About half the time that we sit down to eat, we’re joined by a book, smartphone or just our own thoughts instead of another person.
That’s according to a new report from the NPD Group, a consumer market research firm. NPD found that we're alone for about 60 percent of our breakfasts, over half of our lunches, and a whopping 70 percent of our "non-meals."
The report notes that Americans are least likely to eat dinner alone, indicating that we still have somewhat of a reverence for the sacred time typically reserved for catching up with family or friends. Still, we eat about one-third of our dinners alone, and taken together, the stats add up to around half of our meals eaten without anyone around but (presumably) our 1200 Facebook friends to keep us company.
This chart from NPD Group shows that we're least likely to eat dinner alone and most likely to eat snacks by ourselves.
NPD suggests a few reasons why so many of our meals are solo missions. As younger generations delay marriage and forming households, a growing number of Americans are actually living alone -- meaning that we’re more likely to eat alone too. In addition, Americans’ tendency towards overwork means that many of us don’t have time to sit down to a meal with others -- workers are increasingly eating at their desks or skipping lunch altogether, according to a 2012 USA Today report.
Though NPD doesn’t mention it directly, the fact that most of us can connect with anyone or anything through our smartphones can also make a dining companion seem obsolete.
Fine dining restaurants are responding to our growing comfort with eating by ourselves. They’re installing more bar seating and training servers to be sensitive to the needs of people eating alone, according to a July report from The BBC.
And business is booming for fast-casual chains like Chipotle that are already better suited to solo diners. At the same time, restaurants geared towards middle-class families trying to sit down for a meal, like Red Lobster and Olive Garden, are suffering.
But just because dining alone has become more commonplace doesn’t mean you should rush out to your favorite eatery and raise a glass to yourself. In fact, some people suggest you should never do it. Author Keith Ferrazzi wrote a whole book on how dining with other people is basically your key to a great life, called Never Eat Alone And Other Secrets To Success One Relationship At A Time.
The upshot to this rise in solo dining? If we’re all eating alone, it’s bound to be less awkward.