In recent years, dining alone has become a growing trend. But is it for everyone? David from MindMover's communities team has been asking members of our MindMover Connect community what they think, and how fast the solo-dining trend is truly catching on.
Table for one?
Eating out has primarily been seen as a social event; a chance to get together with friends to have some good food and good conversation. However, over the past few years, solo dining has taken a front seat, and on a global scale. Several companies have started to run with this trend. Amsterdam-based restaurant EENMAAL had already seen success by catering to the lone diner, and teamed up with Glacéau Smartwater last year to bring the concept to our shores. A pop-up restaurant was opened in London, catering exclusively to parties of one. Gü Puds got in on the action too, launching their single-serve dessert packs to both promote and celebrate solo dining.
Across the pond, the story is similar: a wide-scale survey in October 2015 discovered that reservations for solo diners in the USA had increased by 62% on the previous two years. Such was the increase that it has become the fastest growing table party size on the continent. Perhaps this is a case of echoing home life – a survey in the USA by the Hartman Group found that 53% of breakfasts were eaten alone, as were 45% of lunches and 24% of dinners, with people citing reasons like being able to watch TV shows they like and being able to multitask more efficiently. The pace of the modern lifestyle dictated these results; the desire for productivity trumps our desire to take the time to enjoy a meal.
Returning closer to home, I wanted to find out what our MindMover Connect panellists thought of this and how it would relate to eating out – did they agree that eating alone could break into mainstream dining, or would they buck the trend?
The initial reaction was one of reticence. When presented with a list of traditionally group-based activities, 42% of those who voted suggested that eating at a restaurant would be the strangest thing to do alone, representing a fairly large majority. On the other hand, when asked if they preferred their own meal or sharing food, a staggering 75% opted for the former. It seems that people want their own food, but don’t want to eat it alone.
On the forum, the response was fairly mixed. Once again, those who were happy to eat out alone were somewhat in the minority, but not by all that much. The general feeling was that they started out feeling uncomfortable, but gradually were able to relax into it. People tended to enjoy the food, the peace and quiet, and their own company, echoing the Hartman Group survey where 18% of respondents preferred to eat alone “because it is [their] time”. One respondent in particular liked “just watching others oddly going about their business, as they watch me oddly going about mine.”
On the other hand, lone diners did note that going into a restaurant alone could be intimidating; to that end, they generally preferred to avoid “fancy” or “posh” establishments. Additionally, it seems that taking up a full table for themselves sometimes made them feel unwelcome among other diners. This potentially is what put others on the panel off the idea – they did not want to feel judged or self-conscious. The lack of socialising was also seen as a fairly major turn-off.
Perhaps then, the idea of dining alone at a restaurant just takes some getting used to. Social dining is still very popular, but unlike eating at home, not everyone is quite ready to take the solo plunge –however, it seems that once you do, it can be a very relaxing, rewarding experience.
David Rees is the Community Content Editor at MindMover Consumer Insight. To find out more about MindMover Connect and other research communities run by MindMover, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 44 (0) 203 176 0729