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The use of information and communication technology devices as part of the solo eating experience

posted on 04.05.2021, 08:39 by Mailin Lemke, Hendrik NJ Schifferstein
An increasing number of people tend to eat alone due to social changes and an altered attitude towards cooking and eating practices. Anecdotal reports indicate that solo diners tend to use information and communication technology devices, for example, the smartphone, as part of the eating experience. While lab studies suggest that the devices contribute to an increased high-calorie food intake and decreased feeling of satiety, these studies disregard the everyday experience and motivation of solo diners. We conducted an exploratory study to investigate how solo diners use digital devices as part of their daily eating experience.

We used a non-probability, convenience sample for this study. Participants were eligible to participate in the study if they were 18+ years and used an ICT device on a regular or occasional basis while eating a main meal alone. Recruitment was done by posting announcements for the study on personal and group pages on Facebook. In addition, we emailed the invitation to friends and colleagues who lived alone and we asked them to share the study invite with friends, students and colleagues. Interested participants received further information about the purpose of the study and the length of the interview by email prior to the interview. Participants provided informed written consent as part of the study. Each participant was offered 10 Euros after the completion of the interview. This study was approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Eventually, twelve participants participated in the study. Ten participants agreed to have the transcripts of their interviews included as part of a public data depository. Eight of the twelve participants were female and seven lived alone. The age of the participants ranged from 25–62 (Mean 35.25 years, SD 9.6). Participants lived in Austria (n=1), Germany (n=7), the Netherlands (n=2) and New Zealand (n=2). The majority of participants was full-time employed (n=6), some were part-time (n=2) or self-employed (n=1). Interviews took place between May 2020 and August 2020 and lasted between 25–70 minutes. Interviews were conducted online in English and German depending on the participant’s preference. The interviews were transcribed in full, non-verbatim for the analysis. Data were anonymized following the Irish Qualitative Data Archive (IQDA) 'Anonymisation Guidelines' to remove any identifiable data from the data set.

We developed an interview guide that included questions focusing on situational factors that have been reported to influence consumer behavioUr. The semi-structured interview guide contained six open-ended demographically oriented questions, twenty-three open-ended main questions, and eight prompts that were asked if the participant’s response did not cover the topic of interest. The questions focused on the topics of (1) activity patterns and food choices during the day; (2) Covid19 effects on food and ICT use patterns; (3) their attitude towards eating alone; (4) physical and social surroundings influencing the use of ICT devices; (5) the time of day at which they tend to use devices; (6) their general and situation-specific motivations to use the devices; and (7) a potential scenario where ICT devices could contribute to healthy eating practices.
We trialled the interview guide to refine the questions and added a question after the test interview due to the worldwide evolving Covid-19 situation. Interviews were conducted in the form of online video calls and audio recorded with the participant’s consent. Each participant was interviewed once.


This research was funded by the “Pride & Prejudice” project funded by the 4TU federation (www.4TU.nl).






Time coverage



Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Austria




TU Delft, Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering