Is the stigma around dining solo disappearing?
At OpenTable we’re always looking for interesting trends in our reservation data to give restaurants the information they need to run their businesses more effectively. Recently, we ran an analysis of our bookings and found that in the U.S., 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.
Along with the study results, we released a list of the Top 25 Restaurants for Solo Dining in America. To find out what they’re doing right, we talked to the teams at three restaurants that made the list — Portland’s Little Bird, Rioja in Denver, and Chicago’s Blackbird — for tips on making solo diners feel special. Here are eight ways to shine.
Never assume. This is the golden rule at Rioja, says owner Beth Gruitch. “Never assume they want to sit at the bar, at the chef’s counter — never assume anything. They should have the same options that diners who are dining with companions have.”
Give them a table with a view. If a guest does sit at a table instead of the bar or chef’s counter, make sure it’s a table that looks out into the dining room instead of, say, a wall. “Blackbird is to some degree like a fish bowl — you can see everything,” says General Manager David Barriball. “There’s not only the delicious meal, but there’s the show that’s happening in front of you.”
Set the table for one. Similarly, make sure the table is set for one. That way, a server won’t saying anything potentially embarrassing (“Are you dining alone tonight? Just one?”) and the guest will feel more comfortable.
Make your menu flexible. Whether catering to a group or a solo diner, Beth wants guests to taste as much as they can, especially if they have sought out Rioja based on reviews or recognition. Guests can order the tasting menu for one, and dishes can be modified into smaller portions, such as a single tortellono instead of the full tortellini dish. Guests can order half-glasses of wine, too.
Gauge the experience they’re looking for. When a single diner comes in, it should be fairly obvious early on if they want to be left alone (i.e., reading on their phone or tablet) or if they want to engage. Read their body language for cues.
Make conversation… If people are up for conversation, use that opportunity for staff to connect with them. At Blackbird, servers and bartenders mimic the kinds of conversations that parties of two would have, talking about the menu, what they feel like drinking, and simply getting to know them a little bit. “In some small part, you’re hosting them or joining them for part of the meal,” says David. At Rioja, they love giving travelers recommendations for things to see and do in Denver.
…But don’t go too far. Be friendly, of course, but Little Bird co-owner Andy Fortgang cautions against being fake or cheesy. “I always found single diners appreciate being treated normally. People are coming because they want to experience the restaurant, and they don’t want to not come just because there’s no one to go with them that particular evening. They want the same thing.”
Turn the solo diner into a regular. David says some of his most regular guests at Blackbird are single diners; one guest has dined at least 500 times over their 18 years of business, and he almost always comes alone.
“He’s like family. I think that stigma that it’s lonely has definitely changed. We’re all creatures of habit, and we’ll gravitate to where we feel most comfortable. If you provide that comfortable setting and a great meal, people will be drawn back.“
Photo Credit: Chloe List