Embrace Solo Diners with VIP Treatment

Solo Diners

Posted: Mar. 19, 2018

In restaurants, where tables are set for groups and reservation systems ask for parties of two or more, the solo diner becomes the forgotten customer. Their experience usually takes the backseat to a restaurant’s concept. Or worse, they are considered a lost opportunity for a larger check.

But, as Eater’s New York senior food critic Ryan Sutton believes, restaurants should be comfortable spaces for the lone diner. “If [restaurants] believe in the power of the product, the power of their cuisine, should a restaurant not be a complete, entertaining, and intellectually captivating experience by itself?”

Dining out alone is becoming increasingly popular, and some restaurateurs are taking notice and embracing the solo diner. “I think it’s a real compliment,” says restaurateur Will Guidara of solo guests. “It’s saying ‘I’m here at the restaurant. It’s my number one priority.’”

At Guidara’s restaurant, the famed Eleven Madison Park in New York City, the staff are trained to “go above and beyond to make those experiences special” for guests dining alone. Winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Service Award in 2016, Eleven Madison Park knows a thing or two about shaping an unforgettable guest experience. And most especially for solo diners.

With all their guests, the staff attempts to understand what type of experience they expect (such as a holiday celebration or a romantic meal), why they chose the restaurant, and how to give customers the best experience in their power. When it comes to solo diners, there’s no one they love taking care of more, says Guidara. “Whether it’s a nice glass of wine we think is going to perfectly complement that dish, or a little mid-course [dish]—something to make what could be an ordinary experience veer towards the extraordinary.”

It’s a similar philosophy at New York City bistro Balthazar—solo guests are treated to a glass of champagne with their dinner. “It’s a nice little touch, a nice little surprise,” says Zouheir Louhaichy, Balthazar’s assistant general manager. Additionally, hosts will try their best to make sure a solo diner doesn’t wait too long, finding him or her a seat anywhere at the bar or table in the dining room.

For restaurants embracing the solitary customer, they are aware the diner is seeking a memorable experience and comfort.

At Japanese ramen chain Ichiran, that means total privacy. Instead of group tables, diners eat in walled booths. The intended concept was to stimulate a special eating experience for the senses without distraction. Unintentionally, the owners created the ideal dining option for solo diners. Eater’s food critic Sutton remarks that there’s something to be said “for spending time alone with food and contemplating it without having to have the added distraction of a social encounter.”

At two-Michelin-starred restaurant Acadia, solo diners benefited from the restaurant’s anxiety of receiving an anonymous Michelin inspector. Chicago-based chef Ryan McCaskey reveals how far his staff and he would go to impress a solo diner (and potential critic), by creating a special menu on the spot and switching out a server for a more experienced one.

Six years later, they have changed their approach and are treating solo diners not like potential inspectors, but as special guests. “All of our customers sitting in the dining room are important to us and they all should be treated and regarded as VIP. We want them to have just as good an experience as a four-top,” McCaskey says.

At Acadia, single diners have special perks. For instance, there are iPads on hand to read during their meal or they might be invited back into the kitchen for a surprise indulgence, like a lobster roll with caviar or ice cream and champagne. A snack with the chefs is a treatment that’s usually reserved for industry insiders, yet extended to solo diners as an unforgettably hospitable experience.

Solo diners tend to be loyal customers, but will only return if they feel welcome. Some guests might be seeking solitude and others might want to chat. Both can work, so long as the interactions are natural. Talk to your staff about recognizing the different types of solo diners you receive, and the ways they can feel comfortable in serving them. The last impression you want to give a solo diner is pity that they are eating alone. (Take inspiration from Acadia and offer current magazines to single diners, or invite them to a cocktail on the house.)

Much like seeing a movie is a fulfilling experience, so can be eating out alone. Make a meal at your restaurant a satisfying experience with considerate touches, and you have a solo fan for life.

