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The M word. Millennials have become both a restaurant industry trend and a punching bag for the restaurant industry’s troubles over the past year.

We’ve covered a lot about millennials, from what they want to see on the menu, to how they like being marketed to, and even their wine preferences.

We’ve also covered a lot about how the restaurant industry has been in decline over the past few quarters. While the U.S. economy has seen growth over the past year, this has not been a restaurant industry trend.

Since the largest generation on the planet are the millennials, they are at top of mind. Just like any change, it’s hard to get used to at first. And, just like every generation, millennials have preferences that are different from their predecessors. Right now, as we adapt as a culture to these changes, we are feeling the growing pains.

Why is everyone blaming millennials for the restaurant recession? What did they do?

I decided to do some digging when I started to read headlines like:

“Millennials are killing restaurants.”

“Millennials are not buying homes because they are buying avocado toast.”

“Millennials are to blame as chain restaurant’s sales decline.”

As restaurant chain sales continue to see a decrease in sales and closures, they blame millennials. Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith wrote a letter to shareholders stating:

“Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants.”

But is what she said true?

Here are the facts.

According to Food Institute’s analysis of the United States Department of Agriculture’s food expenditure data from 2014, millennials spend 44% of their food dollars or $2,921 annually on eating out.

That’s a lot. With numbers like that, Millennials are almost spending ½ of their food money eating out. And, that number is only projected to rise. In 2010, they spent about 35% of their food dollars eating out.

So let’s talk boomers. Baby boomers in 2014 spent 40% of their food dollars on eating out or $2,629 annually.

So millennials are dining out, and they are dining out more than the older generation. And, they are spending more despite the fact that they make less than the boomers did when the boomers were their age. And let’s not forget that The Washington Post reports that workers today make less than they did in 1975.

“Over the past four decades, young American workers saw their average incomes decline by 5.5 percent after adjusting for inflation, according to new figures published Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1975, workers aged 25 to 34 had a median personal income of $37,000 in modern dollar terms. In 2016, that number was down to $35,000.”

Millennials aren’t making a lot of money, yet they are still contributing to the restaurant industry more than other generations.

That being said, they face a very uncertain financial future. In turn, they tend to want to eat out more or order out more because they are working more hours to make less money.

Speaking of ordering out more, guests are ordering more food through delivery apps. For the first time in our nation’s history, as of March 2015, American’s spend more money on eating out than buying groceries. This is a key factor of consumer behavior, creating a sweet spot for the food delivery market to thrive.

So we did research on delivery because it seems these chain restaurants are blaming millennials dining preferences (delivery) for their failure.

Source, Source

This graph shows that guests still want to spend their food dollars on the dining out, not just delivery.

So, my question remains. Why are these big chains using millennials as the scapegoat for the restaurant industry’s drop in sales?

It seems they forgot the strong words from the world’s most famous evolutionist, Charles Darwin. Adapt or die.

The phrase “adapt or die” has roots in Darwinism states that if an organism does not adapt to its environment, it will die. Basically, survival of the fittest, and those are the ones that transform themselves to live with a new environment.

There are successful restaurants out there today that are not feeling “the restaurant recession.” Just because these big chains aren’t adapting doesn’t mean your restaurant doesn’t have to.

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Hannah can be found riding the slopes of New Hampshire by winter and riding the waves of Rhode Island by summer. In order to satisfy a constant sweet tooth, you can find her bouncing between Ellie's Bakery and Pastiche, both in Providence, RI.
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