Over the last 3 years restaurants have seen a rapid increase in solo diners. Open Table reports over a 110% increase in single person reservations making it one of the largest and fastest growing dining segments in the US. There are many theories about why more and more people are dining alone, but the most popular assumes that social media and technology have created a society that is always connected. Dining alone can be viewed as a type of “self-care,” an opportunity for some relaxing alone time that allows the senses to enjoy a great meal without the burden of conversation, sharing, or compromise. Whatever the reason, it is time for restauranteurs to change their way of thinking and start to welcome solo diners as a loyal clientele. Just like larger tables they crave experiences tailored to their mood. But unlike larger parties, single diners seem to be more willing to order multiple courses and experiment with wine pairings. In general, solo diners are easier to service, more willing to try new things, and likely to have a higher per person check average. The following suggestions can help all restauranteurs capture this valuable segment of the dining population.
Cozy Seating in the Dining Room
“Just one? Would you like to eat at the bar?” That’s the common conversation at the front door of most restaurants. Single diners begin their experience feeling they are less important and not allowed to sit at a table or receive the same level of service as larger parties. Staff should be trained to make every single guest feel like they are getting the best table in the house and dining rooms should be designed with a variety of smaller tables offering either window views or cozy corners. In short, solo diners deserve the same experience as all other guests.
No Rules Dining
Guests who dine alone are treating themselves. This means the meal should be hassle free and allow the guest some control over the way they would like to eat. Try to understand that the same guest might want to enjoy a cocktail before ordering food on one leisurely day, pace themselves through multiple small plates on the following day, and quickly work their way through an entrée and glass of wine on the next. Your first job is to get past the mindset that solo diners spend no money and need to vacate their table quickly. These diners go where they feel welcome and are happy to spend money when they know it is appreciated. Allowing them to dine the way they want will keep them coming back.
Grazing is a Thing
Diners who eat alone are often doing so to discover new creations. Most solo diners are also foodies. They enjoy tasting their way through several flavor profiles and savoring every bite. “Snack boards,” small plates, half portions, and tasting menus allow for just that. Menus that make it easy for an individual to try several items without being stuffed are sure to attract solo diners.
Solo diners are also more likely to treat themselves to something special like a taste of wine not usually offered by the glass, a limited-edition spirit, or the chef’s favorite secret appetizer. Other indulgences include take home items like a larger portion of the cheese you loved on your cheese sampler or a dozen of the Italian cookies like the one served with your dessert. Adding these opportunities to daily service will create loyal fans and keep guests coming back to see what’s new.
Embrace Seasonal and Sustainable
While some farm to table is “expected” these days on all menus, solo diners are particularly curious about the story of their food. They like to know where it came from, how it was grown, raised, or processed, why it is being served at this time of year, and what makes it special. The interaction between one server and one diner makes the transfer of this knowledge easier and more conversational. The well-informed guest also becomes free advertisement as they share what they have learned.
Spread the Word
The best way to earn the business of solo diners is to advertise that you want it. In a world where solo diners have been charged extra for dining alone or told they can have the table for no more than an hour, simply advertising that solo reservations are welcome sends that message loud and clear. Also encourage your solo diners to post reviews or blog about their positive experiences as most solo diners will search a restaurant online before their first visit.
The dining alone trend will be big in 2024 and is expected to continue growing over the next few years. Restauranteurs have been hesitant to embrace it, but the time is now to look at how you operate to ensure you are not turning away this large group eager to spend their money with you.