Reading time: 3 minutes

While some aspects of eating have returned to normal, the impact of COVID-19 is perhaps most prominent when looking at the social contexts of eating. In terms of who they eat with, despite many consumers still working and attending school from home, socially we’re feeling a little more comfortable due to vaccinations hanging out with friends and family members while eating. Thus, eating with others is a more common behavior today than pre-pandemic behaviors like eating alone.

This makes sense—but it’s a big change. We’ve written extensively in the past about the fascinating trend of eating alone—a behavior that historically was thought of as taboo (e.g., “Only lonely people eat alone.”). However, with modern sensibilities that link to less formal eating behaviors (including a rise in snacking, small meals, beverages as snacks, etc.), eating alone prior to the pandemic had transitioned for some consumers to a form of “me time” in which taking a break from it all alone was a way to recharge.

Eating alone was also, of course, an instrumental way to “take care” of something like breakfast or lunch by, for example, eating alone while sitting at one’s desk at work, commuting in a car or perhaps sitting at a table in a restaurant.

Not so much these days: As with an always changing food culture, the pendulum has swung back toward social eating. Our most recent analysis of eating behavior (Redefining Normal: Spring 2021 Eating Occasions) finds that the social context of eating continues to be impacted by the pandemic and adults overall are much less likely to eat alone when compared to pre-pandemic eating.

This shift is most evident among Millennials and parents—two groups that strongly overlap. Redefining Normal finds that for Millennials, eating alone occasions have dropped from almost half of all eating occasions in spring 2019 to only 28% today. Millennials are most likely to eat among friends when compared to all other generations, at 11% in spring 2021.

Also, and perhaps not too surprising given all the kids that have been at home for eighteen months (and the general decline in commuting), for parents, eating alone occasions have been cut in half when compared to pre-pandemic eating, moving from 34% of eating occasions in spring 2019 to 23% in spring 2021, down to only 17% in spring 2021.