Ichiran, one of the most popular ramen chains in Japan might be a dream come true for solo diners. It specializes in ”flavor-concentration booths” where a diner can sit separately from everyone else, fill out a form to place an order, and then press a button to summon the waiter (whose face you won’t even see.) It’s just you and your simmering ramen.
Ichiran opened its first location outside Asia in October, in New York City. Unlike most of its Japanese eateries, the New York restaurant also features a group dining space if it turns out you’d rather have company when you eat.
The 65-strong restaurant chain, which was founded back in 1993, draws on the principal of “zero distraction.” The goal is to force diners to focus on the flavor of the ramen and nothing else, creating a somewhat meditative experience.
The idea quickly caught on in Japan, where the culture puts a strong emphasis on creating a comfortable space for independent individuals. Solo dining or solo anything is particularly popular there. Some restaurants give solo diners stuffed animals for company and there are even some that offer solo karaoke.
But it’s not just in Japan. Solo dining is becoming more popular in the rest of the world, too. In the US, reservations for parties of one have grown by 62%, faster than any other party size, according to a national 2015 study from OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service company. In Amsterdam, there’s a pop-up restaurant that’s designed entirely to serve solo diners. In China, a popular online cooking show called “Eating Alone,” has gone viral and receives millions of views.
In other words, those who eat alone are never really alone.