While millennials are the new largest generation of consumers, baby boomers make up a quarter of the population and are still the majority leader in spending. Baby Boomers have, in fact, increased spending at restaurants more than any other group.
Last year, baby boomers decided to eat out an average of 218 days, and restaurant owners say that “this demographic is most drawn to reasonable portions of simple, well-executed classics, as well as dishes that stir nostalgia and emphasize healthfulness and value.?” We found that guesstimate to be completely true… for senior guests, not baby boomers.
So how much does the average restauranteur really know about these preferences? Are they guesses, or just predictions based on intuition? Neither of those options offer any solid proof for future improvements.
So, how are you collecting your data? If your data tells you that baby boomers are a big percentage of your customer base (as they often are), here are some pet peeves that baby boomers want you to know about.
Turn up the lights, turn down the music
Reading vision deteriorates starting at age 40, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss for people over 50.
“The main thing that makes Boomers crazy is not enough light to read the menu, and menu print that is too small or gray”, journalist and author Ethlie Ann Vare told us. Forty-something’s need approximately two times the ambient light to read as twenty-somethings.
“Do not insult customers by offering them a flashlight,” says Vare, “make the menu typeface bold and crisp, and put a dimmer switch on the table light.”
Jennifer Juergens, a boomer from New York City recalls, “I went to a restaurant that had a basket of readers for diners to borrow…brilliant! You can even buy them at the dollar store.”
And it’s not just the eyes that get more tender as we age, it’s our ears too. So dinner in a loud restaurant can actually scare guests away that have a priority of being able to hear their dining partners.
Baby boomer Margie Williams from Wimberley, Texas says, “as for ambient music, yes, it’s often too loud. My friends and I meet for happy hour at various restaurants, and many times we don’t stay to dine there after happy hour because the music is just too loud for us to have a conversation. We have been known to enter a restaurant, hear the loud music, and leave before even being seated.”
That slow but often abrupt blast of volume is easily explained from behind the volume knob by Steve Cerilli, Sound Design Consultant from Shortwave Recording Company:
“Volume is always dependent upon the amount of people in the space at any one time, and even those levels are going to change as the headcount goes up or down. This is especially true in a place where people are talking, like a restaurant or coffee shop. The more chatter, the more you can raise the volume to meet that background noise.
Take a busy restaurant in Newport for example. Saturday night the music volume is perfect at 5pm, then by 8pm the house is full and the music is barely audible. A manager turns up the music to meet the background chatter, which works until the restaurant starts to clear out at 11. Suddenly the music is too loud and everyone makes a dash for the volume.
It’s best to invest in a compressor/limiter to level out the relative volumes. Speakers should be positioned in the areas where people tend to gather and talk the loudest.”
Create incentives for one
If baby boomers are dining out an average of 218 days of the year, and 97 million Americans above the age of 45 are single, then put two and two together and determine that there are probably a heck of a lot of baby boomers dining alone in the evening, and even more dining alone at work on their lunch breaks.
And what gets their goat more than dim lights and a small-font menu? Two-for-one deals that they can’t take advantage of.
Ron Kaplan from Dayton, Ohio says that restaurant coupons “don’t mean a thing when the deal requires a second party be involved with my dining plans.” He says that he often eats lunch alone and bulk coupons that ask him to buy four sandwiches for $5, or 25% off a second entree are “useless”.
“I’m not saying to not offer such duo deals, but to also offer something of benefit and value to attract the solo diner to your establishment. If I like it, I may bring my wife and or family back with me for a second visit,” says Kaplan.
“If I don’t like it, you have bigger problems than what type of coupon deals you offer.”