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Targeting your demographic

An NRN special report on the changing profiles and needs of different generations

To explore the ways purchasing decisions vary across different groups, Nation’s Restaurant News canvassed six experts in the fields of consumer behavior, branding, foodservice and demographic trends for their insights into the mind of today’s consumer.

On the assumption that food quality and value were universally important, we removed those from the survey, revealing the less tangible elements of the dining experience that make restaurant brands resonate with diners.

The experts were asked to use their professional opinions to consider seven attributes through the perspective of 10 different consumer groups. For each of the 10 groups they ranked the following attributes in descending order of importance to that group: atmosphere in the restaurant, authenticity of the brand, convenience, healthfulness of the food, personal connection with the brand, service style and social responsibility of the brand.

Survey sources
Robert Hardy; founding partner, Bellwether Food Group; Topsfield, Mass.
Dave Jenkins; partner, CustomersDNA; Inverness, Ill.
Dennis Lombardi; executive vice president, WD Partners; Columbus, Ohio
Bonnie Riggs; restaurant industry analyst, The NPD Group; Port Washington, N.Y.
Gary Stibel; chief executive, New England Consulting Group; Westport, Conn.
Darren Tristano; executive vice president, Technomic; Chicago

Convenience reigned, with the panel citing that as most important for six groups. Atmosphere also was a key driver, ranking in the top five for all of the demographic groups.

Beyond those aspects, the nuances of each demographic group begin to emerge. As a rule, younger consumers — Under 18, Millennials and Gen Xers — were said to care more about a brand’s authenticity. In fact, that quality was said to be most important among the Under 18 group. Older consumers and those with families were more likely to be drawn to brands that offered a service style suited to their needs and brands that offered healthful cuisine.

Still, personal connection with a brand emerged as a universally desired trait, underscoring the idea that today’s restaurant consumers want more than just to fill their bellies. They seek a deeper relationship with brands that can seamlessly blend into their lifestyles and offer experiences uniquely tailored to their needs.

For the full report, including additional demographic breakdowns, restaurant chain case studies and added input from industry experts, see the April 30 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News. The following pages are only a sample of the report. Subscribe to NRN here.


Millenials pullquote

Generally, they are Americans born from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but industry experts say proliferating technologies for communicating and consuming culture make Millennials more connected but less homogeneous than previous generations.

A recent survey of 4,000 Millennials by the Boston Consulting Group and Service Management Group identified six distinct segments within the demographic, including:

The Hip-ennial — a more cautious, globally aware and 
information-hungry consumer;

The Millennial Mom — a wealthier, family- and health-oriented, digitally savvy female consumer;

The Gadget Guru — a successful, free-spirited, usually single and male consumer;

The Clean and Green Millennial — a cause-driven, health-oriented, optimistic consumer likely to be a student;

The Old-School Millennial — a cautious consumer less likely to be wired and more likely to be Hispanic;

The Anti-Millennial — a locally minded and conservative consumer.

MIllenials infocard

Based on a report by Mark Brandau

Generation X

Generation X pullquote

Generation X may not have the sheer numbers of the baby boomers that preceded them or the up-and-coming edginess of those tech-loving Millennials that tail them, but the demographic born between 1960 and 1982 has what many restaurant brands long for in their customers: discretionary income and a desire to socialize.

Often loosely categorized as consumers aged 30 to 50, Gen Xers are busy family people. They’re college educated and typically live in two-income households. In addition, they:

• Love to dine out,
• Are willing to spend more for quality, though they have financial obligations related to family and retirement,
• Expect good value for money,
• Care about brand loyalty and authenticity.

Generation X infocard

Based on a report by Lisa Jennings

Baby boomers

Baby boomers pullquote

As a restaurant operator, don’t even think — not for a moment — about treating a baby boomer as “old.”

Baby boomers are the large meal the U.S. population boa constrictor has been digesting, with those Americans born 
between 1946 and 1964 numbering about 79 million and making up about 26 percent of the total U.S. population.

A Pew study revealed that the typical boomer believes “old age” does not begin until age 72. And while they are latecomers to the digital revolution, they are closing the gadget and social media gap with younger generations.

A separate study of the demographic by The NPD Group showed that baby boomers usually feel 9 years younger than their chronological age. Also noteworthy, money lost on investments during the recession is creating a growing divide between the haves and have-nots, and some are being forced to put off retirement.

According to NPD, by industry segment, drivers included:

Fast food: A wish for frequent-visitor cards. “They want to be rewarded for their loyalty,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD's foodservice division. 

Family dining: “They want pick-and-choose options, to be treated like a valued customer — like, ‘I’m glad that you’re here’ — and value combos,” she said.

Casual dining: “They are looking for daily specials, to be rewarded for their loyalty,” Riggs said.

NPD found that coupons for baby boomers could stimulate business and that these older customers are looking for those coupons and deals on the Internet.

Baby boomers infocard

Based on a report by Ron Ruggless


Seniors pullquote

Not so long ago, the conventional strategy for marketing a restaurant to senior citizens usually was constructed around a few one-size-fits-all promotions like “early bird specials,” “two-fers” and a limited selection of menu items thought to appeal to aging palates. 

The group of Americans aged 65 and older largely constituted a postscript in an operator’s overall marketing program that only took on added importance when a restaurant was located in an area that catered to retirees, like south Florida or parts of the Southwest.

But those days are slipping away, most experts say, and restaurateurs who are looking to reach out to seniors and establish them as a loyal part of their customer base must learn what this evolving — and increasingly demanding — segment of the population wants.

“The senior market has changed,” said Richard Ghiselli, head of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University. “Boomers are becoming the biggest cohort in that group, and in a few years it will be mostly boomers.”

Consequently, experts advise operators to bear in mind that today’s seniors are not dining out like their predecessors did.

“More are engaged; they explore new flavors and continue to use different options and engage different segments [of the foodservice industry],” said Mac Brand, a founding partner of Bellwether Food Group Inc., a retail consulting group in Chicago. “They’ve traveled, and unlike seniors in the past, they want to continue to experience new things.

“It’s sort of an overarching theme,” he added. “The lines between seniors and baby boomers are blurring.”

Seniors infocard

Based on a report by Paul Frumkin

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