DiningTourismTable for 1 - Restaurants Accommodating Solo Dining Trend

Long considered the ultimate social no-no, dining alone at a restaurant is losing its stigma. According to online reservation platform OpenTable, between 2022 and 2023 single-person reservations increased by 4%, making it one of the largest and fastest-growing dining segments in the U.S.

Whether for business or pleasure, solo dining is something restaurant consumers – particularly millennial and Generation Z demographics – are becoming increasingly comfortable with. In recent years, it has emerged as a form of self-care as people look to take some time for themselves by enjoying delicious food with a good book. Additionally, it’s become an appealing option for self-professed foodies who want to appreciate a meal without having to socialize and share.

Solo diners’ increasing visits to restaurants can also be attributed to the need for speed and convenience in getting something to eat during an otherwise hectic day. Self-service kiosks, digital ordering and other technologies have made it easier and faster for parties of one to use restaurants too, market research firm NPD Group found.

Also driving the uptick — there are more people living alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of one-person households has grown 11% over the last decade.

Recognizing the trend, some restaurants are trying to make themselves more approachable and welcoming to these parties of one with features like communal dining counters, cozy bar seating and menus offering small plate items.

Driving the trend

“People are busier than ever and sometimes that means having a meal at a time that fits your own schedule,” said Regan DeBenedetto, director of operations for Allendale-based Doherty Enterprise’s Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas and Shannon Rose Irish Pubs. “I think the increased visibility of other solo diners has sent a signal to others that it’s okay to take a meal on our own.

“And there’s a lot to love about taking a meal alone. Solo dining allows you to order whatever you’re in the mood for, without having to worry about what someone else wants. Additionally, it can make mealtime more reflective and relaxing, without an obligation to feel you need to ‘be on’ and social. Many diners spend the time catching up on emails, social, news or shopping — smart phones have changed time spent alone, this seems to be an extension of that as well,” she explained.

DeBenedetto said Doherty noticed more solo diners coming into its restaurants after the pandemic eased.

“COVID-19 forced us to do a lot of things on our own, so that might have lessened the stigma many feel about eating on their own. There’s been an uptrend in single diners ever since,” she said.

Shaun Mehtani of the Mehtani Restaurant Group – whose brands include Moghul and Ming in Edison, as well as Mendhi, SM23 and Ming II in Morristown – also reported “an increase in solo diners post-COVID.”

Mehtani, the second-generation owner of MRG, said its Indian buffet-style concept resonates especially well with single guests. “Especially Moghul’s,” he said. “Normally, you would need to eat out with 10 people to sample so many dishes and get that kind of variety at such a good price. From breads to desserts, vegetarian, chicken, chutneys — it’s all there. Buffet is the best solo dining experience ever.”

Weng Lee and Seadon Shouse, who helped launch Little Bar in Hoboken, said they believe the trend is motivated by people “who want to go out and have something truly special for dinner or appetizers” that “simply don’t want to wait at home until someone can come with them.”

Since opening in November 2023, Little Bar – which is a collaboration from the team behind Halifax restaurant at the W Hotel in Hoboken – has always welcomed solo diners. Considered one of the state’s smallest craft restaurants, the 24-seat, 500-square-foot space is focused on small plates and cocktails.

“The menu is designed as a tasting menu to allow patrons to sample dips, chips, preserved bites and small plates anyway, so it works whether you are solo or not,” said Lee and Shouse, who added that the most popular single diner items are house-made maple smoked salmon and whipped ricotta with truffle honey and house-made lavash crackers.

At Montclair Hospitality Group – where the portfolio includes Asian fusion eatery Ani Ramen House, Italian-Japanese fusion spot PastaRamen, Thai restaurant Kai Yang and doughnut concept Mochinut – CEO Joey Simons said, “I’ve always seen solo diners as an integral part of our customer base. Our restaurants have long embraced the solo diner, recognizing the diverse reasons they choose to dine alone, whether it’s for convenience, solitude or simply to indulge in their own culinary preferences.

“From the outset, we’ve tailored our menus to cater to solo diners, offering a variety of portion sizes and dishes that are perfect for individuals. We understand that solo diners may not always want a full-course meal, so we’ve curated our menu to include options ranging from small plates to hearty mains, ensuring there’s something for every appetite,” said Simons.

At Spuntino, which features authentic Italian small plates and fine wines at its locations in Clifton and Long Island, N.Y., DeBenedetto said the menu “really helps a solo diner explore new tastes without committing to a full meal.”

At Doherty’s Shannon Rose properties in Clifton and Ramsey, DeBenedetto said the restaurants offer separate rooms and five bars that allow “diners options for both a quiet space or a place to interact with others if they so desire.”

Simons agreed that design is an important factor and one that MHG has “been mindful of” when “creating dining spaces that are welcoming and comfortable for solo diners.”

“Whether it’s cozy corners for those seeking privacy or communal tables for those who enjoy a more social experience, we’ve designed our dining rooms to accommodate solo diners’ preferences,” he explained.

Looking ahead

DeBenedetto said Doherty aims to add more solo dining menu options at other restaurants in its portfolio.

In addition to its own concepts (Shannon Rose and Spuntino), Doherty’s portfolio of more than 160 restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Georgia includes Applebee’s, Panera Bread and Chevys Fresh Mex.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our restaurants and make them more welcoming to everyone. Solo diners are a growing demographic, and we want to make sure they have a great experience at our restaurants,” she said.

Simons expressed similar sentiments. “As the dining landscape evolves, we continue to adapt and refine our offerings to meet the changing needs of solo diners. This includes incorporating more flexible dining options such as grab-and-go meals or solo dining packages that cater specifically to individuals,” he said.

MHG is gearing up to launch a luxury sushi concept with famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and a sandwich shop created by James Beard Award-nominated chef Robbie Felice.

“At the heart of it all, our commitment to providing exceptional hospitality remains unwavering, ensuring that every solo diner who walks through our doors feels valued and well taken care of, just like any other guest,” he said.

Article courtesy of NJBIZ.