Busting Millennial Myths

by Fred Slater
Group Account Director/Bohan

Busting Millennial Myths

Fred Slater

A burning question for many casual dining restaurants is how to attract more Millennials to the category while retaining current clientele. This group pushes the envelope. I know because I have two Millennial children. I’m consistently impressed with their tech-savvy ways and viewpoints on how the world should operate. This group inspires us to innovate to improve life and questions the status quo. So with regard to casual dining, what are we missing in order to better attract this highly desired segment?

Their Habits are So Different, Aren’t They?

This segment should not be characterized as one entity – they have a diverse range of interests and lifestyles as any generation does. But while there are variations within the segment as well as  commonalities, there are several misunderstandings. Two very industry-relevant misconceptions revolve around media and couponing.

  • A Kantar Milward Brown report compared Gen Z, Y and X in digital media habits. Among the three groups, Millennials tend to function between Gen Z and Gen X on most media habits, but are more receptive to ad formats on desktop/mobile displays and videos.
  • And with the majority of Millennials classified as middle class America, they value affordability and discounts. It is interesting to note that as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers before them, Millennials are growing in use of coupons according to eMarketer. By a significant margin over other generations, Millennials increased their use of coupons by 47% over last year.

Well Their Food Preferences Are Unique, Right?

While Gen Y believe their food choices to be on the healthier side compared to their parents, 60% tend to use some of the same kinds of products and brands, 58% say their products and brands are no healthier than their parents used, and 69% indicate that their choices are no more organic or natural than their parents, per Hartman Group.

Food groups are basically the same as back in the 1950s. So where’s the fundamental difference in food offerings – today’s restaurant portion sizes compared to the 1950s are more than four times larger according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This strongly correlates to today’s adults being an average of 26 pounds heavier. So food portions comprise the most significant difference between the centuries.

OK, Some Habits Do Stand Out

Snacking is a meal. Millennials and Gen Z lead the way in using snacks for primary meals, with snacking now comprising 35% of all eating occasions.

Nutritional and dietary information is important to this segment. And only Millennials and Gen Z are expected to increase their organic and fresh food intake through the next several years.

And possibly the most significant – technology. Adults under 35 years of age are more likely to order digitally according to The NPD Group. On the rise are pre-ordering and skip-the-line apps and electronic payment options, in addition to the heavy social media usage.

So Cater To Nuances

The industry may be over-reacting to what we perceive as the Millennial challenge. Capabilities to deliver on their preferences for fresh and more nutritious ingredients, local sourcing, speed and ease of service are being advanced everyday. It requires commitment and investment, but is beneficial to all guests, not just Millennials.

From an informational perspective, their desire to know nutritional values have been met on many restaurant websites, but what about adding sourcing information on the site as well?

And Gen Y likes to share feedback, just note all their real-time social media posts. Get to know these consumers better – walk through the restaurant and talk to them. Online surveys are fine but this allows your brand to connect, engage, inquire and understand; ask them how they like to personalize their meals, what experience they are looking for (and did they get it), why your restaurant matters to them and how can you serve them better.

Digital really matters so investing in appropriate tech is not only going to assist this group but all groups.

The bigger obstacle for casual dining is to encourage more “real-time” dining to Millennials; having communal intent in-restaurant. Experiment with ways to make in-restaurant dining more relevant. Consider creating a strong, visible connection to a local charity and enlisting their help in a very convenient way. This segment values brand goodwill.

Millennials own significant and growing consumer power, but they are not so very different in terms of desiring a positive experience, convenience, quality and relevancy.