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Grabbing lunch between meetings, dining while away on business or simply popping out on a Sunday when cooking a roast for one seems like too much hassle; there are plenty of reasons why your customers may choose to eat alone. Are you doing enough to cater for solo diners?

According to recent research from Purple Parking, 81 per cent of travellers have been on a solo trip with 26 per cent stating their biggest worry when they travel is dining alone. Highlighting a significant problem within the hospitality industry, 24 per cent of the 1,100 people surveyed felt they receive poorer service when they dine out alone.

While there are plenty of eateries who seem to be poorly catering for solo diners there are also those that are putting this type of clientele at the heart of their business model. Last "If your restaurant or café doesn't open its doors until 11am, or even later for a dinner-only service, you could be missing out on a sizeable opportunity: breakfast. The ‘most important meal of the day’ is often conspicuously absent from many menus as eatery owners tend to focus their efforts on the midday and evening meals, but breakfast and brunch could well be a profitable addition to your current offering that’s worth setting your alarm early for.

The original Eenmaal pop up launched in Amsterdam last year, heralded as the world’s first restaurant aimed exclusively at solo diners it was judged enough of a success to warrant repetition and appearances in Antwerp and London. Eenmaal translates from Dutch as ‘one meal’. Every table at Eeenmaal is laid for one guest only and the use of phones while not banned is discouraged. This allows diners to focus on the very important business of eating and enjoying their own company.

While you may not want to rethink your whole business model or floor layout, there are many ways you can ensure your offering not only accommodates solo diners, but also makes them feel like valued customers who would like to return. It goes without saying that top quality service is likely to lead to repeat custom – either with guests choosing to return alone again, recommending your venue to friends or perhaps planning a repeat visit with company in tow. Promoting this loyalty and goodwill should be part of your establishment’s everyday service, so here’s your checklist for solo serving…

Solo serving etiquette

Make space

Being shoved in a corner or plonked next to a noisy party of fifteen is not going to make those dining alone feel comfortable or valued. Review your floor plan to check if your smaller tables are suitable for solo dining. Not every customer will want to dine at a stool in the bar area but it’s a good idea to present this as an option if you can. Long tables and benches for communal dining are also a welcome option in informal eateries. As well as space, consider other elements of the dining experience: is there adequate lighting if a diner decides to read while they eat?

Don’t rush

Those who eat alone do tend to vacate their tables more quickly but you shouldn’t rush them out of the way or make them feel like they’re taking up tables you’d prefer to give to groups. Striking the right balance will come down to your floor plan as well as the attitude of your waiting staff. If a diner has chosen to eat with you alone this is in many ways a huge compliment to the kitchen – they are here solely to experience and enjoy your food and haven’t been dragged along to dinner for someone’s birthday, leaving do or some other occasion, so reward them with great service and a meal to remember.

Tailor service

Great service can mean different things to different people. Some solo diners may want to be engaged in conversation while others may be perfectly happy to enjoy their meal in relative peace. It’s up to your staff to be able to read the signals and make every diner’s experience what they’d wish for. This may mean asking polite questions to discover preferences, but be mindful of tone. You don’t want your diner to feel uncomfortable and asking loaded questions about their lack of company may get things off to an awkward start!

Give activity options

For some customers, your food will be the only focus they need. However, you may want to consider how they will occupy their time between courses. You may want to offer the Wi-Fi password up front in case they want to use a tablet or smartphone or simply ensure there’s enough space to pitch up a good book or magazine to browse while they eat.

Have you noticed a rise in the number of solo diners you serve? Do you have any items on your menu that are specifically targeted at this group? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to ensure you’re as welcoming to individuals as couples and groups.


Lockhart Catering on 16 February 2015 12:42 AM

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