The keys to running a successful food establishment have long been consistent with quality menu items, knowledgeable and friendly servers, and a unique and attractive ambience. While all are still important elements, the industry is rapidly changing in response to emerging consumer trends.
The new age of Millennials generation is setting the tone. Three main themes stand out as topping the priority list of Millennials – nutrition, sustainability, and memorability. Considering the ever growing spending power and social media influence of this generation, these themes should be on the “must consider” list of any restaurant owner or operator:
The modern diner and Millennials in particular are highly educated with regards to their food intake and preventative health measures. Food establishments can take note and start offering a selection of gluten-free, vegan or paleo fare, along with nutritional information about each dish. The nutritional information increases the value to the consumers, by allowing them to order the food that fits the way they eat, while at the same time building satisfaction and customer loyalty.
While the farm-to-table movement is still up-and-coming, it has seen a rise in establishments focusing on this concept. While restaurants using locally sourced ingredients from local farmers and vendors are important, forward-thinking diners also care about limiting food waste, eco-consciousness, and an overall decrease in meat-centric meals.
Millennials in particular want to share their dining experiences via social media. From Snapchatting a dessert on fire to Instagramming a trendy Acai bowl, it is essential to consider how well each dish is captured from an iPhone lens.
So, who are the Millennials?
Millennials are perhaps the most health-conscious generation ever, and, as of 2015, they made up a larger percentage of the population than Baby Boomers. By 2017, it is estimated that the Millennial generation will also outspend Baby Boomers.
Aside from an obsession with health and nutrition, Millennials also care deeply about sustainability. From 2014 to 2015, the percentage of those willing to pay more for products from companies committed to sustainability rose from 55% to 72%, respectively. The Nielsen Global Study concluded that 60% of respondents in a survey value purchasing items from sustainable and eco-friendly companies, and are willing to pay more for such products, prioritizing products made with natural and/or organic ingredients.
The other considerable upside to accommodating this choosy generation is their intense social media usage. Millennials have the unique capability to amplify any experience to their networks. A memorable and elegantly plated dish can easily turn into wildly successful advertising, completely free of charge. Talk about word-of mouth!
When it comes to food, studies have dubbed Millennials “The Foodie Generation” for their enthusiasm with regard to eating and sharing their culinary experiences publicly. In fact, research indicates that 44% of people between the ages of 21 to 24 have posted at least one photo of food or drinks to a social media platform. An astonishing 52% of Millennials (ages 21-32) would rather attend a food festival than music festival, while 61% of Millennials (ages 21-24) would rather have dinner at a new restaurant than purchase a pair of shoes.
This increasingly important segment of the population may indeed have unprecedented potential for the food industry. Creating nutritious, sustainable, and memorable menus will certainly soon be the gold standard for restaurants.
Catering to Millennials is still not mainstream
We interviewed owners and head chefs at restaurants across New York City to evaluate their perceptions and responses to consumer trends. Questions focused on the availability of nutritional information, customer inquiries, and steps taken to practice sustainability. The restaurants surveyed ranged from fast food to fine dining, with representation from everything in between.
None of the restaurants said they currently met FDA standards with regard to providing nutritional information, but that does not tell the whole story. The majority of restaurants heavily emphasize nutrition and sustainability, but lack the resources or know-how to calculate nutritional content for each meal. Furthermore, every single restaurant reported receiving numerous customer inquiries into adapting dishes to accommodate allergies and specialty diets such as gluten-free or paleo.
What is a restaurant to do?
Restaurants can be proactive in addressing and speaking to the issues of importance to Millenials.
For example, Chipotle stresses its use of ingredients that are antibiotic-free and free of GMOs. They also enable consumers to connect with its local partners from whom any particular restaurant sources ingredients. Further, Chipotle provides a nutrition calculator on its website for consumers measure the intake of their favorite meals.
The Cheesecake Factory announced in 2011 its SkinnyLicious Menu, and earned the top two slots on the list of Word Food in America for consumer health. With over fifty menu items with a calorie count of 590 or less, it has driven dining experience scores up by 20% in the past five years.
Joe Isidori, the executive chef of ice-cream shop, Black Tap, aims for moonshots even before a dish is created. He creates memorable and shareable moments by designing “milkshakes in partnership with his social media manager” to “create something as eye-catching as it was delicious.”
One quick and easy step is, of course, for restaurants to provide nutritional information for dishes on their menus. One affordable self-service tool is Edamam’s Nutrition Wizard. For more in depth information, please download the white paper on which this article is based.
Edamam organizes the world’s food knowledge and provides nutrition data services and value-added solutions to health, wellness and food businesses. Using a proprietary semantic technology platform, it delivers real-time nutrition analysis and diet recommendations via APIs. Edamam’s technology helps customers answer for their clients the perennial question: “What should I eat?” Edamam’s partners and clients include The New York Times, Epicurious, Nestle, Samsung, AARP and Random House. For more information on Edamam, visit their website or developer.edamam.com. The Edamam app is also available for download via Apple or GooglePlay.