Solo Diners Account for 40% of Foot Traffic Now
As the dining style has become more casual, it’s far more approachable for a solo diner to come in and not feel uncomfortable sitting at a table alone. The 2018 Waitrose Food and Drink Report found 8 out of 10 agreed that solo dining is more acceptable than it was five years ago. Reservations app Bookatable reports a 38% increase in requests for a table for one in just three years. The market is changing and operators should consider how they can cater for solo diners from seating arrangements, providing reading materials, to offering half portions.
Savvy chefs know it is a huge compliment for the owner and chef when someone comes and eats on their own because solo diners are purposely coming to your venue for your food – not because friends dragged them there. Solo dining has become such a fixture that many places are considering it within restaurant design now, whether it’s fine dining or upper end or more casual.
Why Do People Dine Solo?
Some say that with a phone, you’re never entirely alone – and for those who like to record their meal on social media, it may even be a relief not to have to pretend to listen to their partner’s conversation. Perhaps the quiet indulgence of treating oneself to a good meal is about embracing one of life’s greatest pleasures. It can be easier to score a seat in a busy restaurant when you’re solo and bask in the experience, without interruption or intrusion. Dining alone, you can order what you want, no swapping plates halfway, linger pleasurably over a coffee, eat dessert with just one spoon and pay the bill without a calculator.
NSW (35%) and VIC (31%) are the largest solo dining markets. Middle-aged, working consumers are the core demographic, 36% are white collar, 57% are between 25-29 years of age, 77% solo dining experiences occur on weekdays, 61% are eating breakfast solo, 50% are having a morning snack solo and 21% are having dinner solo. Lone diners like eating early: 6pm-7pm is the most popular timeslot. Most people go out for steak when eating alone, followed by modern Australian and Japanese cuisines. Japanese is one the most solo-friendly dining cuisines. Food bloggers often dine alone so they can take photos and notes at their own pace without frustrating co-diners.
There are two types of solo diners — those who are keen to participate and others who just want to keep to themselves, and it’s up to the service team to gauge which category they fall under. Train your staff how to talk to solos and teach them how to gauge what experience the solo diner is after.
Encouraging Solo Diners
One New York restaurant gives a glass of champagne to single female covers in particular, to send the message that the restaurant actually likes, even encourages, women to dine alone. Sydney’s Firedoor provides a surprise guest: a goldfish. A temporary pet for the night is his way of welcoming people who are eating by themselves. Create tailored menus or run special offers that encourage solo diners to eat out rather than order takeaway. Personalise everything: from changing portions to suit a sole guest to adjusting the pacing of dishes. Kindness rules with solo diners. It is an opportunity to spoil them with time and recommendations, to offering them half serves of anything that you can do as a half serve.
Variety and Portion Size
Diners do not want to wade through one large plate of the same thing. The more things people try off the menu, the more they enjoy their meal so aim to offer meals where they can sample something different every night of the week. Smaller options are a trend so even a solo diner can have 5 to 10 different things easily without having too much food. A tasting menu is the perfect option for any guest dining solo.
Experiential & Social
Rather than a table in between couples and groups, a seat at the bar, counter or open kitchen, where the chef’s prepare the dishes would be ideal. Solos can strike up conversations with the staff. Watching them prepare the offerings is a fascinating way to pass the time. Unless they’re doing work or reading, people usually want to connect and find out about what you’re doing. If you see they’re keen to engage, definitely keep a conversation going.
Communal seating conveys to your lone diners that you aren’t biased as to whether a guest is alone or with a full entourage– think long picnic tables, or rows of tables and benches.
For people keen to work, give them the Wi-Fi password and they can happily download their emails and have a piece of grilled fish and a glass of wine and be extremely happy. A free Internet connection can do wonders for any down time at your restaurant by easily convincing solo business professionals to pop in and answer emails while enjoying a drink or two.
What about the magical capabilities of portable charging stations. Guests stay longer to charge their devices so your staff have the opportunity to offer additional items. A simple, “would you like to see the dessert menu while you’re waiting?” and your customer becomes more likely to nibble on that piece of carrot cake they previously turned down, while they wait to power up.
Sometimes, solo diners do just want to be that: solo. The best thing you can do is make them comfortable by being the perfect amount of attentive so that you’re almost invisible and they can have their down time.
Benefits of Solo Diners in Your Restaurant
- Providing consistently accommodating service is a sign of integrity in your business practice
- You never know who you are serving – blogger, new resident, food tour scoping or reviewer
- Solo diners may return either by themselves or with company
- A table with one person can be an easy table
- It’s a compliment. It shows that your restaurant is simply worth eating at.