New research finds that most Americans don’t have the time to eat with others. In a survey by market researcher NPD Group, the majority of meals – 57% – are eaten alone. 61% of people eat breakfast alone; 55% are solo lunch diners (including office-workers eating at their desks); and 34% have dinner by themselves. “A generation ago, the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ television family ate dinner together,” says Warren Solochek, vice-president of client development for NPD’s food service practice. “Today, that traditional eating arrangement is much harder to achieve.” The infrequency of family dinners has effects beyond the dinner table. Teenagers who have dinner with their parents fewer than three times a week are four times as likely to use tobacco, twice as likely to use alcohol and 1.5 times more likely to use marijuana, according to one study.
Psychologist Jonathan Wai sees the growth of single dining as part of a broader unravelling of the “social fabric” and says it’s due to the high number of hours worked by Americans, and the fact that commutes are getting longer every year. And while some view solo dining as depressing, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, says many look forward to alone time. “There’s a new trend of restaurants, particularly in Europe, that are designed for dining alone,” she says. “One of the much unheralded pleasures of café life is the ability to be alone together.”