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​How Lonely Diners Can Impact the Restaurant Economy

Dining alone can be seen as a bad thing. I remember my freshman year of college, when I would look with pity on the people who were eating by themselves in the dining hall. I figured they were smelly or anti social. Probably both.

Then, one day, I tried it. It was a revelation. Eating by yourself can be a wonderful experience. No conversations to keep track of, no pressure to have anything witty to say, no obligation to be interested in someone who might not be that interesting. It was a dream. I still liked eating with people, too, but sometimes it was a dream to be able to just relax with my meal and the campus newspaper.

Apparently a lot of people around the country are following my lead. Open Table, a subsidiary of Priceline (NASDAQ: PCLN,) reported that “reservations of parties of one have grown by 62%.” There might be opportunities out there for restaurants to capitalize on this new trend. Maybe they offer faster service for solo diners, who probably aren’t as interested in hanging out for very long. Or they could entice people in by having select menu items discounted for people who are flying solo.

On the flip side, this could have economic consequences for higher end restaurants as well as fast food chains. Now that lonely diners are venturing past the usual haunts of McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) and Taco Bell (NYSE:YUM,) but that no longer appears to be the case. As for the restaurants, having their places fill up with solo diners might not be the best idea, either. They are less likely to run up big tabs, and I assume (though I wouldn’t judge) that they are going to be consuming less alcohol.

Only time will tell what the outcome will be, but my hunch is that this is not the best news for dining establishments as a whole.