‘A table for one, please’ – the rise of the solo diner


‘A table for one, please’ – the rise of the solo diner

solo diner

Not too long ago, the thought of eating alone in a restaurant was not one that many diners were comfortable with. But times they are a-changin’: eight out of 10 people questioned for the 2018 Waitrose Food and Drink Report agreed that solo dining is more acceptable than it was five years ago, and reservations app Bookatable saw an increase in requests for a table for one by more than a third (38%) in just three years.

Some might argue that the change in mindset to eating alone has a lot to do with the rise of the smartphone; it’s easy to lose yourself for an hour in your phone, with social media – among other apps – providing plenty of distraction and a sense of company, if necessary.

Whatever it is that’s inspiring diners to confidently request a ‘table for one’, operators need to respond adequately to the trend and accommodate them. Although solo diners still only represent a small portion or overall bookings – and are often less lucrative than parties of two or more – operators can scarcely afford to make any guests feel less than welcome.

The good news is that restaurants already appear to be doing a pretty good job of catering for lone diners, with half of the respondents to a Waitrose report agreeing that operators are more single-person friendly than before.

But there’s always room for improvement. So, what can you do to make solo diners choose your restaurant as their go-to?

Get the chat right

The last questions lone diners want to hear are “Just one?” or “Are you waiting for anybody else?”. This is only going to elicit an “It’s just me” type response, which is awkward for both parties.

It’s all about following the solo diner’s lead – they’ll let you know if they’re expecting company – and tuning into what sort of conversation they want to have throughout the service. Some diners might appreciate some pleasant small talk to pass the time between ordering and receiving their food, while others will prefer to lose themselves in their book, newspaper or phone.

Offer a table with a view

There’s nothing worse as a solo diner than to be plonked in the middle of a busy restaurant – even the most confident person could feel a bit self-conscious, or not knowing quite where to look.

Instead, see if you can accommodate them with a window seat, so that they can wistfully look outside or indulge in a spot of people watching. Or perhaps they’d prefer to sit at the bar? This option would be better suited to those solo diners who are open to having a chat with bar staff.

Provide some provisions

For those solo diners who seek solace in their smartphones (or laptops), how about providing power sockets so they keep their tech charged and superfast broadband so that they can stream any videos or music without it buffering?

Such provisions can make all the difference to the solo diner. But not everybody is tied to their phone, of course – for those diners who like to step away from tech over dinner, you could provide a selection of today’s papers for them to read or, if they’re a visitor, some information on things to do in the area.

Make it quick

Finally, make sure you’re providing a quick and personable service for your solo diners. While you don’t want to make them feel like they have to rush their food, they might very well appreciate a speedy service if they have somewhere to be or friends to meet up with.

Again, it comes down to waiting staff being able to accurately judge whether a solo diner is in a rush or not, and reflecting this in the service.

Ultimately, single diners are visiting your restaurant alone because they want to. So leave any pity or awkwardness out of the conversation.

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