Millennials are increasingly becoming the dominant economic force in the restaurant business, and they’re seeking connection to what they see as a simpler time — with handcrafted, clean, artisanal, socially responsible foods and beverages served in homey environments.
To reach those customers — the generation born, roughly, between 1980 and 2000 — restaurant operators must encourage workers to achieve their highest potential by playing to their strengths.
Those were the themes of a conversation at MUFSO, sponsored by Pro*Act, between NRN columnist Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Company, Darren Tristano of Technomic and Dick Lynch, chief global brand officer of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.
Tristano said Millennials were concerned with transparency in food sourcing. He pointed to Chipotle as an example of a company that spoke about sustainability and animal welfare in a way that appealed to them. He also said that Millennials want better-for-you options even if they don’t choose to eat healthfully all the time.
By offering both healthful and indulgent items on menus, restaurants negate the “veto” vote both from people who want to indulge themselves and those who want to eat food that they see as being good for them, said Tristano.
He added that the dichotomy of healthful and indulgent items could be seen in the success of two winners of Nation’s Restaurant News’ Hot Concepts award. One is Slater’s 50/50, which has as its signature sandwich a hamburger made with 50 percent beef and 50 percent bacon. The other was Protein Bar, which is focused on healthful, nutrient-dense food such as the spinach and pesto quinoa bowl that it served at a reception earlier at the MUFSO conference.
Kruse said that there were three disruptive trends currently affecting society: the rise of the Millennials, the technologically driven economy and the ongoing economic malaise that some people say might be the beginning of the end of the middle class. She said customers are craving comfort in these uncertain times.
“We hunker down. We hunger for reassurance, we go back to basics," she said, pointing to independent restaurants that use words evoking the eating styles of centuries past, such as larder, provisions and pantry.
In addition, Kruse said restaurants are including notions of artisanal preparation by serving food in mason jars as well as using barrels for aging beverages, dispensing wine and cocktails, and as décor. She also pointed to the resurgence of comfort foods such as fried chicken.
Transparency in food is becoming increasingly important, Kruse said, noting that it coincides with health and wellness in the minds of customers. She added that although using local products can be challenging for restaurants, they could still benefit by pointing to their foods’ origins with dishes such as Applebee’s Grilled Vidalia Onion Sirloin and Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket, which is marketed as being “smoked at least 13 hours in a pit smoker in Texas.”
While Kruse noted that restaurants should take advantage of new technologies, such as the tabletop tablets that Chili’s has been installing, she also advised, “the higher the tech, the higher the touch” — meaning if you’re going to use those technologies, you also have to engage with guests personally, something Chili’s also has done by introducing guacamole that’s made tableside.
Lynch walked the audience through Popeyes' process for helping its staff learn what their strengths are and understand their "personal purpose" by helping them determine what was important to them. That way, he said, they could understand better their role at Popeyes.
That makes them more effective staff members, he said.
MUFSO title sponsors are American Express; The Coca Cola Company; and International Franchise Association.
Keynotes/general sessions are presented by: e*Restaurant from Altametrics; Pro*Act; Red Book Connect; SurveyMini by SMG and the Texas Restaurant Association.
Pillar sponsors include: Idahoan Foods, Sweet Street Desserts and Ventura Foods (Culinary); Red Book Connect (Entrepreneur); Smithfield Farmland (Ideas); and Fishbowl, MomentFeed, Paytronix and Single Platform from Constant Contact (Marketing).
The Monday night awards reception is sponsored by: Avocados from Mexico; Daiya Foods; Ovention; Sara Lee Foodservice; Segafredo Zanetti and Texas Pete®.
Coca Cola presents the Shake, Sparkle & Stir event, and Texas Pete® is sponsoring the MUFSO Kitchen Hero Cook Off, benefitting Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.
Hot Concept/Best Concepts Celebration is sponsored by e*Restaurant from Altametrics; Golden Chain Awards are sponsored by SurveyMini by SMG.
MUFSO App is sponsored by Qualisoy; MUFSO WiFi is sponsored by ROSnet; and Conference Pen is sponsored by CSM Bakery Products.
Refreshment breaks are sponsored by Royal Cup Coffee and Wrigley Foodservice.