Dining, eating and drinking away from home is becoming more of a solo pursuit than ever, according to global information company The NPD Group. There were 4.4 billion solo eating-out visits (including foodservice delivery) in Britain in 2019, accounting for over 38% of the 11.57 billion visits in the foodservice market. Solo eating visits grew twice as fast as overall visits in 2019 (up +6.8% versus +2.9%).
Solo eaters have increased their average spend on food and beverages away from home by +16% in the five years to the end of 2019, versus an increase of +11% for the overall eat-out market. Breakfast is where solo eating is most common, with visits having grown by almost +15% in the five years to the end of 2019.
What’s on the menu for solo eaters?
The quick-service ‘ethnic’ channel – including a wide variety of cuisines including pan-Asian, Indian and Chinese food as well as kebab outlets – has grown solo-eater visits the most in the last five years, with solo visits up +46% more than the total market. Pizza and Italian is appealing to lone eaters with +34% more solo visits. Quick-service burger outlets, pubs and full-service restaurants have seen solo-eater visits grow by +30%, +28% and +10% respectively over the past five years.
Workers are most likely to eat alone – and fast
Workplace pressures top the list of why we are increasingly likely to be alone when we buy food and drink away from home. Solo eating while at work is 80% more likely than average. Solo eaters like to complete their orders as quickly and conveniently as possible: compared to all eat-out visits, these visits are 59% more likely to involve an order made via a self-ordering kiosk.
Most solo eating happens off-premise
One major difference between those eating alone versus those eating in company is that solo eaters tend to eat away from the place they purchased their food. Eight in 10 (81%) of visits are off-premise. This suggests some lone consumers do not feel comfortable eating on the premises. Cafes, restaurants and pubs should tap into this big opportunity by making eating on the premises more appealing for solo diners.
Dominic Allport, insights director (Foodservice), The NPD Group, said: “The shrinking lunch break means workers want efficiency, and many foodservice outlets are making ordering and collecting food speedy and smooth. Ordering via click and collect, delivery and self-service kiosks are making solo eating ‘al-desko’ easier than ever. But it’s not just workers at lunchtime that are increasingly eating and drinking alone, snacking, breakfast and coffee breaks taken solo are on the rise too across the wider population.
“All sorts of restaurants should respond to this trend to take a slice of this growing market. One obvious improvement is to create a more inviting interior – with counter-style seating to make eating alone on the premises less daunting. Modern pan-Asian outlets such as Yo! Sushi and Wasabi are great examples of this. Zoning is another effective design strategy, where small tables or sofas are clustered together, so solo diners don’t feel awkward when surrounded by larger groups. And if lone diners want to linger to do some work, then friendly staff, pull-out desks, power sockets and table ordering via an app can all help to maximise additional spend.”