The Millennial generation of customers, ages 16 through 34, is a key demographic for the restaurant industry, researchers say, and understanding how those consumers differ may help drive guest traffic.
Millennials, for example, love to snack. They eat out more often than non-Millennials, and they see restaurants as a place to socialize.
They also love adventure and using new technology. And they think of themselves as living healthful lifestyles.
So concludes a new report called “Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation,” sponsored by advertising and marketing agency Barkley, consumer researcher Service Management Group and The Boston Consulting Group.
Jeff Fromm, senior vice president of sales, marketing and innovation at Barkley, said understanding what motivates and appeals to Millennials is crucial for restaurant operators looking for an edge to drive traffic.
“It’s those little things that you do that can tip someone over,” he said.
In general, the research found that Millennials are early adopters of new technologies. They seek adventure and love to travel — and they love exotic foods. They use social media a lot, and they are connected with friends and family. They support causes they care about and prefer companies that do the same.
Though independent, Millennials also are very influenced by their peers and are concerned about their status in life.
This study conducted surveys of 3,896 Millennials between the ages of 16 and 34, as well as 1,129 non-Millennials, representing ages 35 to 74.
Asking the survey group specifically about restaurant use, the study unveiled some key trends:
• Snacking: Millennials tend to snack more throughout the day than non-Millennials.
While older generations tend to dine out more at breakfast and dinner — and both age groups were roughly equal at lunch — about 5 percent of Millennials said they have a mid-afternoon snack, for example, and mid-morning and late-night snacking was not far behind.
Indeed, 13 percent of Millennials’ restaurant visits occurred during off-peak hours, compared with only 6 percent for non-Millennials. Men, more than women, are likely to eat out between meals, the survey found.
“For a restaurant marketer, that means you’re working with six dayparts,” Fromm said.
Chains like Sonic, for example, have had success with afternoon “happy hours,” when guests could order custom drinks between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., which wouldn’t cannibalize lunch or dinner.
“Millennials would create a cherry limeade with chocolate and coconut,” he said. “It let them be adventurous within boundaries and offered an affordable indulgence.”
• Frequency: Overall, Millennials eat out more often than non-Millennials, the report found.
The younger group spent an average of $173.95 per month on restaurant meals — mostly in quick-service restaurants — though Millennials were more likely than their older comparison group to use fast-casual concepts.
Fromm said Millennials are drawn to brands for the experience.
They think, “Do I feel special or unique? Would I want my friends to see me at this place?” he said.
More than half of Millennials surveyed said they visit a restaurant to treat themselves. Thirty three percent said they dine out for special occasions and 22 percent said they were motivated by the desire to socialize with friends or co-workers — unlike non-Millennials, for example, who tend to dine out more often with family.
Researchers also found that Millennials are driven by convenience, healthful meal selections, exotic food choices and “fun” or “child-friendly” environments in choosing restaurants.
While well-known quick-service chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Burger King, Subway and Wendy’s were top of mind in awareness for all respondents, newer emerging brands, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Jamba Juice and Jimmy Johns were more on the radar of Millennials and lesser known to older generations, the study found.
• Technology: Millennials also are lovers of new technology. They watch less TV and they are more likely to use the Internet for playtime — compared with non-Millennials who turn to their computers more for business or research.
Fromm said operators should look for opportunities to use their websites to create online experiences that can be integrated with customer experiences in their restaurants.
“Millennials are digital natives,” he said. “If you can create an experience online that’s pure play, not research, that creates added value for them.”