Welcoming the Solo Diner
Eating alone is, for many people, an uncomfortable and awkward experience. Today, however, smart restaurateurs, with an eye on trends and demographics, are looking at the solo diner as an ever-increasing source of business.
Single diners – already ill at ease in a new restaurant – are sensitive to a number of things that a restaurant owner may not be aware of. These include factors like staff vocabulary, seating layout, and more. Making your restaurant more solo-friendly can both increase your business and secure your reputation as a forward-thinking, open-minded entrepreneur. With just a few minor changes and additions, your restaurant can make leaps in attracting and welcoming the savvy solo diner.
According to Fortune, the percentage of Americans living by themselves has doubled since 1960; in addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that consumption by U.S. singles contributes close to $2 trillion to the economy annually. In the U.S. restaurant industry, reservations for one are on the rise: the number of solo diners has grown by 62 percent, making them the fastest-growing table party size. Put into financial terms, ignoring the particular needs of solo diners is tantamount to giving the cold shoulder to a big chunk of business. Instead, it’s time to figure out how to throw out the welcome mat.
Learn How to Talk to Solo Customers
The verbal kiss of death to a solo diner is the adjective, “just,” coupled with the word, “one,” topped with a question mark, and smothered with a sympathetic look. Asking a single diner if he or she is a party of “just one,” is condescending. Lose the “just,” do the math in your head, and simply say, “Right this way.” Better yet, let solo guests speak first and then ask them if they have a preference regarding where they are seated. Never assume that they want to sit at the bar, or at a table in the corner — never assume anything. They may choose to sit at the bar, or request a quiet corner to enjoy their alone time, or they might surprise you and ask for a center table so they can people-watch. Whatever happens, choose your words and tone carefully, and don’t take anything for granted.
Many single restaurant customers enjoy the solitude, which can translate into little or no desire for conversation. Others, however, are out alone but still view it as an opportunity to chat with strangers and make new friends. Hosts and wait staff need to have super-sensitive antennae as to which type of solo diner they are serving. The default approach is not to feel the need to entertain or overly converse with solo diners; rather, follow their lead and be attuned to their social cues.
If you want to go out of your way to attract solo diners, offering live entertainment can make a big difference. Live music makes any restaurant automatically more comfortable for a single diner, particularly in the evening. Anyone can watch a live band alone without looking out of place, and your diner no longer has to worry about being in the spotlight just because he or she is alone. Live music provides solo diners with something natural to focus on, rather than staring at other guests, or down at their plate during their meal. It’s true than in today’s world – with a smartphone in every hand – no one is really ever alone, but being able to look at something other than one’s food or one’s screen could be a welcome relief to the solo customer.
Rearrange your Seating Options
Seating a solo diner at a table for four may make them feel unnecessarily awkward, so don’t make a single guest feel like a loner by giving them way more space than they require. Consider, instead, a more original approach: for example, communal seating. Long picnic tables or rows of tables and benches are great options. Communal seating conveys to your solo diners that you aren’t biased as to whether a guest is alone or with a full entourage; every hungry customer – with or without a companion – is welcome.
Bar-side seating is always a great option, but not every restaurant has enough space to pull this off. Replicate the bar-side experience by pushing a full length, high table up against any window with a view – even to a busy sidewalk. Not only does this seating solution provide solo diners with something to fix their eyes on – who doesn’t like to people-watch? – it also helps make it less obvious that they’re dining on their own.
Offer Your Restaurant as a Workspace
If your restaurant showcases fine dining and the full romantic experience, this may not be an option, but if you own any other type of eating establishment, you can show that your restaurant values the business of the solo diner – by offering your restaurant as an optional workspace with the help of free Wi-Fi. By having Internet access, single business professionals can enjoy their meals in places other than noisy, crowded cafes and coffee houses.
Additionally, nothing says, “welcome” to the single diner like portable charging stations for their phones, laptops, and tablets. This is a win-win situation for you because with guests not having to run out when they’re faced with waning batteries, you and your staff will have the opportunity to offer additional items. A simple, “Would you like to see the dessert menu while you’re waiting?” and your single customer becomes more likely to nibble on that muffin they previously turned down, while they wait to power up.
Turn Solo Diners into Regulars
Embracing the solo dining trend means removing the stigma from the experience of eating out alone. Ultimately, single diners are usually looking for a place where they can feel comfortable while dining, so catering to single diners is the perfect opportunity to offer a more personalized and intimate approach. Train your staff to gauge what solo diners are looking for to make them feel comfortable and at ease. Single diners don’t want to be disturbed, but they will appreciate receiving special attention in your restaurant. With a little extra care, and a show of appreciation, you can turn solo diners into loyal customers and make your restaurant their regular eatery.