Last year, The Washington Post reported the trend of eating alone, something major newspapers have been taking note of for 30 years, has gone from an occasional occurrence to a regular fact of life. Eating alone is not just a rising trend, it is the new norm.
There are many social causes for this change. One is that the average family size has gone down and people are marrying and having kids later in life. Another factor is that people are more pressed for time and, therefore, eating on the go. While one can spend a lot of time studying this cultural shift, the important take-away for those in the food and hospitality service business — from resorts to restaurants to institutional settings — is that the number of people eating alone will only increase in the coming years. In fact, a recent Open Table survey found that over the past two years, reservations for one are up 62 percent.
To understand what this mean for your business, here’s a look at three ways this trend will affect the food industry.
Smaller portions – How much people eat is largely determined by how much is eaten by the other people they are with, according to a recent study in the journal Social Influence. The tendency for people to mimic their peers' eating patterns generally leads to them eating greater portions when out with others and less when they are alone.
Changes in seating – The uptick in solo eating means your dining area will need to be designed to maximize seating space and create a welcoming environment. The traditional layout, with ample seating for parties of four to six people, will not only limit how many different parties you can seat, but also create a seating situation that is uncomfortable for the solo diner. Depending on what kind of atmosphere you want to create, you can choose to increase the number of solo tables, put in a large communal long table, or add more bar seating.
Greater demand for delivery – While it is true that more people are going out alone, the majority of solo diners eat at home. Restaurants can expect to see a growing share of their sales go to the take-out portion of their business. In order to stay competitive, you will have to devise a system to accommodate this growing segment. If you do not offer delivery, it is key to link up with third-party delivery services.
It’s important to take time to monitor these trends and determine how you can accommodate those who eat alone. It might be a simple table rearrangement or you might need to institute a more efficient process for take-out and delivery. Whatever the case, be mindful of this shift in our eating habits; it’s likely the solo diner will impact your business for years to come.
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