In the restaurant business, millennials have been a tough generation to crack. These young adults are looking for a unique experience, and their consumer preferences don’t seem to follow the predictable patterns of past generations. However, millennials can be a marketing goldmine when approached correctly. According to research from the University of Oregon, around 90 percent of millennials between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media to regularly update their social networks about where they shop, eat, and meet with friends. That means each Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook post has the potential to bring easy sales for the business they’re reviewing. But what, exactly, are millennials looking for in their dining experience, and how can restaurants market to these individuals?
Just like everyone else, millennials are living a fast-paced life with high demands from school, work, and family. This means easy money for fast-casual restaurants (think Noodles & Company) where the service is quick and the food is affordable. A lot of fast-casual restaurants also offer pre-made foods that require no waiting around, like the pastry options at Panera Bread. Millennials want to be able to come in for a quick bite or take something to-go if they’re on a break between classes or on their way to meet up with friends.
An important caveat to convenience is ambience. Unlike many other groups, millennials aren’t willing to sacrifice atmosphere and they tend to shy away from fast-food chains like McDonalds or Wendy’s, where the idea is to “eat and get out.” A restaurant’s vibe must be inviting and casual enough that they can bring in their laptop to study for a few hours or spend time catching up with friends in an environment where they don’t feel pressured to keep buying drinks and food. This is what makes or breaks a restaurant in a millennial’s eyes. While they like convenience, they prefer the experience of dining far more and will opt for a place with trendy artwork, music, and a personable staff. Places like Starbucks have experienced immense success with millennials for this reason.
It’s all about customization for the millennial crowd, and this cannot be stressed enough. Three of the five restaurants named by Business Insider as the top restaurants millennials love (Jimmy Johns, Subway, and Chipotle) were founded on the premise of customization. These restaurants have experienced huge success with the millennial crowd because nearly everything on the menu can be customized. Millennials want options and even restaurants who aren’t entirely made-to-order are accommodating millennials by offering build-your-own burger, salad, or pasta dishes.
- Fresh food
Healthy food is a popular choice for nearly every age group, but millennials especially have taken to the idea that food, regardless of where it comes from, should be wholesome and fresh. Items that were once unpopular on the American dinner plate (like kale, quinoa, and avocado) are now trending, and restaurants have found new ways of mixing in these ingredients with traditional foods to create fun and healthy dishes. This explains why a 2016 survey named Red Lobster the most millennial-friendly brand over 173 competing restaurants. Despite the fact that Red Lobster has made minimal efforts to market to millennial consumers, they drew in this crowd when they altered their recipes to reflect changing food trends and added a line of fun, new alcoholic beverages to match.
To pique the interest of the millennial crowd, restaurants must adapt to accommodate trends. This means offering healthy, fresh, and customizable dishes in a casual environment that promotes socialization and convenience. After all, the millennial consumer is focused on the experience, and if the experience is good, their entire social media network will soon know about it.