Dining Trends: What, Where and How Millennials Eat

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Millennials, the generational group born between the mid-80s and mid-2000’s, represent roughly 1/4 of the American population. Incubated in web technology and global connectedness, they’re an informed generation, often stereotyped by their passion for smartphones, selfies and a rosy hue fashion bloggers call “millennial pink.” They can be a divisive bunch too! Millennials routinely draw ire from the boomers who precede them, decrying their entitled laziness and reliance on social media. Regardless of your personal feelings, one fact remains: with roughly $20 Billion to spend, Millennials are the living generation with the most spending power.

From “influencer marketing” to memes, millennials have been driving the trends that have taken over multiple industries, especially the restaurant and hospitality sector. We’ll cover modern millennial dining trends to identify some of the inherent values driving these developments, and how your restaurant can capitalize on them!

Trendiness

Like fashion, music and every other facet of pop culture, food goes through its share of cyclic trends. While not every single food trend takes hold, astute restaurant operators should make notes of the climate. A Google Search can help you see where your menu applies. Some more recent examples are the Food Bowl Phenomenon, Food Mashups (like the Cro-Nut) and Avocado Toast.

What “trendy” foods you choose to include on your menu will vary. You don’t want to take an expensive risk, only for the trend to die in a week. You also don’t want to go off-brand to keep up. Try to make smaller, less costly changes that still capitalize on the trend. For example: offer avocado as a side or reformat a soup/salad dish on the menu to be a bowl. Most importantly though, remember that trends don’t last forever, so be ready to adapt when the next big thing hits.

Convenience

We live in a busy world riddled with options, data and the potential for instant gratification. With so many distractions vying for their attention, millennials value dining experiences that are easy and convenient for them. Furthermore, studies show that millennials are far less likely to dine out than older generations. They prefer the freedom of ordering their food off-site and consuming it where they choose. Additionally, many note the millennial penchant towards “munchies-style” dining (i.e., smaller, app-style meals they can order in the wee hours of the night) rather than a full-blown entree. Restaurant owners should enact an off-premise dining and delivery strategy to capitalize on this trend. Automated kitchen solutions with order throttling features will help blend a restaurant’s in-store and off-premise traffic, keeping orders perfectly coursed and streamlined.

Healthy and Green

Keeping a watchful eye on health and nutrition is among the highest prioritized millennial eating habits. They’re more likely than previous generations to adopt plant-based diets and studies show they’d prefer organic options when available, and eat 52% more vegetables than Baby Boomers. Most millennials came of age in a post “Super Size Me” world. Overall, they know the detriments of fast food and demand comparable options lower in saturated fats and oils.

Consider the meal kit phenomenon, like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. These millennial inspired food services boast premium ingredients and easy to follow recipes for a prime at-home meal experience. It suggests that millennials aren’t “settling” for low-budget frozen dinners at home, they’re willing to pay for premium ingredients and they want to know the nutritional value therein. For restaurant owners, merely offering healthy alternatives (vegan, gluten-free, low fat) will help attract millennial diners. There’s a good chance they’ll be eating it at home anyway.

Millennials also put a high premium on the source and carbon footprint of their food. Many feel an ethical responsibility to seek out businesses with the same values. Locally sourcing your menu and providing green/recyclable packaging will not only render your restaurant more appealing to millennials, but it will also lend some social proof to your business, gaining cred from the local community.

A Shareable Experience

Millennials use technology to do just about everything and expect the companies and services they use to “meet them” on the devices they’re using. We mentioned an off-premise dining strategy earlier, and we will repeat it here because, with all that potential business, you can’t afford to skip it. Consider kitchen technology that automates your processes, like a kitchen display system, to help keep your orders coursed and routed.

Millenials value a polished, intuitive restaurant website with all the pertinent info they need. They expect you to have social media accounts, a loyalty app where possible and to find, order and follow up directly from their mobile device.

Technological Savvy

When polled about their dining habits, 75% of the millennials indicated they valued the “experience” of eating the food far more than the nourishment. In other words, Millenials are increasingly more willing to pay for experiences over products than their predecessors. Millennials look to participate in something unique and noteworthy when they eat out.

Additionally, the “social proof” millennials obtain from unique dining experiences, and sharing them on social media, motivates them. Restaurants should focus on creating an ambiance and brand their customers feel excited to share in their social media circles. Sensory touches like an illustrated menu design, special lighting and quirky decor translate to content millennials can share on social media. Furthermore, millennials appreciate the “stories” behind the brands they patronize. Developing unique content which emphasizes a story and characters builds millennial trust and pitches your restaurant as something worth touting to their social networks.

Trends come and go. New generations will inevitably come along and revamp the trends currently driving the restaurant industry. For now, understanding millennial dining habits and the values which inform them, will keep your restaurant in the modern conversation.

This article was originally posted on QSR Automations’ blog here.

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