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With Christmas fast approaching, Europeans will soon be gathering around the table to eat, drink and be merry, but today, the latest research from Mintel reveals the solitary nature of European consumers’ dining habits.

It shows that on average nearly a third of Europeans often eat every meal alone, with the Polish (40%) leading the way. Overall a third (33%) of all Brits eat all their meals alone, followed by around three in 10 German (31%), French (30%), Spanish (29%) and Italian (29%) consumers.

While many consumers today are eating solo, Mintel research highlights the perceived importance of family mealtimes across Europe. More than eight in 10 (84%) Spanish, Italian (83%) and French (82%) consumers believe eating a family meal is important; they are joined by 79% of Polish, 78% of German and 75% of British consumers.

Edward Bergen, Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst, said:

“Increasingly busy lifestyles are resulting in less time for nearly everything, including shared meals – with the trend in solo dining on the rise for many people throughout Europe. What’s more, with consumers struggling to pull themselves away from their mobile phones, some have grown to prefer the company of their digital devices over eating with others. While some are eating their meals alone as a result of social isolation, others are using meal times to get quality time to themselves. With the festive period finally here, many consumers will relish the chance to come together, fulfilling a desire that is becoming more challenging for the busy, modern consumer.”

A feast of bad table manners

According to Mintel research, technology is taking its toll on mealtimes. While using phones to talk and text during meal times is the height of bad manners, it seems that the Spanish are among Europe’s worst culprits.

Anxious not to miss a moment of precious phone time, over half (55%) of Spanish consumers admit to often using their phones to talk or text while having meals. But it seems they are not alone, as Polish (53%) and Italian (51%) consumers are also guilty of this dining faux pas.

At the other end of the scale, the Brits (32%), Germans (21%) and French (23%) are less likely to whip out their phones whilst eating.

Mintel research goes onto reveal that across Europe, the young are the most likely to use their phone as an eating companion. Leading the way once again, more than seven in 10 Spanish (76%) and Polish (72%) Gen Zs (16-24 year olds) are guilty of using their phones while eating their evening meal. But they are by no means alone, as 67% of Italians, 62% of British, half of French (52%) and German (52%) Gen Zs are glued to their phones during dinner time.

Finally, it’s not just phones which are interrupting precious meal times; other screens are proving something of a distraction too. Famed for a love of TV, seven in 10 (71%) Brits often eat meals while using home entertainment technology such as watching TV and gaming. They are joined by 68% of Polish and almost six in 10 Spanish (59%) and 57% of Italian consumers. Highlighting the importance of good table manners, it seems technology at mealtimes is less likely in German (44%) and French (50%) households.

Edward Bergen, Mintel Global Food & Drink Analyst, said:

“The digital era has certainly changed the way we communicate with each other, even when we’re surrounded by friends and family. We’ve become hungry for a constant flow of information, and the so-called ‘fear of missing out’ doesn’t stop at the dinner table. This is particularly the case among young generations, regardless of which European nation they’re from, who are particularly keen on checking their phones even if they’re eating their dinner.

“There are opportunities for brands to tap into consumers’ interest in their digital devices and encourage them to think more about what they eat and drink. For example, they can provide food planning apps to help with meal choices and cooking skills. In order to grab consumers’ attention in our device obsessed world, food and drink brands also need to utilise as many techniques as possible to engage people beyond taste, such as through texture, colour and scent.”