Take out, anyone? Americans are eating alone more than ever before

Published on October 11, 2019

Dinner for one? You’re not alone.

Consumer and societal trends are changing the way we eat. Our society isn’t consistently gathering each night around the dinner table as a family like it did a generation ago.

Dining solo

Nearly half of meals are consumed individually, studies suggest. During the 12-month period ending in February, Americans ate 45% of their meals alone, according to NPD Group data cited in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal. That’s up from 42% in 2013.

Roughly one-fifth of restaurant party sizes consist of single diners.

Those findings are due to a number of factors. Single-person households are on the rise (more than 35 million today, compared to 26 million in 2000 and 18 million in 1980). People are generally waiting longer to get married, raising fewer children and working longer hours. Thus, less time spent dining with others — but also more freedom to pursue individual eating interests and tastes.

It’s easy to get into the habit of eating a quick lunch at your desk or in your car, foregoing traditional meals for quick snacks or on-the-go options. Americans are spending nearly six fewer minutes each weekday eating and drinking than they did in 2010, according to American Time Use Survey data. That comes out to about a day and a half each year, as we’re increasingly fitting our meals into our busy lives.

All those vegans and herbivores

People are eating with efficiency in mind, but they’re also interested in tastier, higher-quality food, the perfect blend of convenience and quality. Those trends are especially true for millennials.

Convenience is usually thought of in negative terms — heavily processed fast food, ordering take-out from the pizza shop down the street through a delivery app, scarfing down a bag of chips. After all, it’s not easy finding 45 minutes or an hour to cook a meal.

But meal delivery options during the past decade have expanded significantly, pairing our need for instant gratification with fresh, healthy options. Frozen TV dinners of yesteryear have made way for flavor-packed, nutrient-rich pre-prepped meals delivered to your door — all you need to do is reheat and eat.

Tech stakes its claim in food

Technology has been a driver of consumer interests, fueling our society’s perspectives on individualism and self-reliance. We’re constantly making personal choices on our phones and computers, from choosing romantic partners to buying clothes and yes, deciding on the food we eat. Food is the ultimate personal choice.

Need a recipe for chicken carbonara? The best dishes to use cauliflower? It’s all available at your fingertips.

People are undertaking more and more solo experiences these days, from vacations and volunteering to going to the movies. Eating alone has been thought of as a lonely endeavor, but it can be exhilarating to treat yourself to dinner or spend an afternoon cooking a new dish. When eating alone, you get to choose what you’re going to eat, how much you’re going to eat (without any peer pressure to speak of), the pace of the meal, and whether you have any room for dessert.

No awkward conversations, no fights, no fuss. And no worrying about who’s going to pick up the check.

“It’s really not that sad on a lot of those solo-eating occasions,” Laurie Demeritt, chief executive of food consultancy Hartman Group, told the Wall Street Journal. “A lot of people we talk to say, ‘I love eating alone because I can eat whatever I want.’ ”

Food companies are catering more and more to single eaters, with expanded individual-sized and on-the-go options — as they should. The number of solo eaters continues to increase every year, and consumers have more options and information at their disposal than ever before. Dinner for one has never tasted so good.

Laureen Asseo is a News Columnist at Grit Daily. She is founder and CEO of Fresh N' Lean, a meal delivery service specializing in fresh, nutritious and unprocessed food. Laureen is an entrepreneur and passionate foodie from California. It's her mission to make eating organic easy, affordable and accessible — reclaiming the phrase "fast food.”

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