Make the Most of the Millennial Market

By Dana Krook

Three people taking photos of food, one displays sausage and fries, another a steak and the last one a beer.

From music to fashion to technology, Millennials are usually the first to pick up on new trends, but they’re also the first to leave them in the dust. (Myspace anyone?) 

The restaurant industry is no exception.

Millennials, that ever-desirable demo between 16 and 35 years old, make up the largest portion of today’s population, and they dine out more often than their Gen-X and Baby Boomer counterparts: at least once a week.

It’s no surprise that they are who restaurant owners want filling the tables. But this generation’s needs and wants from the dining experience are distinct and steadfast. So, how can you get—and keep—Millennials coming to your restaurant? Here are a few ideas.

Give them the Loyal Treatment

Everyone loves getting rewarded, right? Well, Millennials are no different. From coffee shops to drug stores, loyalty programs are a proven and effective way to get customers coming back again and again. But when it comes to Millennials, they want more from loyalty programs…and they want it now.

recent study from Software Advice, a restaurant POS comparison site, found that almost all Millennials (96%) have been enrolled in a loyalty program at some point. However, not all of them stuck around. More than half, 59% to be exact, quit a restaurant loyalty program because the rewards weren’t valuable enough. In other words, a free soda isn’t going to cut it.

So, what exactly do Millennials want in a loyalty program? The most requested type of reward according to the study: discounts, at 37%. The next favorite is loyalty points to use towards another purchase, at 30%. But Millennials also have their eye on the clock; 51% said they had left loyalty programs in the past because it took too long to get the rewards. In a perfect world, a loyalty program would offer both discounts and loyalty points, and provide quick and easy ways for Millennials to collect and redeem their rewards.

While these figures are a good guideline, the Millennials that frequent your restaurant might have a unique set of opinions or needs. Don’t shy away from simply asking your customers what they want from your loyalty program!

The takeaway? Give them rewards that they really want and give them as soon as possible! Recipe, whose restaurant group includes Swiss Chalet, Kelsey’s and East Side Mario’s, recently teamed up with Cineplex and Scotiabank’s SCENE program, giving Millennials more of what they love: food and movies. And because card users earn points at many restaurants and theatres, they can build them up and redeem them even faster.

Same, Same, but Different

Millennials possess the seemingly contradictory personality traits of being both team-oriented, but also wanting to feel special and unique. More than other demographics, they love sitting at tables with big groups of people, even people they don’t know. So, consider communal dining tables if you don’t have them already.

However, they also want their unique tastes catered to. A study by Technomic revealed that 21% of the Millennials surveyed preferred restaurants that offer customization (more so than Gen-X and Boomers.) So restaurants that enforce a “no substitutions” policy may not fly with Millennials. If you don’t let them sub out that side salad for an order of fries, you may find them substituting you for someone who will.  

Be Social

Millennials love word of mouth. “I heard that movie was terrible” or “My friend told me that band is awesome” are oft-heard phrases with this group. Social media has become the modern-day word of mouth. Seeing a photo from a friend’s Instagram at the hottest new restaurant or reading a tweet slamming slow service are probably more powerful than a review from any critic. Word travels fast, which puts extra pressure on restaurant owners to make every experience a great one—from the food, to the service, to the venue itself.

This means you need to be as quick as they are. Acknowledge positive responses on social media. A simple “Thanks for coming in!” goes a long way in making them feel like you’re listening. But also don’t ignore negative comments. Respond as soon as you can, taking their comment seriously and offering solutions when possible.

When it comes to your social media presence, Millennials can smell a fraud. So while showing your target market that you understand their needs is cool, trying to talk like them isn’t. Telling them your new menu is “on fleek” will probably be more eye-rolling than enticing.

Get your customers to engage with you while they’re at your restaurant by encouraging simple hash tagging during the dining experience. Millennials love showing off where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re eating. Some restaurants are even going as far as making their food and presentation more “Instagrammable” for smartphone photographers. Oh, and having free Wi-Fi never hurts either!

Convenience is King

One thing we all want: convenience. These days, everyone is in a rush (to go where, we don’t know.) It should be no surprise that a generation raised on high-speed Internet is also hurrying out the door.

Technology can go a long way in offering your Millennial customers the speed and convenience that they expect in a dining experience. Try these tech innovations on for size:

  • Mobile payments, like Apple Pay and PayPal, can give your customers the convenience of settling their bill with their smartphone.
  • An iPad POS, like TouchBistro, can make bill splitting quick and painless so your customers can get on with their day.
  • Food pickup and delivery apps, like SkipTheDishesGrubHub, and Postmates, allow on-the-go Millennials to indulge in your delicious eats in a way that fits their lifestyle

Think Local and Global

At one time, eating “healthy” meant counting calories, eating celery, and skipping dessert. To Millennials, it means something entirely different. They want to know what they’re eating, where it came from, and how it was produced. Sure, they may want to be aware of how many calories and grams of fat they’re consuming, but they also want their food to be ethically sourced, organic, environmentally friendly, and cruelty-free.

What have you made yourself in-house? Did the steak come from a local farm? Are your coffee beans fair-trade? Does your restaurant support community initiatives? Don’t shy away from pointing these little details out on your menu. They will go a long way in building your reputation with Millennials.

To Sum it Up

So, while Millennials might not have as much money as older restaurant-goers, they want to spend the money they do have on dining out! A few key elements will help you win over the Millennial market: from social media to communal tables, and local ingredients to speedy service. Keeping these ideas in mind for your restaurant can help ensure that your business doesn’t face the same abandoned and rejected fate as Myspace.

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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