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What Millennials Want

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By Amy Sung May 2013

While Millennials, who are currently between the ages of 20 and 35, may lack the discretionary income of the fine-dining Boomer set, they are dining out more frequently, making their wants and needs increasingly relevant to restaurants that want to capture a share of the Millennial dollar.

“Millennials dine out a lot,” affirms Sara Monnette, director of consumer research at foodservice research firm Technomic. “In terms of spending, they’re not the biggest spenders at restaurants because they don’t have as much disposable income, but they are dining out frequently. And based on where they are in their lives—a lot are moving back home, living with parents, living in multi-generational households—they tend to use restaurants as a place to gather with their friends.”

In fact, 41 percent of Millennials purchase food away from home at least twice a week, compared to 38 percent of Gen Xers and 37 percent of Baby Boomers, according to Technomic’s report, Understanding the Foodservice Attitudes & Behaviors of Millennials, which reveals critical insights on the similarities and differences between Millennial, Generation X, and Baby Boomer consumers.

Because Millennials are using restaurants as a place to gather, Monnette says “having a menu and ambiance that are inviting, and that allows them to share food and socialize, is really important.”

Food-industry market research firm Datassentials found that roughly 20 percent of Millennials’ away-from-home occasions are with friends and a “hip” setting can also be more relevant.

San Clemente, California-based Sandelman & Associates has come across similar findings. “From our research on casual-dining users, we know that a fun place to go is more important for Millennials than Baby Boomers,” says Jeff Davis, chief analyst of Sandelman & Associates. “In addition, alcohol is an important part of determining a fun place. Dining is entertainment, something to do with friends, and they might be looking for places to hang out without spending a lot of money.”

According to Technomic’s report, 20 percent of Millennials say the availability of alcoholic beverages is important compared to 12 percent of Gen Xers and 10 percent of Baby Boomers.

The group, comparatively, is also more likely to value “very low prices,” with nearly 40 percent considering price to be extremely important when eating out—more than other age groups, according to Datassentials.

“Millennials view themselves as very unique, so they want to be able to make that menu item fit their own unique tastes,” Monnette says. In fact, 21 percent of the Millennials surveyed said they are drawn to restaurants that offer the ability to customize a meal; it was important to only 16 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of Boomers.

“Also, cravings are more important,” Monnette says, with 35 percent of Millennials stating that it’s important for dine-in restaurant occasions to offer “options [they’re] craving and are in the mood for.”

Thinking with Their Stomachs, Talking Online

“This generation really does think with their stomachs, and tends to be less health conscious, in the sense that metabolism still tends to be higher and they’re not facing specific dietary needs like Boomers do, so the need for low-sodium, low-carb, or low-sugar is not as prevalent in this group,” Monnette explains.

New or unique flavors are sought after as well because this group is more adventurous and enjoys trying new things, Monnette adds. “Because of their online presence and social media [lifestyle], they like to talk about the experiences that they’re having—not only for their own benefit, satisfying their own taste buds, or their need to be adventurous and try something new, but also a part of that social inclusion, that if they go to a new restaurant and try the newest burger, then they can talk about it and share it with their network.”

The Technomic study found that 48 percent of Millennials feel they have a diverse social network.

Not only is social media a driver, online presence is especially important today if restaurants are looking to be relevant to a younger audience. According to Technomic, 59 percent of Millennials say they review menus online often or very often, and 19 percent do so using a mobile device. Additionally, Datassentials determined that Millennials are far more likely to use technology to decide where to eat.

“Millennials find out more about restaurants, brands that they’re going to buy, and places that they’re going to visit from friends and from word-of-mouth—and part of that comes from their social networks,” Monnette says. “So having that strong presence and being relevant to the younger consumer online is so critical because those consumers aren’t just finding out information from the restaurant itself, they’re finding out from Facebook and Twitter. Being online and being tech savvy is really critical.”

With 25 percent of Millennials saying they are more likely to make food and restaurant recommendations to their friends, they are a key demographic.

“Millennials are a particularly important target because they are more likely to try new foods and new places to eat,” says Jack Li, managing director, Datassentials. “They’re also more social—so if you appeal to a Millennial, you might also benefit from the positive word-of-mouth [reviews] that they spread.”