't wait to belly up here.  photo courtesy of Hola Arepa
Can’t wait to belly up here.  photo courtesy of Hola Arepa

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.

Table for one!  photo courtesy of Hola Arepa
Table for one!  photo courtesy of Hola Arepa

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.

Yum yum gimme some.
Yum yum gimme some.

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.

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Comments (9)

  • Chelsea 3 years ago Reply

    You are awesome. There are so many restaurants that I might have trouble dragging my fiance to and would have an easier time if I just ate alone at them, but I do not have the courage. Which is especially silly since I work in restaurant management in Portland (temporarily not, as I’m in Cape Town for a year), and never think twice when people eat alone (unless they really, really want to sit at a 4 top on Friday night at 8:00… 😉 ). We even train our hosts not to say "Just one?" because it happens often enough. I got to know a few regulars who dined alone a couple times a week.

    Anyways, I listen to Go Fork Yourself and read your blog regularly and think you’re fantastic!

    -Chelsea @ ducksoven.blogspot.com

  • Chelsea 3 years ago Reply

    You are awesome. There are so many restaurants that I might have trouble dragging my fiance to and would have an easier time if I just ate alone at them, but I do not have the courage. Which is especially silly since I work in restaurant management in Portland (temporarily not, as I’m in Cape Town for a year), and never think twice when people eat alone (unless they really, really want to sit at a 4 top on Friday night at 8:00… 😉 ). We even train our hosts not to say "Just one?" because it happens often enough. I got to know a few regulars who dined alone a couple times a week.

    Anyways, I listen to Go Fork Yourself and read your blog regularly and think you’re fantastic!

    molly mogren 3 years ago Reply

    Hey Chelsea-
    Thanks for your nice note! You should really try just going out as a table for one once & see what you think. The folks at Hola Arepa were really kind about my onsie situation. When I used to work in a restaurant (a sushi bar… the best place for a single diner, in my humble opinion), some of the regulars who’d come in alone were such a treat.

    Thanks for reading (& listening to the podcast!). Love your blog. What are you doing in Cape Town? I was there for a month a few years ago (um, like 10) and it’s one of my favorite places on earth.

  • Sarge in Charge 3 years ago Reply

    I recently moved to Minneapolis and my fiance had to stay back in Chicago for a few months, so I quickly lost ALL self-consciousness about eating alone. Because the truth is, NO ONE is feeling bad for you — if anything, servers seem to give you extra good service and other patrons are happy to chat you up. By the end, it actually made me feel cool and confident rather than tragic and alone.

    Even so… I was still scared the first time I went to a movie alone. I called it the "final frontier" in doing things by yo-self. But like everything else scary, it turned out to be amazing. Got to sit exactly where I wanted, enjoyed the movie with no interruptions, and didn’t have to share my popcorn or Diet Coke with anyone. It felt like the lap of luxury! So if you haven’t tried that, I highly recommend.

    P.S. girl, I feel you on the speed eating problem. I have been known to "black out" when presented with a particularly amazing plate. I lose track of place and time and only snap back into reality when I realize all my dining companions are staring at me.

    molly mogren 3 years ago Reply

    I love seeing movies alone! I’ve only done it a few times, but I found the experience to be highly satisfying.

    How are you liking Minneapolis? Let me know if you’re looking for any food/stuff to do/etc recs. I love it here.

    Sarge in Charge 3 years ago

    Liking it so far but I am still looking for a few things and I just like hearing people’s faves- I’ll email you!

  • April H. 2 years ago Reply

    I go out alone all the time, especially now that I have moved to a new city (again) and do not know many people. Now, granted, I generally always sit at the bar when alone and not a booth or table. Sometimes I will grab a magazine to look through, but oftentimes I end up talking to whoever else is also sitting at the bar alone, or the person working behind the bar. I actually made several new friends that way in STL, just going out and finding people to talk to. People (mostly women) seem to be so terrified of going out and doing anything by themselves. I do not know why we have become so dependent on others to function in life. Yes, it is nice to have company, and sometimes going out alone can be dangerous, but if more women would just get out of their shell and go do things by themselves I think they would be pleasantly surprised at how much the world can open up.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I think the thing people don’t realize is that no one is really paying attention to you when you dine alone. They are more engrossed in what they are doing. If they even notice you, they probably thing you’re a brave SOB. Good for you for finding the guts to dine solo. It’s kind of great cause you don’t have to compromise on where you go and what you order. And YES, you do always meet people!

  • One More Bite 2 years ago Reply

    Awesome post! It took me a while to get over the fear of dining out by myself, but I think what tipped things over for me was when I considered what would make me more at peace when I get to my deathbed: having lived a life where I safely got through without causing anyone to think I was weird / look at me funny, or having lived a life where I did as many things that I wanted to do as possible that challenged me / made me grow / made me happy.

    Sometimes people don’t have the same interests / priorities / schedules – so if I want to go eat somewhere and no one I know wants to go with: I pull a Nike and Just Do It. Don’t care if it’s solo. 🙂

    Totally inspired by others who feel the same way and take the time to share about it – it helps people who maybe aren’t there yet (so, thanks for sharing!!!)

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