Satisfying The Restaurant Needs Of Generation Groups

Each generational group has different wants and needs that influence their restaurant purchase behavior. Accordingly, foodservice marketers need to understand how to gain the attention of these consumers to drive traffic. With a better understanding of what matters most to key generational groups, marketers can address the unique needs/behaviors of these consumers and create strategies to enhance engagement and build loyalty most important to their business.

Importance of generation groups to restaurants

Currently, the groups most important to the restaurant industry in terms of traffic are Gen Z, Millennials, and Baby Boomers. Collectively, these three groups account for 70% of the U.S. population, and 73% of the dollars spent and traffic at restaurants. Gen X, the often-overlooked group, accounts for a fifth of industry visits and dollars. Compared to their presence in the population, they are above average in their usage of restaurants.

What matters most to key generational groups

Addressing what matters most to generation groups is key to moving your restaurant business forward. But it can be harder than it looks. The more foodservice marketers know their customers, the better they can satisfy their needs. They often overlook identifying consumer preferences across generation groups by placing too much focus on only one group.

Generation Z will soon be the biggest bulge in population since the Baby Boomers and are assumed in many ways to be an extension of the Millennial generation. But, as with all generations, there are differences that require different marketing strategies. Gen Zs grew up digitally connected and their expectations for technology reach every aspect of their lives, including food acquisition and preparation.

Gen Z restaurant choices are made from digital word of mouth that apps such as Yelp provide. To attract these consumers, restaurant operators must apply key digital strategies to all visit situations—dine-in, take-out and delivery. They are ethnically diverse and a health-conscious group demanding freshness, purity and authenticity in their food choices. Gen Z is forcing foodservice marketers to re-think their business, marketing and digital strategies as they prepare for this large up-and-coming group of consumers. 

Millennials aren’t a homogenous group and are diverse in many ways. They love the next big thing and are most inclined to visit the latest trendy restaurant. Food is more than sustenance and they want eating to be an experience, whether they are at home or away from home. More than any other generational group, when Millennials visit restaurants, it’s about the experience, not just the meal.

Millennials consider restaurants as social places where they can gather. To them, atmosphere and service are as important as the food, not to say that food isn’t important. They want greater menu variety, more ethnic foods, healthy options and uniqueness in menu offerings. High-quality food that incorporates fresh ingredients and locally sourced is very important to this group.

Gen X is often considered the neglected middle child. This seems to be particularly true in the foodservice industry, as it focuses on Millennials and Baby Boomers. Foodservice marketers may not be aware of the importance of this group. They account for 20% of the population, 22% of industry dollars and 22% of traffic. Gen Xers are different from other generation groups as they have a greater need for convenience. They are extremely busy and are dealing with kids. Because they have the highest percentage of children in the household, they look to restaurants that cater to families with kids. When not with the kids, Gen Xers consider going out to a restaurant a treat. Gen Xers are likely to respond to marketing messages that position meals as a treat, such as romantic "date night."

What matters most to Baby Boomers is considerably different than that of the other generation groups. Boomers prefer an atmosphere that is conducive to talking and lighting that makes it easy to see the menu. They are less ethnically diverse than Gen X and Millennials, therefore, it’s important to provide traditional dishes and comfort food. Boomers want to stay healthy and active and look to restaurants that offer healthier options and smaller portions. Boomers want to be rewarded for their loyalty but not in the form of a loyalty program that other groups find appealing. They want to feel like valued customers and find hospitality and personal acknowledgment particularly appealing.

One size does not fit all

There is much speculation about changes in the restaurant usage patterns among key generational groups that are affecting foodservice growth. When addressing enticements that key generation groups claim would encourage them to visit more often, remember that one size does not fit all. A clearer understanding of what will drive more visits from each generational group is required to develop marketing strategies that will resonate with the individual groups.

Bonnie Riggs is a restaurant industry analyst

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