NEW YORK – In New York City restaurants, the party-of-one is becoming a cause for celebration.
OpenTable, the online reservation platform, said that bookings by solo diners at restaurants in the city jumped by 80 percent from 2014 to 2018.
And while OpenTable said those parties-of-one represent a very small slice of overall bookings, some restaurants said that business from solo diners can now account for up to 10 percent of their sales.
Even on Valentine’s Day, the most couple-oriented dining occasion of the year, New York restaurants are making room for patrons dining alone.
OpenTable said that Valentine’s Day solo reservations in 2018 increased by 33 percent over the previous year.
And perhaps for good reason: Restaurants said solo customers represent the ideal, as they are truly there for the food and experience rather than the social occasion.
“The way we approach it is that when we have a solo diner, it’s more of an honor than anyone else,” said Andrew Kuhl, the dining-room manager at Eleven Madison Park, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
Restaurants are doing their part to encourage such business. At such establishments as L’Artusi, an Italian restaurant in the West Village, and Odo, a Japanese spot in the Flatiron District, solo diners are given a free offering – say, a small serving of an off-menu item or a glass of sparkling wine.
And on Valentine’s Day, some restaurants said they make an extra effort to welcome the solo crowd. For example, at Jones Wood Foundry, a food-driven pub on the Upper East Side, a communal table is set aside for party-of-one diners.
“It fills up quickly,” said chef and partner Jason Hicks.
Other restaurants said their concepts readily appeal to those dining unaccompanied. At Ikinari Steak, a growing Japan-based chain with several locations throughout Manhattan, the focus isn’t on the ambiance, but on serving steaks quickly and efficiently – in other words, the very opposite of the traditional couple-oriented steakhouse experience.
“The focus is on the food. It’s not about chatting,” said Hide Kawano, president of Ikinari Steak’s United States division.
And at Boqueria, a Spanish restaurant with four locations in Manhattan, the tapas, or grazing-style menu, naturally appeals to patrons dining alone, said marketing director Simone Careaga.
That is, the experience isn’t about a lengthy, sit-down meal that is almost built around the opportunity to converse. Instead, Careaga said, “You can eat as much or as little as you want.”
Which isn’t to say that restaurants don’t pay a price for welcoming solo diners, especially if they occupy tables that might otherwise be used for two guests.
That is particularly true in higher-priced establishments, such as Eleven Madison Park, where the prix-fixe meal runs $335 a person in the dining room.
At the same time, hospitality experts say there can be a payoff in the end.
Not only might solo patrons become regulars, but they might also return with friends, family or even a date.
“You’re making them an ambassador” for your restaurant, said Stephen Zagor, an instructor and former dean at the Institute of Culinary Education, who is also an adjunct professor at the Columbia Business School.