We can’t deny that the way people are breaking bread has changed dramatically, especially over the last 20 years. In sitcoms like “Full House” and “Friends”, and in even newer shows like “How I Met Your Mother”, it didn’t matter what kind of family was sitting down to eat, they did it together. Friends, family–really anyone who could be considered “family”– could join the meal for the joy of eating and socializing. Whether at bars, in apartments, around family tables or walking together on a busy street with food in hand, people socialize trough food.
This all brings us to the question of why we don’t see this sort of casual eating mentality within our community today. What changes have caused the increasing numbers of people to dine alone, joining the ranks of what we call the ‘lone eaters’?
Some people just do not want to interact with others when fulfilling the basic need of eating. Restaurants like Eatsa, a restaurant that only serves the ancient grain quinoa, has no front-of-the house staff to interact with customers during ordering and pick-up. Customers go straight to a kiosk to place their order, and wait for the food appear so they can open a door to collect it. There are no chairs, tables or anything to promote socialization while inside, as everything is take-out, but there is an option to gather around a table outside and socialize for those looking for some level of human interaction.
Even major chain restaurants like McDonald’s are ditching the front-of-house staff in favor of kiosks. The Create Your Taste program not only allows consumers to personalize their meals, but it also completely eliminates the need to interact with a cashier. Other chains, like Taco Bell and Starbucks, offer apps that enable consumers to use their phones for placing and paying for orders and minimizing social interaction.
Lone Eaters are not alone in their dining habits; they are part of a cultural and demographic shift. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, the percentage of single-person households rose 27 percent in 2012. This may explain why approximately 50 percent of breakfasts and lunches are consumed in solitude. Of course, this doesn’t mean people no longer eat together at all. Many people still want to dine together for dinner. There is an increase of people who are snacking for their meals, but even the snackers sit down for one official mealtime with others.
WHY IT MATTERS:
One reason this is happening is because the majority of consumers are busier than ever. Even in a normal family household both parents and their children have a variety of social activities, jobs and hobbies that keep the majority of their time occupied. Eating is often the one time a consumer can truly sit down, relax and take time for themselves without distractions from others. It’s a time to enjoy exactly what they want, which is why we’re seeing so many customization options. Eating alone means others do not limit or change a perfect moment of self-gratification.
In recent years, there has been a growing cultural awareness and acceptance of the introvert personality type. Previously, people viewed the majority of the population as extroverted, assuming that introverts didn’t like to go outside or socialize with others. Now people are recognizing that the majority of the population is introverted. As it turns out, people like to take small moments to find fulfillment within themselves. So, why not start with mealtimes?