What the Millennial Diner Wants in a Restaurant
Millennials currently make up about 25-27% of the U.S. population, depending on which definition you use. They’re the most diverse generation in history and make up about a quarter of the country’s same-sex couples. On top of that, they’re well educated (about 25% have Bachelor’s degrees) and make anywhere from $25,000-$48,000 a year on average.
What does all that mean for your restaurant?
Millennials are your dream customers!
The question isn’t whether millennials will eat out; they will. (About 64% of millennials eat out at least once a week.) The question is how to get them interested in what your dining establishment has to offer and keep them coming back. What do millennials want in a restaurant? Here are some hints for marketing to millennials in the world of casual dining.
A Good Online Presence
We’ve all been terrorized by restaurant websites without a phone number or blaring theme music in the background. But did you know that millennials typically make decisions about where they’ll eat about six hours ahead of time? That means your restaurant should have an outstanding (mobile-friendly!) web presence that prominently features pertinent information like hours, menu, and a reservations app. It’s a basic tenant of restaurant marketing, really.
Fast Casual, Not Just Casual
Statistics continue to show that millennials are trending towards fast casual restaurants like Panera bread and Chipotle while straying from traditional casual dining chains like Red Lobster and Outback. What does this mean? They want a quicker, less-stuffy dining experience that offers them more control. Millennials would rather order at the counter then have their food dropped off at the table, for example, than deal with a waiter from end-to-end. They also prefer the cheaper, less stringent menu requirements of fast casual chains.
Stay Plugged In
Where Boomers looked to restaurants as an escape from the hum drum realities of daily life, millennials look at dining as an extension of their social calendar. They don’t (ever) want to be far from their phones and they expect to be fully plugged in via social between bites. Smart restaurants are tapping into this obsessive technological need: providing incentives for diners to Tweet, Like, and Share their way to free food while in the restaurant. Other smart millennials draws include bar caddies that charge smartphones and QR-coded marketing materials tableside.
Service in a Snap
There are few things that annoy millennial diners more than slow service. Dining for millennials is a communal activity and they don’t want to be interrupted every 10 minutes by a well-meaning waitress asking if everything’s okay, either. That’s why restaurant pay-stations and kiosks are becoming so popular among millennials diners, and new advances in technology like digital table tent information providers are becoming the rule, not the exception.
Although they enjoy a good pork belly dumpling as much as the next diner, millennials have a burning desire to know what they’re eating, where it came from, and its nutritional content. Restaurants that provide this information without being prodded quickly become favorites whether it’s via a digital menu table caddy with healthy options highlighted, a restaurant-specific app designed to enlighten curious diners, or menu boards with the sources of origin listed right next to the food item. Transparency is the new mystery and millennials can’t get enough.
Millennials don’t like to be sequestered at a dining table for hours at a time, captive to the schedule and timeline of the back-of-house. The more control you give them over their dining experience, the better. Installing tablets tableside where millennials can place orders or settle up is a great first step, and will save you labor costs, too. Waitstaff call buttons or signs are also a novelty and the ability to order continuously, tapas style, is a good way to keep this group engaged. The more power they have, the more millennials will come back.
Lastly, millennials want to be entertained. They’ve got short attention spans (thanks, Buzzfeed!) and lightning-fast phones to distract them so in-restaurant engagement is tricky. Trivia with a digital tabletop touchscreen is a smart idea, and dramatic presentations of food whether it’s a rolling cart or tableside guacamole is something to get the crowds talking. Infotainment is the name of the game when it comes to engaging this tough-to-please group. If all else fails, long communal tables are a good way to invite the casual, convivial vibe this group is looking for into your establishment.
What did we miss? Millennials are a smart, savvy consumer group and they’re not going anywhere any time soon. It’s time to stop pounding the status quo and start working towards their wants and needs – in five, ten, or twenty years your restaurant will be glad you did.