Expert advice on how restaurants can tap into the spending power of the country's largest demographic group
Millennials, the country’s heaviest restaurant users, are cutting back restaurant spending, according to consumer research firm NPD.
Although NPD estimates that Millennials made more than 12 billion visits to restaurants in 2011 and spent $73 billion during those visits, the firm also reports that the number of visits by that demographic has been falling since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. That makes it even harder to win over this young crowd that not only has strong opinions, but also likes to share them through social media.
Millennials represent “the biggest gap between cultures in our history,” said Craig LaRosa, a principal in the Newton, Mass.-based consulting firm Continuum, which designs and develops products, services and business models.
Also known as Generation Y, Millennials make up the country’s largest demographic group at about 76 million people — even outnumbering Baby Boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which defines them as people born between 1977 and 1995.
In order to understand this age group better, LaRosa and his colleagues have been doing ethnographic research with Millennials, spending time in their homes, talking with them and eating with them. Below are some tips on how restaurants can cater to Millennials' social needs and habits, based on information LaRosa shared from this research.
Tip 1: Encourage sharing and interaction.
For Millennials, food is secondary to interactions with people. So they like smaller portions that allow them to share multiple dishes instead of ordering traditional plates just for themselves. They also are not interested in the standard service in which the food for each course is brought out all at once. Instead, they like plates to be delivered as soon as they’re ready.
Tip 2: Remember that less is more.
Millennials are not only fond of small portion sizes, but they also like fewer ingredients.
“When they shop, the less ingredients, the better,” LaRosa said, adding that members of Generation Y like “clean” labels that list ingredients that they can identify.
Tip 3: Put food and preparation on display.
Just as Millennials like transparency on their labels, or knowing the origin of the cattle they’re eating, they like open kitchens for the same reason: They like to know where their food is coming from.
LaRosa said some members of Gen Y have even bought cows, named them, had them slaughtered and then shared the beef.
Tip 4: Make dishes familiar but not boring.
“Family foods done interesting,” like the Korean taco, are a gastronomic goal of Generation Y, LaRosa said. “Exotic flavor is being brought to very traditional foods,” he noted, adding that Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian flavors appeal to Millennials.
Tip 5: Offer food that's good for you, but not “healthy.”
Millennials see “healthy” food as bland, but they like wholesome food, including slightly exotic green vegetables, such as kale, and simple proteins, including rabbit.
Studies by the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization have noted that rabbit is nutritious and has a very low environmental impact compared to many other animal proteins. “We’re going to see rabbit more and more,” LaRosa predicted, noting that it’s showing up in grocery stores and butcher shops.
Tip 6: Create dishes that travel well.
Often on the go, Millennials like easily transportable food, such as tacos.
Deli sandwiches are likely to see a revival, LaRosa said, because the whole cuts of meat are seen as wholesome and fit into Generation Y’s “very nomadic, fast-paced life.” He added that deli meat companies are coming out with lines of more boldly flavored cuts, paired with chipotle cheese and similar enhancements.
Tip 7: Run beverage specials.
Mixed drinks are growing in popularity with Generation Y, LaRosa said, as is wine in casks. “The need to have a specific varietal or label is less important,” he said. “They’re looking for a wine that tastes good and won’t break the bank.”