(Shine) In late 2017, a topic about Haidilao, the Chinese hotpot chain known for its exceptional service, trended on social networks: a Teddy bear was seated in front of a solo diner to keep them company.
But how "considerate" was this move? Many people argued that eating alone is an enjoyable moment of solitude and even a fact of life in today’s China, rather than something to be pitied.
A recent report by market research group Kantar echoed the argument. Some 46 percent of the interviewees said they had eaten alone in the past 24 hours, up 9 percent from 2017.
Around 16 percent of respondents said they preferred to eat out alone.
One reason for eating alone could be the rise of the single person Chinese household.
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, marriage registrations have dropped in China every year since 2014, while the divorce rate has risen for 16 straight years.
Another reason for eating alone is time - or the lack of it. Commuters, strapped for time, grab breakfast on the go at food outlets near subway and bus stations.
And more people are having their lunch delivered from one of the many food delivery firms and choosing to eat it at their desks.
Ele.me, which means "Hungry?" in Chinese, is a popular Chinese app that offers online food delivery. The company noted the trend of "meals for one" in its market research report.
Lunchtime is the rush hour for food deliveries and "lunch for one" is the most common choice. Cooperating with Ele.me, Pizza Hut changed its menu for solo diners. The 9-inch pizza once was the smallest pizza, but 6-inch is now.
Harvest Festival, a Chinese catering company, has also benefited from solo diners. Data from Ele.me shows sales of Harvest Festival on Ele.me rose by 63.1 percent in January after it rolled meals for one.