See how a sophisticated restaurant POS system can improve your operations and boost salesIn restaurants, where tables are set for groups and reservation systems ask for parties of two or more, the solo diner becomes the forgotten customer. Their experience usually takes the backseat to a restaurant’s concept. Or worse, they are considered a lost opportunity for a larger check.

But, as Eater’s New York senior food critic Ryan Sutton believes, restaurants should be comfortable spaces for the lone diner. “If [restaurants] believe in the power of the product, the power of their cuisine, should a restaurant not be a complete, entertaining, and intellectually captivating experience by itself?”

Dining out alone is becoming increasingly popular, and some restaurateurs are taking notice and embracing the solo diner. “I think it’s a real compliment,” says restaurateur Will Guidara of solo guests. “It’s saying ‘I’m here at the restaurant. It’s my number one priority.’”

At Guidara’s restaurant, the famed Eleven Madison Park in New York City, the staff are trained to “go above and beyond to make those experiences special” for guests dining alone. Winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Service Award in 2016, Eleven Madison Park knows a thing or two about shaping an unforgettable guest experience. And most especially for solo diners.

With all their guests, the staff attempts to understand what type of experience they expect (such as a holiday celebration or a romantic meal), why they chose the restaurant, and how to give customers the best experience in their power. When it comes to solo diners, there’s no one they love taking care of more, says Guidara. “Whether it’s a nice glass of wine we think is going to perfectly complement that dish, or a little mid-course [dish]—something to make what could be an ordinary experience veer towards the extraordinary.”

It’s a similar philosophy at New York City bistro Balthazar—solo guests are treated to a glass of champagne with their dinner. “It’s a nice little touch, a nice little surprise,” says Zouheir Louhaichy, Balthazar’s assistant general manager. Additionally, hosts will try their best to make sure a solo diner doesn’t wait too long, finding him or her a seat anywhere at the bar or table in the dining room.

For restaurants embracing the solitary customer, they are aware the diner is seeking a memorable experience and comfort.

At Japanese ramen chain Ichiran, that means total privacy. Instead of group tables, diners eat in walled booths. The intended concept was to stimulate a special eating experience for the senses without distraction. Unintentionally, the owners created the ideal dining option for solo diners. Eater’s food critic Sutton remarks that there’s something to be said “for spending time alone with food and contemplating it without having to have the added distraction of a social encounter.”

At two-Michelin-starred restaurant Acadia, solo diners benefited from the restaurant’s anxiety of receiving an anonymous Michelin inspector. Chicago-based chef Ryan McCaskey reveals how far his staff and he would go to impress a solo diner (and potential critic), by creating a special menu on the spot and switching out a server for a more experienced one.

Six years later, they have changed their approach and are treating solo diners not like potential inspectors, but as special guests. “All of our customers sitting in the dining room are important to us and they all should be treated and regarded as VIP. We want them to have just as good an experience as a four-top,” McCaskey says.

At Acadia, single diners have special perks. For instance, there are iPads on hand to read during their meal or they might be invited back into the kitchen for a surprise indulgence, like a lobster roll with caviar or ice cream and champagne. A snack with the chefs is a treatment that’s usually reserved for industry insiders, yet extended to solo diners as an unforgettably hospitable experience.

Solo diners tend to be loyal customers, but will only return if they feel welcome. Some guests might be seeking solitude and others might want to chat. Both can work, so long as the interactions are natural. Talk to your staff about recognizing the different types of solo diners you receive, and the ways they can feel comfortable in serving them. The last impression you want to give a solo diner is pity that they are eating alone. (Take inspiration from Acadia and offer current magazines to single diners, or invite them to a cocktail on the house.)

Much like seeing a movie is a fulfilling experience, so can be eating out alone. Make a meal at your restaurant a satisfying experience with considerate touches, and you have a solo fan for life.

See how a sophisticated restaurant POS system can improve your operations and boost sales.

 

Posted: Mar. 19, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois

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