Over the last five years, solo diners, or parties of one, have increased their share of restaurant visits while other party sizes have declined, reports The NPD Group.

Last year solo diners represented 35 percent of restaurant visits whereas parties of two represented 27 percent of visits, parties of three, 14 percent, parties of four, 12 percent, and parties of five or more, 13 percent. Solo diners made 15.4 billion restaurant visits in the year ending December 2019, an increase of 1 percent compared to year ago. With the exception of parties of four, visits from all other party sizes declined, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research, CREST.

Quick-service restaurants get the bulk, 89 percent, of solo diners’ visits and 10 percent of their visits go to full-service restaurants. Their use of quick-service restaurants is about 10 percent higher than the average restaurant consumer and solo diners use of full-service restaurants is about 10 percent less than the average. The share of solo diners’ quick-serve meals eaten at home is 9 percent, they eat at the restaurant 8 percent of their visits, in a car 8 percent of visits, and 5 percent of solo diner’s restaurant purchases are eaten at work, reports NPD. Not surprisingly, solo diners eat most of their meals at full-service restaurants. As far as meal times, 48 percent of their visits are for lunch, 29 percent for breakfast and morning snack, and 22 percent of solo diners’ visits are at dinner.  

Among the factors contributing to solo diners’ increasing use of restaurants is the need for speed and convenience getting something to eat or drink going to and while at work whether in a workplace or working from home. The increase in digital ordering for delivery and pick-up, self-service kiosks, and other technologies has made it easier and faster for parties of one to use restaurants. Another reason, although not the primary reason, there are more people living alone, 11 percent more than a decade ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“My best advice for restaurants is to acknowledge that they have more solo diners as customers and accommodate them,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.  “They are looking for convenient and quick meal options and if eating on premise, they may want single seating areas. In other words, solo diners are a large customer group so make them feel welcome.” 

Consumer Trends, News, Outside Insights, NPD Group