Dining out on your own was once a harrowing experience with an element of stigma attached; however, it has been a primary industry driver in Australia for three consecutive years, now owning 40 percent traffic share within the foodservice industry, according to the latest CREST trends report released by leading global research company, the NPD Group.
It is not just today’s smartphone lifestyle that is pushing the rise of solo dining up the eating occasion charts, but also busy lifestyles giving diners the chance to find solace in ‘me time’ over a meal. In addition, the data shows there is now a blurring of dedicated mealtimes, leading to consumers eating at times not considered the norm.
“Our time-poor population sees solo dining as a way to eat alone and avoid having to make dining arrangements. The latest Census data shows there’s been a rise in single households to almost one in four, so all signs are pointing to the necessity, the ease and the convenience of eating out alone,” says Gimantha Jayasinghe, Deputy Managing Director at The NPD Group.
Solo dining is still primarily off-premises led by ‘on the go’ consumers, however there is a consistent return to restaurants and food courts. On premises holds 41 percent traffic share and 70 percent Contribution to Growth (CTG), with off-premises holding 59 percent traffic share and 30 percent CTG respectively.
Lunchtime covers the largest daypart in Australia which over indexes with solo diners. “This occasion has been trailing behind other meal times, and this particular area provides an opportunity for operators to grow their lunchtime solo dining focus” said Jayasinghe. “With the rise of single households, many don’t see the appeal of cooking for one, so providers could offer another level of convenience and explore options such as offering a 2-for-1 deal, which means diners can take one meal home and reheat it for dinner later. This is an opportunity that is gaining traction in the US and could translate to the Australian market potentially.”
There is a big swing towards eating alone at breakfast time and snacking occasions as the working consumer goes about their busy day. 60 percent of Australians dine alone for breakfast, with the morning snack coming second at 50 percent. Still trailing behind, but growing, is dining alone in the evening. Currently 21 percent of Australian consumers are choosing to eat out on their own and this figure continues to grow.
“Solo dining is a very different occasion to group meals and should be approached differently. Those in the industry need to consider the solo diner across all elements of their foodservice offering in order to harness the growth of this market,” says Jayasinghe. “Restaurant layout, individualised experiences and engagement, menu development, portion size, packaging and waiting times all play critical roles in meeting the demands of this area. Restaurants and cafes also need to think about weekdays as 77 percent of solo dining experiences take place during the typical working week.”
NSW and VIC have experienced the most growth in the solo dining space, with NSW taking 35 percent traffic share and 42 percent CTG, compared to VIC with 31 percent traffic share and 42 percent CTG over a three-year period. This shows that solo dining occasions are concentrated in high population metro areas. “The fact is, in a lot of big cities, people don’t even look twice when you’re eating by yourself,” says Jayasinghe.
Jayasinghe continues, “Middle aged working consumers are the core solo diners in Australia, with a stronger association for male solo dining (61 percent) due to the workforce makeup. 36 percent of solo diners are white collar, with 57 percent between the ages of 25 to 49. Years ago, eating alone was pretty uncommon. If you were a solo diner, you were looked at strangely, or people assumed you were a food critic. That is no longer the case.”
For more information on The NPD Group, visit www.thenpdgroup.com.au.