Party of One: Now Seated with Zero Judgement
Restaurants are often regarded as hubs where people go to talk and socialize, but what if there existed a restaurant where you could go eat simply to enjoy a meal? Ichiran, a Japanese ramen restaurant now with three locations in NYC, has revolutionized the way New Yorker’s are eating dinner by offering “low-interaction dining.”
The entire model of Ichiran revolves around an idea of slowing down and enjoying a meal. This coincidentally resulted in a solo dining experience which appeals largely to introverts and singles. There truly has been an outpouring of love for this business model, as the line for Ichiran stretches down the street even on a Tuesday night.
In line outside the eatery, it doesn’t take long to realize that most people are there for alone time. Fully equipped with books, newspapers, tablets for movies, and with headphones in their ears, the parties of one storm Ichiran each night, braving the normal 45-60 minute wait to be seated.
Devin Philips, a regular customer at Ichiran Midtown, eats there with a routine in mind.
“I feel like Stanley (from “The Office”) on pretzel day!” said Philips, a self-proclaimed introvert. “I come here every other week and bring a book for waiting in line and waiting for my food. Then when my ramen comes out I use my book as a stand for my phone, and I watch a Netflix show while I eat.”
Hiroshi Kokubun, the marketing coordinator for Ichiran U.S.A., said their business model consists of “five originals,” or revolutionary elements of Tonkotsu ramen.
Those five originals are a homemade spicy red sauce, aromatic Tonkotsu broth, ordering form, Kae-dama ordering system, and solo dining booths.
The solo dining booth experience originated from a desire for customers to “be a little more intimate with” their ramen. These booths were “designed to allow you to focus on the flavors of your bowl with minimal distractions,” Kokubun said.
The way it works is both easy and bizarre. While in line, customers are given a piece of paper on which to order their food, which doesn’t take long as there are only two food options: the classic Tonkotsu ramen ($18.90), and the recommended set ($24).
Both are customizable down to the spice and noodle texture. There is also the option to add a side or Kae-dama, which is a noodle refill.
If at any point throughout the meal you decide you want more food, there are additional sheets of paper at each booth as well as a button which you press for the chef to grab your new order.
The Kae-dama system also involves no interaction. When Kae-dama is ordered, a small metal plate is given to you. Then, once you’re ready for your noodles, you simply place the plate on a sensor which sets off a brief melody, alerting the chefs of your request.
Moments later, a fresh bowl of noodles arrive. This perk is a popular one according to Savannah Davis, a regular at Ichiran.
“As an introvert with anxiety, I have always struggled to fight for myself in restaurants. If I’m given the wrong food, I literally won’t say anything, I’ll just eat it.”
“So the Kae-dama and food ordering system at Ichiran is amazing. For once I can order food without speaking or having to look at anyone in the eyes to ask for more noodles,” Davis said.
Each booth has papers and pens for ordering, a guide for how to order, an alert that tipping is not allowed, and a sign asking customers to be quiet and silence their cellphones.
Upon being seated at a booth with dividers on either side for privacy and a drape in front of you where your food will be delivered, a chef arrives to silently grab your food order from you.
“There is no need to speak to anyone and I love that,” said Dan Jackson after his first experience at Ichiran.
According to Jackson, “It is so worth the cost and wait to be able to go to a restaurant without feeling judged by all the couples around me for eating alone.”
While the intent of the solo booth dining system is to emphasize a focus on the experience of the food, it has become a safe haven for introverts and singles who “feel judged by couples” for “eating alone.”
Accomplished career coach, Nancy Ancowitz, reflects on the growing number of introverts in the world today compared to previous times in history when shame seemed to accompany these “loners.”
“The increasingly popular introvert movement in recent years has raised awareness of the normalcy of introversion,” Ancowitz wrote for Psychology Today.
The term “introvert”, according to expert Sophia Dembling for Psychology today, characterizes someone who “gets their energy from being alone.”
This definition sheds light on the reason for Ichirans crowds.
Besides being known for their delicious ramen, the setting attracts a group of people who gain energy from being alone, and therefore become regulars at the restaurant.
“[Ichiran] is the restaurant I never knew I needed. I can be away from my roommates, say that I’m actually going out to eat, and yet still eat alone with no judgment,” said Bianca Malon, a graduate student at NYU.
“It’s a brilliant concept,” said Malon. “Which I wouldn’t mind spending 20 bucks to participate in on a regular basis.”
There are many reasons for Ichirans success, but the greatest one appears to be in regards to the people it attracts.
In a culture where self-care and love are so prevalent, it’s no surprise that introverts are treating themselves to dinner out at Ichiran.
And though this may seem a sad sight; everyone eating by themselves and not talking with each other, maybe it ought to be viewed as a happy one instead— a cultural step towards a greater acceptance and accommodation of all peoples- introverts and single men and women included.