According to Forbes, there are 80 million Millennials in the United States alone. It should come as no surprise, then, that they represent more than $200 billion in buying power, making the generation a majority of your customer base.
For those of us in the restaurant industry, one of the most important things to note about the Millennial generation is that they dine out more often than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. It would behoove us as owners, operators and designers in food & beverage to pay attention to their wants and needs, and adapt to Millennial food trends.
In order to develop this list of things that restaurants should implement to please this activated segment of the population, I turned to my trusted peers, born between the early 1980s and late 1990s. Here’s what they had to say:
Satisfying And Sustainable
We’ve undoubtedly seen an uptick in healthful eating – natural and organic ingredients, allergy-conscious, etc. When speaking with Millennials, I’ve come to realize that Millennials will pay more for food they perceive as healthier…and “healthy” means a wide variety of things depending on whom you ask.
One response that stuck with me was the idea of feeling “satisfied and not stuffed.” Ordering a “gourmet-sized portion” of fries, versus a super-sized serving, leaves the individual feeling satiated, which is a far better feeling than over-indulgence.
In addition to healthy eats, sustainable concepts matter, too. Restaurants can engage in recycling programs or use biodegradable packaging. Almost 90 percent of Millennials prefer to buy from a company that supports a social or environmental issue.
Make It Experiential
The days of simply serving-up a delicious meal are over. Though quality food and good customer service will always be a foundation of the restaurant industry, the stakes are higher now because Millennials are looking for experiences. The popularity of pop-ups, food festivals, and food markets and trucks definitely accelerated this trend.
“Experiential dining” is basically any unique experience that transcends the traditional or expected hallmarks of what makes a restaurant great. Music, ambiance, lighting, personal interactions between chef and guests – all of these elements go into the overall experience.
The next layer is infusing specific activations that are true to your brand voice, which is something only you can generate. For instance, maybe you’re a restaurant that draws inspiration from music – your brand-specific experience could be a guest-generated music playlist that makes the patrons feel like they are part of creating the ambiance. Or, if you’re a restaurant that celebrates local art, you could plan a live painting session that entertains your guests as they enjoy their meal.
Culinary Diversity and Adventurous Eats
Another statistic that blew my mind? Nearly half of the Millennial generation – yes, 50 percent! – identifies as non-white, making this particular group one of the most diverse generations in the United States. Among the reported popular cuisines are Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian and African. The rise of fusion cuisine is a result of this statistic. To satisfy a wide audience, chefs are infusing existing menus with cues from the above-mentioned cultures.
It’s my prediction that soon there will be a rise in dining experiences that allow guests to dive deep into one particular type of cuisine, like the diversity within Indian cuisine, which can’t be lumped into just one category (i.e. East Indian vs. Indo-Chinese).
In addition to diversity, Millennials are ignited by creativity. The new trend of adventurous eats is a sure way to attract curious eaters. Take the ramen burger, for example – where the bun is made of ramen noodles – a known food with an original twist.
Today, one of the best ways to share your dining experience is to capture (and share) memorable details – from the food to the physical environment. From quirky wallpapers to catchy phrases in the form of a neon sign, there is an expectation to leave with a handful of perfectly curated snapshots of the guest’s experience.
Viral blog posts like, “The 29 Most Instagrammable Eateries in the U.S.” is an indication of what guests are looking for in their dining research and decision-making process. Restaurants are even taking it a step further and training staff to prompt the social sharing of their experience. Some restaurants are even suggesting guests order a variety of dishes so that they can create a more vibrant and aesthetically pleasing photo. Restaurants are also incentivizing the social share by offering a free appetizer or dessert if the restaurant is tagged.
Chock-Full of Personality
Our design team is comprised of Millennials, so, naturally, I asked what they looked for when deciding where to eat. The common response was, “a well-branded restaurant.” What does it mean to be a well-branded restaurant? In the words of team member Jillian, “Good food photography, cohesive staff culture, and a social media profile with a story to tell. If they’ve taken the time to do all of that, they’ve put time into everything else.”
Restaurant “brand” can be a difficult concept to define. It’s many things. Sometimes it’s all the conscious and subconscious touchpoints and messages being shared. But it’s also the way you speak and look – the way you interact with customers. A friend described it to me best: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Restaurants need to find their unique voice and stick to it. If you’re consistent with your brand essence, you will have developed a common thread amongst the various pieces of your business. The way your brand looks is undeniably a huge part of what makes your establishment memorable. Is the physical aesthetic of your space in-line with your voice? In most cases, this will be what’s drawn the guest to you before they’ve even had a chance to hear from you.
I’m a die-hard meal planner that spends a good portion of my Sunday mapping out the week ahead. But, not everyone is like me. A lack of planning means a surplus in spontaneity. Not always, but more often than not, your spur-of-the-moment meal is based entirely on impulsive decisions.
Millennials have admitted to not being able to go without the internet for more than five hours. In an age where we’re bombarded with media and advertising campaigns, it’s important to capture this spontaneous spirit through the platforms they frequent (i.e. Instagram).
Use social media channels to engage with the guest, instead of just bombarding them with soulless advertising. Restaurants should also consider producing different content based on each social channel and the audience it attracts. This shows the guest that they are understood. That in turn assures that they will communicate and engage with your brand long-term.
Transparency Is Key
The movement towards more conscientious consumption comes from a very curious, inquisitive and conscientious generation: Millennials. Millennials want the truth from food manufacturers and restaurants. They want transparency in ingredients and sources. We all benefit from more informative food descriptions and we definitely have the Millennials to thank for that.
Though transparency started with the food, it is starting to penetrate other characteristics of the restaurant business. Millennials want to see the “real” side of your company. What is the staff like? What causes does the business support? What’s the chef like outside of the kitchen?
Authenticity in a brand’s image and messaging is an important form of transparency.