Twenty years ago, young children across America were more inclined to throwing their peas and broccoli across the room instead of actually eating the green vegetables.
But that was then. The millennial generation has grown up and moved into the workplace, developing their own food routines and tastes in the process. Various studies show that millennials are willing to try new restaurants and brands, prefer eating in a communal setting, and seek more transparency in learning where and how their food is sourced. And, according to the Hartman Group, 12 percent of millennials consider themselves a vegetarian, which shows their tastes are vastly different from the 4 percent of the Generation X and 1 percent of Baby Boomer generations who align themselves as a vegetarian.
From first-year college students to young professionals, this group is not to be discounted. The generation enjoys sharing food with others, spending 45 percent of food expenditures dinning out, according to The Food Institute. Alternatively, the Baby Boomer generations spends 37 percent of their food expenditures away from in-home dining. The foodservice industry is projected for only a 3.9 percent growth in 2015, according to research firm Technomic, making the millennial generation a significant consumer.
So how do restaurants and other foodservice operators reach these young adults? Here are four ways you can build brand loyalty with millennials:
1.) Establish honesty
“Our students are real foodies – they expect a great culinary experience,” says one Ivy-League university’s executive chef. “They want to have really great food, and they want to have exceptional service.”
This chef cooks food right in front of the students, so they see the freshly steamed vegetables and roasted chicken being pulled right from a combi oven. Ingredients are posted on TV screens throughout the facility so that each guest knows exactly what farm provided their hamburger.
Showing transparency throughout your cooking process sends a message to millenials. It shows that you get it. You know their needs are important and that you value them.
2.) Expand menus
You can show your patrons where their food is coming from, but are you serving them what they want? With more vegetarians in this generations compared to previous generations, menus need to meet their needs. Make your restaurant the go-to place for group lunches and dinners by providing more than a simple garden salad.
A combi oven can help expand the menu by acting as a convection oven, steamer, smoker, fryer, and kettle. Using this single piece of equipment in the kitchen can allow chefs to provide bright, colorful and fresh plant-based meals. Smoking grains, vegetables or fruits can add another flavor profile to the menu.
3.) Build community
When millenials have a reason to celebrate – birthdays, engagements, work promotions, etc. – they will often grab a group of their closest friends for a night out. Their restaurant selection will be based off a variety of considerations, including food quality, wait times, service, table size, lighting, and overall background noise.
Consider your guests, their comfort, and how you can foster their friendships through the design and placement of their tables. Give your guests the opportunity to celebrate their success – or even a chance to vent after a long day – by providing tables that will allow them to engage with each other. Give them a place to belong – give them their own Central Perk like in the popular TV show Friends or MacLaren’s Pub from How I Met Your Mother. Don’t just be a gathering place. Be THE gathering place.
4.) Capitalize on digital word of mouth
Personal recommendations are the best way to grow a business and gain new customers, but in the age of social media, word about your food, service, and menu can quickly multiply. Young adults will often seek out suggestions for new restaurants through Facebook or Twitter. Immediately friends and family members will chime in with their favorite places to eat. Ensure you are in the conversation through quality food and service.
Use social media yourself by posting pictures of the day’s specials or appetizing plated meals to entice your customers to visit your restaurant after work or on the weekends. Encourage your guests to take pictures of the food and share what they think of their dinner with all of their friends and social media followers.
There’s a Catch-22 with this, however, because negativity can spread even faster. One bad experience, one cold meal, or one stressed waiter making a rude remark to a customer can be all it takes to turn others away from your restaurant. Train your employees to provide high-end customer service and make your customers feel valued.