A Table for One, Please! : 4Hoteliers

Single diners are one of the fastest growing segments in the restaurant industry, but very little is known about their choices.Solo diners are able to express their individuality through the selection of their dishes or do they seek to belong? Dr YooHeeHwang from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and coauthors of a study on the interplay of power, food choices and crowding in solo dining. These findings are crucial as restauranteurs look for new ways to tap into this lucrative, rapidly growing market of diners.Globally, single-person households are on the rise. At least 28% of US households only consist of one person. People who live alone are increasingly choosing to eat alone. According to the research, solo diners are one of the fastest growing segments in the restaurant business. In fact, individual reservations have increased by over 60% in recent years.Researchers and restauranteurs are unaware of solo diners' attitudes to menus and their choices. Restaurants use a variety of tactics to influence menu selections when targeting groups, such as scarcity cues (limited-time offers) or popularity cues. According to the researchers, consuming a product that is limited in time or limited edition can satisfy one's need for uniqueness. Consuming a popular dish can increase social connection and meet one's need for belongingness.Although these subtle promotions have been proven highly effective in motivating group diners to make decisions, there are more factors that can influence the choice of solo diners. Solo diners can be influenced by whether a restaurant is full or empty. Researchers say that solo diners may choose to express themselves in a crowded restaurant by choosing menu items that reflect their individuality. Others may choose popular dishes to blend in with them.Restaurant tactics and environmental cues can influence our sense of power or agency. Researchers note that little is known about how environmental and individual factors affect solo diners' responses to scarcity and popularity cues on restaurant menus. This is a complex multi-faceted problem that affects all elements. Researchers hypothesized that attitudes towards menus are affected by social crowdedness (an environment factor) and single consumers' sense of power (an individual-level factor).According to researchers, in some cases individuals living in a crowded environment feel that their privacy is being invaded. This encourages them, according to the researchers, to assert their individuality. This is what happens when you eat alone. The team conducted a literature review and concluded that the desire to be unique may exist alongside the desire to belong. These are two basic human needs. They suggest that both are activated depending on the environment and situation.Researchers hypothesized that solo diners were more likely to feel a sense of belonging than uniqueness, which makes them less likely want to be different. This should result in more favorable attitudes towards popular (vs. scarcity) cues, particularly in a crowded restaurant.The researchers looked deeper and found that social cues and environmental factors have a limited impact on solo diners. This is due to diners' sense of power. According to the researchers, more powerful people tend to be more focused on themselves than others. Influenced by outside cues, such as crowding or menu promotions, powerful people should not be affected. Low-power people are more likely to seek safety and approval from a group. Researchers explain that this may increase their need to belong, especially in crowded settings.The researchers conducted a survey of 181 US residents over 18 to test their hypotheses. The team reports that promotional cues and crowding were used as intersubject factors. Power was also measured. Participants were asked to imagine themselves enjoying a Thai meal at an airport while they waited for their flight. Each participant was given one of the four scenarios. The restaurant was either very crowded or sparsely filled. After being seated, the waitress handed them a menu with either a very popular or a limited-time offer cue.The following questions assessed participants' perceptions of restaurant crowdedness and personal power. They also evaluated their attitudes to the menu. Participants found the restaurant scenario very relatable and real. It took them an average of 11 minutes to complete their survey. Participants were asked to rate how busy the restaurant was. Then they were asked about their personal power. These statements were questioned to determine whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: In my relationships with other people, I can get them to do what you want. The researchers then asked the fictional guests to choose the menu items that would support or contradict their hypotheses.The researchers found statistically significant interaction between promotional cues and social crowdedness. Researchers report that low-power people were more likely to be influenced by a popular cue in crowded environments than those without. Their attitudes toward the menu involving scarcity didn't differ across crowding levels.This means that diners without power may choose to eat popular foods that increase their sense of belonging. However, powerful individuals are less likely to be influenced either by popularity cues nor scarcity cues regardless of how many people are present. The researchers found that single consumers' sense of power, as well as promotional cues, collectively predict crowding responses.This research is a valuable addition in the literature on crowding and provides insights into the expanding market for solo diners. This research provides a valuable counterpoint to the popular theory that consumers will seek freedom in crowded environments. Solo diners can make choices that promote belongingness and community, especially if they come from a low-power background.The researchers say that dining alone can be daunting. This can lead to loneliness and social isolation. These can be barriers that are insurmountable for potential restaurant-goers, especially those who lack a sense power. These diners might be reluctant to go to crowded restaurants.According to the researchers, restaurants must create a sense of belonging for diners of low power in order to tap into this market. Managers should use promotional cues on the menu to increase solo diners' experiences. Managers may want to emphasize popular cues during busy times or customize menus to appeal different types of consumers. You can personalise your menus with new technologies like tablets, kiosks and mobile apps.However, solo diners who are powerful tend to have a positive attitude towards a restaurant's menu regardless of how busy they are. Researchers suggest that restaurants can make diners feel valued and powerful by changing the environment or using words such as power or energy in their marketing materials. Researchers suggest that solo diners can be recognized as a loyalty tier in a company's loyalty reward program to instill power.No matter your social status or confidence, eating alone should be enjoyable, relaxing, and fun. Restaurants need to personalize their offerings to appeal to single diners and capture a portion of this lucrative, socially mobile market. This groundbreaking research challenges many assumptions about consumer behavior and suggests that consumers are more interested in belonging than they thought. The best part is that the research offers a cost-effective and practical guideline for restaurants looking to maximize the enjoyment of single diners. These findings are essential food for thought, regardless of whether you're managing a restaurant or dining in.YooHee Hwang (2020), Na Su, Anna Mattila (2020). The Influence of Social Crowding on Power and Solo Diners Attitudes towards Menus with Popularity or Scarcity Cues. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management Vol. 32, Issue 3 pp. 1227-1246Contact Pauline Ngan Senior Marketing Manager School of Hotel and Tourism Managementpauline.ngan@polyu.edu.hk/htm