While many restaurants are designed around parties of two or more and cater to larger groups in search of bigger tabs, they may be missing out on a growing trend—the solo diner. According to The Hartman Group’s Food & Beverage Occasions Compass, 46 percent of the meals American’s eat are solo occasions. And that trend is only expected to rise. In 2012, 28 percent of all households consisted of only one person while more than 40 percent of the households in big cities such as Atlanta, Denver, Seattle and Washington D.C. were occupied by one person. And these single-occupancy people were spending $1.9 trillion a year.
Currently, across America, there are almost 40 million single-person households. In cities such as Paris and New York, that number raises to more than half of all homes.
Restaurants across the nation are taking notice of this changing demographic and finding ways to expand their single-guest appeal and make them feel appreciated in the process.
In the past, the single diner was likely to get the small table by the kitchen door. Restaurants looking to be known as the “place to go for singles” are definitely changing the seating scheme. Most guests who are dining on their own do not want to feel as if they are the center of attention. Like your other guests, they are patronizing your restaurant to enjoy the delicious food, high-quality service, and defining ambiance.
Consider placing tables designed for singles by walls and offer distinct types of dining experiences for the unique needs of your individual guests. Some would prefer a quiet, private corner while others are drawn toward seating arrangements that invite conversation with other guests or employees. If possible, give your single guests a choice.
When considering options, don’t forget the bar as a great place for individuals to dine. Seating can often be arranged where they can people watch or carry on a conversation with the bartender or other guests. A long table against a street-facing window offers them an engaging view. Some restaurants take advantage of this area and seats by offering their full menu at the bar while others cater to individuals with a tasting menu.
We’ve all heard hosts greet someone at the door with the question, “Are you waiting for someone?” or, better yet, “Just one?”—A definite faux pas when enticing singles through your doors. Make them feel comfortable from the moment they arrive by acknowledging them as a party of one as if, and it should be, an everyday occurrence.
And make sure that your servers and staff understand that individual guests deserve the same dynamic service as all your patrons. This means avoid rushing them in order to turn the table and provide suggestions for appetizers, desserts and drinks, just as they would, or should, offer everyone that enters through your doors.
Restaurants Taking the Solo Plunge
Eleven Madison Park in New York City has made it a point to train their staff to go “above and beyond” for guests dining alone. This could explain, in part, why they won the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Service Award in 2016.
Another New York City restaurant that prides themselves on treating individual guests with a special touch is Balthazar. They give solo diners a complimentary glass of champagne. Chef Amanda Cohen at Dirt Candy Restaurant offers a yearly “Solo Diner’s Week” in which she creates a menu specifically for single guests. It’s designed to offer smaller portions of multiple dishes, giving them the opportunity to sample different flavors and pairings—an experience that can be missed when dining alone.
Providing a comfortable space for single diners can make first-time visitors brand-loyal customers. And these customers will be telling friends and co-workers about their engaging experience. Appealing to this segment of the population is a profitable way to increase sales and make use of the smaller spaces in your restaurant.