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INSIDE TRACK: 'Table for one' is catching on but not here quite yet

In many ways, it makes perfect sense.

After all, more of us are living alone than ever before. So, as housebuilders continue to seek planning permission to build ever-smaller homes with minimal cooking facilities, restaurateurs are wakening up to the potential of solo dining.

The logic goes that since people who buy homes to live in alone tend to be able to afford it, they will also spend more on food and eating out. Some homes are being built without a proper kitchen, which indicates that many a hardworking foodie prefers to inhabit his or her local eatery rather than going to the bother of cooking for one.

According to the Florida-based global restaurant consultant Aaron Allen, most trend-aware restaurants in the US - where one in every seven adults lives alone and where it's estimated singletons have a collective purchasing power of a gut-busting £1.1 trillion - are making themselves more welcoming to solo diners by encouraging front-of-house staff to be more attentive. Offering tasting menus of several small courses instead of the usual starter, main and dessert can help alleviate the tedium, and reading such a menu helps the single diner avoid the longueurs often experienced between courses, prompting them to stare forlornly into space while waiting. Another ploy is to sit them close to the open kitchen so they can watch the "theatre" of the prepping and cooking, speak with the chefs, and even get free tastings.

On the other hand, there's the diner who positively seeks solitude or, if I might poach - nay, skewer - the current celebrity jargon, "conscious disconnection". In Amsterdam, a pop-up restaurant only has tables for one - and it's been fully booked every evening since it opened last summer. Apparently, branches are set to open in Berlin, New York and London soon.

Surely it's only a matter of time before the craze catches on in Scotland, where the most recent census in 2011 showed that for the first time ever, there were more single-person households than any other size. They accounted for 35 per cent of all households in Scotland, ranging from 27 per cent in Aberdeenshire to 43 per cent in Glasgow City; the estimated total number of homes with at least one usual resident on census day was a record 2,372,780. Compare that to 1961, when one-person households were the least-common type and accounted for just 14 per cent of all households.

On second thoughts, perhaps not. Just last week, I spotted two solo diners sitting tables apart in a rather hip Glasgow restaurant where I was having dinner with a relative. They'd obviously been made to feel comfortable, as both looked perfectly at ease and not in the least bit embarrassed. It was a welcome relief from the more-common scenario of large tables of screaming women out on a girls' night. For a minute. it almost looked like the city had come over all grown-up and sophisticated. That was, until I noticed that said diners were masking their discomfiture behind their respective virtual companions, a mobile phone and a tablet, with whom they appeared to be holding animated conversations.

It seems we have some way to go before we swallow the cringe and learn to relish sitting at the On My Tod table.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

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