New research shows that solitary dining is "a normal part of modern life."
Much has been written in recent years about eating alone—the assumption being that most people don't do it, or prefer not to. But according to new research, dining solo—be it at breakfast, lunch, or dinner—is an increasingly commonplace routine in American culture.
"We are eating more and more alone; we are prioritizing non-ritualized snacking over meals; and as household sizes are getting smaller, mealtime ritual is harder to sustain interest in," according to a report by The Hartman Group, a consumer research company that studies trends in the culinary industry. "Alone eating no longer connotes physical and social isolation."
The report says that 46 percent of "adult eating occasions" are done solo, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, there's less focus now than in previous generations on family mealtimes. That's thanks to television, the increase of dual-working parent households and single-parent households in general, the "snackification" of mealtimes, and changes in the way we shop for food. There's also, according to the study, a change in attitude about how we eat: Many people (43 percent of those surveyed) saw eating alone as a chance to catch up on reading or watch television. Others viewed solo meals as an opportunity to do work or simply have some time to themselves.
It doesn't hurt that our options for what to eat when we eat alone are much better than they used to be. No longer are Americans shamed for going into restaurants by themselves, or relegated to some sinister option from the frozen food aisle of the grocery store. "In the bygone era that represents traditional food culture, the proverbial frozen dinner was the primary solution for alone and semi-alone eating," according to the report. "Today’s forward-leaning retailers are providing solutions for consumers with single-serve and customizable options with global freshness cues."
The bottom line is that eating alone is no longer anomalous. Go forth and make that reservation for one at a fancy restaurant—or cook yourself, and no one else, the perfect steak. No one's going to judge you. Pretty much everyone else is doing it, too.