Table for one? Restaurants cash in on single diners

Jessica Fenol and Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 09 2018 12:56 PM

MANILA - During one rainy evening commute, solo diners were hunched on steel tables as they gorged on folded pizza slices and half portions of pasta at a Yellow Cab branch in one of the capital's call center hubs.

As fewer Filipinos get married and middle class workers get more cash to spare due to lower taxes, singles have become a bright spot for restaurant operators.

Solo dining options or "sachet meals" helped drive growth in 2017 for Max's Group, which operates Yellow Cab and an eponymous fried chicken chain. Sales rose 13 percent to P17.3 billion compared to the previous year.

"That was really a response to an evolving market, both in terms of consumers and in terms of competitive landscape," Max's Group chief operating officer Ariel Fermin told ABS-CBN News.

"It's an emerging group of people, singeltons who may not necessarily be eating with a group and his family, who takes time for his own lunch," he said.

A boxed meal for one at Yellow Cab, which includes spicy chicken wings, pepperoni pizza and its signature Charlie Chan pasta with mushroom and peanuts sells for P195. When ordered for a group, the three entrees could cost above P1,000.

Max's Fried Chicken introduced rice bowls in 2017, offering solo portions of its kare-kare, sisig and crispy pata. It also recently introduced a P299 "favorites" plate which includes fried chicken, tofu sisig, fried spring rolls and pancit.

SINGLE SPENDING POWER

Exempted from income taxes under the new scheme, a call center worker earning P21,000 a month will see his or her disposable income increase by P1,882 monthly, according to government computations.

The Philippine Statistics Authority last year flagged a "continuous decline" in marriages registered with the government from 2005 to 2015.

In 2015, registered marriages declined by 3.6 percent with an average 1,135 couples getting married everyday.

As the economy grows at among the fastest clips in Asia, Filipino consumers are also willing to spend on leisure after setting aside money for savings, according to a Nielsen study.

Tax reform, however, also resulted in higher prices of fuel and sugar-sweetened drinks, which analysts said could hurt the poor. Inflation in April reached a 5-year peak, according to government data.

NEW MARKET

Marketing the singles menu on social media helped introduce Max's to a new market, said Max's Group president and CEO Robert Trota.

Giving customers to try as many menu items as possible on a single plate also encourages repeat visits, Trota told shareholders during an annual meeting on Wednesday.

"The success of its rice bowls propelled the brand’s solo category as it enabled customers to enjoy some of its bestsellers in personalized servings," he said.

"We’re catering to the individual needs rather than purely singletons or people eating alone, people enjoying what they want, when they want it," he said.

The individually portioned meals also target those who want to eat and go, said COO Fermin. Max's Group also operates Pancake House, Teriyaki Boy, Dencio's, Krispy Kreme and Jamba Juice.

"Mas fast-paced ang buhay ngayon. (Life has become more fast-paced). We’d certainly want to be there for them," he said.