I have no problems eating alone at a restaurant. I do it often enough that it no longer phases me. I’ve learned to grab a seat at the bar and chat to the staff, or sit a small table in the corner with a book or magazine. When I don’t have those I’m happy to just flip through my photos on my camera, and on the rare occasion there is free Wi-Fi, I’ll use the time to chat with my family back home. For the most part, I have it figured out and solo dinner isn’t awkward.
However, when I was in Vienna April 2014, and decided to get my first real meal in a few weeks, I didn’t bring anything with me. No book or magazine. I left my camera locked in my bag, and there was no Wi-Fi. Alone, with no one to talk to, all I had to do was eat; so I finished my meal in near-record time. It didn’t help that I was starving, after 6 hours on the train it was all I ate all day. Or that it was really, really good. Basically I ate so quickly that my mom would have been shocked. Of course she wasn’t there to be shocked, so that role was left to my server.
‘All done!?’ my Austrian server asked me as he stared at my nearly empty plate. I nodded, telling him it was delicious and I was stuffed. He smiled and took my plate, leaving me alone again with only a couple more mouthfuls of my beer. Of course the little bit of beer I had left disappeared quickly too, so after about ten minutes I asked if I could have my bill.
“No.” was the reply I got.
Shocked I just stared at my waiter, who smiled back and told me I ate too quickly and needed to sit back and relax. Unsure of what to say he just walked off back to the kitchen leaving me alone with nothing to do and no one to talk to.
I literally twiddled my thumbs for another 20 minutes before I was brave enough to ask again. This time he conceded, only to give me my second surprise of the night as I pulled out my credit card.
The thing is, I didn’t have any cash. I had just come from Budapest so I had a few forints floating around my wallet, but hadn’t hit an ATM yet for some euros.
So now, not only did I look like an idiot because I ate too quickly, but I couldn’t pay either.
Explaining what happened I asked about the nearest ATM. He pointed me in the right direction and I passed over my passport as assurance I wasn’t running out on him. It was pretty late by now, and he told me I could come back tomorrow, but I was only in Vienna on an overnight stop, off to Slovenia early the next morning. So I needed to find an ATM ASAP if I wanted my passport back.
I had horrible thoughts about running around the entire city trying to find an open ATM but I was in luck, the second bank I tried had an ATM out front that would accept my Canadian debit card. Seeing as I needed Euros anyway, I took out 200. Of course, it spit out 2, 100 euro bills. Not the stack of 20s I had hoped for.
Rushing back to the restaurant I stumbled through the door, yelling triumphantly that I had the money. The wait staff, pretty much the only people left at this point, laughed at me as I handed over a 100 euro bill for my less than 20 euro bill.
“Do you have anything smaller?” he asked,digging around for the proper change.
“No…” I said, embarrassed yet again. I watched as he dug out 5 euro and 10 euro bills trying to make up over 80, and I panicked. I was rude and ate fast, couldn’t pay properly, and now was a nuisance with my money. In my embarrassment I told him just to give me back 70 euro, leaving more than a 50% tip.
Budget friendly? Definitely not. But I like to think I walked out of there with at least a shred of dignity!