couple on their phone at dinner

Millennials are gaining more and more purchasing power, which is good news for restaurants, since this demographic is dining out 20 percent more than any other generation. In fact, 53 percent of this group goes out to eat once a week, compared with 43 percent of the general population.

Who are Millennials?

Age 18-34, millennials are often described as technologically savvy, highly connected and socially aware. They have massive social networks at their fingertips, meaning if you appeal to them, you have a strong chance of benefiting from their word-of-mouth posts on social media. To be successful think about how you can create a distinct and memorable experience that utilizes technology and allows millennials socialize. All of these attributes need to be considered when creating a unique dining experience for these individuals.

The Columbia, Missouri-based organization Youth and Young Adult Connection released data concerning millennials and their habits when it comes to eating at restaurants. Some highlights include:

  • Millennials rely mostly on word-of-mouth suggestions for restaurants in familiar towns and on review sites like Yelp when they are out of town.
  • Around 65 percent consider discussions they’ve seen on social media about restaurants when they are deciding where to go.
  • They are more likely to eat in large groups than other age groups.
  • 32 percent check the menus from their smartphone ahead of time.

phone in restaurant

How to Appeal to Millennials

1. Highlight the Story

Millennials are much more concerned with the story behind the products than their parents and grandparents were. In an age that is increasingly global and conscious of things like labor practices and being organic, they take these considerations to heart.

“I like to know the story about the places I eat,” Vermont resident Vera Chang tells the New York Times. “I think it’s key to feed one’s heart in addition to one’s stomach when going out.”

2. Offer Customization

This generation seeks customization in their meals. According to research by the NPD Group, 21 percent of the millennials surveyed said they are drawn to restaurants that offer the ability to customize a meal; while it was important to only 16 percent of Gen Xers (34-54) and 15 percent of boomers (55+).

Wondering what this looks like? It could be as simple as introducing mix and match combination options of current entrees and sides, or adding new shareable appetizers. Allowing millennials to create a personalized, interactive dining experience will lead to higher levels of satisfaction and enhanced dining experiences.

3. Think of Dining Out as a Social Activity

The way generations view going out to eat is very different. While older generations viewed restaurants as a way to escape dull realities of the day, millennials use it as an extension of their social calendar. Therefore the ambiance should be inviting and open for socializing. Consider new seating configurations: A popular trend right now is adding communal tables in the bar area or the main restaurant.

With this in mind, think about how you can curate fun events that will add to their active social calendars. Several restaurants have found major success in hosting weekly trivia nights or murder mystery dinners on a regular or rotating basis.

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4. Leverage Technology

It’s no secret that everyone today is glued to their phones. This is especially true of millennials. This group has grown up on technology and social media. “It is an integral part of their lifestyle. In other words, they don’t know life without computers or even the Internet,” explains Jim Matorin, founder of SMARTMARKETING, a food marketing and consulting firm. Many restaurants are tapping into this obsessive technological need by providing free wifi or charging stations at booths and tables. Not only does this provide major value to customers, it can also bring your restaurant social benefits. For example, to log onto the wifi you can drive users to your social media pages to share photos with friends and of their food in the restaurant in real time.

Ready to step up your Instagram game? Check out our Instagram Marketing Guide.

What’s more is that millennials expect social engagement, which is another major way that restaurants can leverage technology to connect with their millennial customers. Here’s how:

  1. Get Social: Does your brand have a Facebook page? It’s time to use it as more than just a placeholder for your address. Consider offering special deals, posting menu specials, and asking guests to throw a good review on your page after a meal. This generation touches their phones 45 times a day, and much of that is to check Facebook.
  2. Be Social: Aside from integrating your restaurant on social media, you’ll also want to integrate millennials into your restaurant’s culture. This generation is incredibly loyal, so show them you’re loyal to them to by catering to some of their dining needs, like healthy options, locally sourced food, eccentric menu items, large tables, and the ability to book reservations.
  3. Go Beyond Social: Social media is often used a speaker box. Go one step further and build relationships. Facebook isn’t the only way, either. Try posting some menu items on Instagram and take it one step further and search for those who have shared pictures while dining. Head to the comments to thank them for coming in.
  4. Ask Them To Be Social: This isn’t a one-way relationship, and millennials know this. In fact, they are more likely than any generation before them to post (and trust) reviews online. Encourage your servers to ask them to go ahead and leave feedback on social media platforms such as Yelp or Facebook if they’ve enjoyed their experience.

5. Make It Worth Talking About

People love to share they got Boston’s best ice cream sandwich or went to the coolest hidden gem in a new neighborhood. The impact of social media has only amplified this desire to share these experiences. Sara Monnette, director of consumer research at foodservice research firm Technomic, explains, “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.”

6. Be Findable

Fifty-nine percent of millennials say they review menus online often or very often, and 19 percent do so using a mobile device. When this group hears about a new restaurant, their first instinct is to Google it. Having a presence on social media and a website with a strong user experience creates a positive first impression and makes prospective guests far more likely to walk through the door.

7. Remember: Millennials Care About Their Health

Many millennials are concerned with the current health issues facing America today. This knowledge affects the food that they eat. Many millennials are conscious of eating high amounts of protein and vegetables. When creating or editing a menu, it is important to include healthy options while staying true to your restaurant’s personality. However, the thing about millennials is that although they are healthy, they are more willing to splurge every now and again with foods such as bacon or a deepfried specialty.

8. Focus on Sustainability

Being conscious of the world that they live in is a major focus for millennials. From driving a car that is ecofriendly, to shopping with reusable bags, millennials do their best to care for the environment. This is also true when it comes to the food that they eat. Menu options that show origin are extremely popular and beneficial. For example, if you are serving a breakfast dish with eggs and toast you could include that the eggs are from a particular local farm and the jam is made in small batches and has a unique flavor. Although these options may be pricier, this generation is willing to pay more for the best ingredients.

Check out Upserve’s Restaurant Marketing Strategies Guide!

Written by   |  
Morgan is a restaurant veteran based in Providence. For nearly a decade, she has worked in the restaurant industry in server and bartender roles. As a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Morgan has pursued her passion of exploring the intersection of hospitality, technology and of course, delicious food. Her favorite travel buddies are meal sharers who enjoy being adventurous and trying something different.