Restaurants have a huge opportunity to market to Millennials, generally encompassing all consumers aged 18 to 34 years old, but they must be prepared to appeal to younger diners with more than just food, according to new research from industry consultant Technomic.
The Chicago-based firm found that while Millennials are frequent restaurant guests, their loyalty to foodservice brands stems from not only their love of the food, but also from their perceptions of a restaurant’s social responsibility and community involvement.
“Millennials visit restaurants more frequently than any other generation,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. “Restaurant operators are making consistent efforts to track the purchasing habits of Millennials and appeal to their unique need states. Success with today’s Millennial consumer will depend on making an emotional connection and setting expectations.”
Two Technomic studies, the “Understanding the Foodservice Attitudes and Behaviors of Millennials” and the longer-running “Consumer Restaurant Brand Metrics” program, revealed several insights into Millennials’ dining-out preferences and listed by segment the chains that benefited.
The three brand metrics Millennials value the most were social responsibility, food quality and community involvement.
Technomic defined social responsibility as a brand's effort to act in a way that is good for the environment or for employees. The Millennial diners surveyed for the two studies identified In-N-Out Burger as the best brand at this metric in quick service. McAlister’s Deli was recognized as such for fast casual, while Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Logan’s Roadhouse took the honors for family dining and casual dining, respectively.
On ratings for food quality, Millennials evaluated restaurant chains on more than menu items’ taste and visual appeal, Technomic found. Survey respondents said they also considered whether ingredients were from local, sustainable or organic sources. Descriptors like “grass-fed” or “free-range” also boosted restaurants’ perceptions among Millennials.
In the quick-service category, Jimmy John’s received the highest marks for food quality among Millennials surveyed. McAlister’s and Cracker Barrel once again received top marks for fast casual and family dining, respectively.
In casual dining, Red Lobster had the most favorable perception among Millennials for food quality, a point that the chain has touted for months in its “Sea Food Differently” marketing campaign. The commercials feature real Red Lobster employees and suppliers discussing the freshness and authenticity of the brand’s seafood.
Watch a “Sea Food Differently” commercial; story continues below
A third key metric for Millennials, supporting local communities, encompasses philanthropic efforts like making charitable contributions and supporting civic organizations, Technomic said. Chick-fil-A earned the No. 1 spot for quick service in that metric, based on Millennial consumers’ feedback. Corner Bakery Café led fast-casual restaurants on this value, while Bob Evans and Bonefish Grill earned top marks for family dining and casual dining, respectively.
Technomic’s Consumer Restaurant Brand Metrics program tracked 50 attributes in order to determine the preferences of Millennial and other diners. The data are collected on an ongoing basis, and the study’s sample represented more than 40,000 annual visits.