Over the past year, online searches for solo dining options have increased by 357 percent. It is seen by some as self-care and promotes ‘mindful eating’. While others have no choice to eat alone when travelling for business or in between appointments.
And at a time of squeezed household budgets and rising business costs, which has led to record insolvencies, restaurant owners must adapt to changing consumer behaviour, including dining out alone.
Some restaurants have even taken to introducing a minimum spend for solo diners, upping the cost of their meal by hundreds of pounds, but this increases the risk of turning away customers.
So, what can venues do to cater for this growing trend and create an exceptional experience that makes solo diners feel welcome and turns them into repeat customers?
1. Mix up seating arrangements
Any restaurant can benefit from a mixture of seating options to suit every dining scenario – a romantic date, a catch-up with friends or a family outing with kids in tow.
Solo diners are most likely to choose small tables facing where the activity is if given the option, either overlooking the street or the bar/kitchen. This set up provides interesting focal points for people watching.
People eating alone may also prefer cosy nooks or booth seating to give them a sense of privacy while enjoying the ambience and buzz of the venue.
Alternatively, communal or bar seating, which both encourage social engagement and interaction can also benefit solo diners. These tables can also maximise the number of people a venue can hold, boosting profitability.
By having several flexible seating options you can accommodate the different preferences of diners, whether they’re looking for privacy or a more sociable experience.
2. Consider menu formats
Historically, solo diners would opt for a quick in-and-out dining experience, with many preferring to pick up their meal and eat it elsewhere. But today, more solo diners are looking for relaxing and pleasurable experiences when eating in.
The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented. Many menu formats are well designed for the solo diner, as well as larger groups.
Small plate menus, which can cater well for couples and groups, also work well for the solo diner who can enjoy trying different dishes without the need to share. These dishes are also typically quick to prepare and leave the kitchen, which are perfect for solo diners short of time.
A prix-fixe menu of two or three courses is also a great way to encourage solo diners to boost their spending without staying for hours if they don’t feel comfortable sat alone for too long.
3. Cater for the remote workers
In a post-pandemic world, remote work is much more common. And many ‘work from homers’ opt to work from coffee shops, cafés and restaurants to break up their day or week, purchasing food and drink during their visits.
By offering free Wi-Fi and convenient charging stations, business owners can encourage remote workers to pick their venues during quieter periods in the day and increase customer loyalty outside of working hours, too.
Other solo visitors may also be looking for an escape from their home environment, whether they are retired, on parental leave or in between jobs. Providing reading materials, such as newspapers, magazines, or even a selection of books, can encourage them to choose your venue.
4. Ensure no judgement from front of house
Based on social norms, it may feel natural to ask someone on their own if they are waiting for anyone else or delay taking their order until their unknown guest(s) arrive.
Front of house staff need be trained to remove unconscious bias from the equation, so the solo diner doesn’t feel out of place or self-conscious. It’s important to provide the diner with a natural welcome and wait for them to explain what they want.
5. Offer promotions and loyalty discounts
One study found 49 percent of UK diners consider promotions or deals an important factor when picking a restaurant.
Design loyalty programs that reward solo diners for repeat visits. Encourage them to bring friends or recommend your establishment to others, enhancing the potential for group dining experiences in the future.
6. Create the right vibe with background music
We all know that music can change our moods. But its power is much larger than just that; it can change the way we move, how we behave, our perception of time, our reading of a brand or influence our purchase decisions.
For the solo diner, background music can make them feel more at ease and fill the void of no conversation at their own table.
To create the perfect atmosphere, restaurants need to be in control of their playlists and ensure they are responsive to factors such as time of day, busyness, and even the weather.
Essentially, when building a playlist, it’s likely to work when there’s a musical commonality.
These are shared features of songs that can help to weave playlists together. They could be any element of a track, but we tend to focus on things like texture, instrumentation, rhythmic feel, and production styles as these are more noticeable to the ear than something like harmonic structure.
Investing in an enterprise-grade music management system can automate playlist production that hits the right note with all diners, without adding pressure on staff to select and control the music.
Those are just some of our suggestions of how restaurants can make the most of the solo dining trend, and help those taking part feel as comfortable as possible. Visiting a hospitality venue, whether alone or in a group, should be an enjoyable and memorable experience - to chat to us about creating the perfect atmosphere for your customers, just head here.