In today’s tight economy, baby boomers are providing a boost to U.S. restaurants.
America’s 76 million boomers, born 1946-64, were responsible for 23 billion restaurant visits in 2012, accounting for $172 billion in sales, according to market research company the NPD Group. By sheer number, boomers have always played an important role in the economy. But in 2012, consumers in the 48-64 age bracket also spent more per capita than their younger counterparts, according to a recent NPD study.
Predominantly empty-nesters with disposable income, baby boomers have the means and the freedom to dine out. “Yet, this is a group of people who feel neglected,” says Bonnie Riggs, the NPD industry analyst who authored the report. “Restaurant operators have not paid enough attention to their wants and needs.” Here are some ways to reach out to this large and pivotal group.
Create a comfort zone
● Keep the decibels down. Help boomers enjoy their dinner conversation by turning the background music down a notch and using design elements and materials like carpeting that reduce ambient noise.
● Shine some light on the situation. Use appropriate lighting so that aging boomers can easily read the menu and enjoy their meals, says Matt Thornhill, founder of the Boomer Project, a research and consulting agency based in Richmond, Va., that focuses on baby boomers. “It doesn’t need to be bright lighting; install task lighting,” says Thornhill, who co-authored Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America’s Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group.
● Improve menu readability. Make sure that the fonts and color combinations allow for easy reading, says Thornhill.
● Pull up a comfy chair. In the NPD survey, boomers noted that they look for comfortable restaurant seating, along with better lighting and less noise.
● Give service with a smile. “Boomers really want the people serving them to be polite and friendly,” says Riggs.
● Make it fun. Explore ways to make dining out entertaining, whether it be an open kitchen or a chef’s table. “This generation is used to going out to dinner as entertainment,” says Thornhill. “They see themselves a hip, cool and relevant.” Riggs adds “boomers want to stay active and be forever young.”
● Strive for a balance. While boomers are an important segment, don’t overlook the younger crowd. “They’ll come in later and spend more at the bar,” says Thornhill. “Don’t shoot yourself in the right foot or the left foot.”
Put options on the menu
● Offer smaller portions. “As people get older, the reality is they need less food,” says Thornhill. Boomers report they’re eating more, but smaller, restaurant meals, according to NPD.
●Highlight heart-healthy options. Health-conscious boomers seek low-fat, well- balanced meals, says Riggs. Highlight freshly prepared foods with healthy cooking styles, like broiling and grilling.
● Provide opportunities to indulge. While boomers report that they want healthy options, many of them also use restaurant visits to indulge, says Riggs, noting that burgers and fries are among their favorites at quickservice restaurants.
Provide promotional offers
● Create frequent-diner programs. “Boomers want to be rewarded for their loyalty,” says Riggs. For example, Panera Bread introduced a loyalty program with a twist a couple years ago. The MyPanera program rewards members with surprises like invitations to special events, previews and tastings, and complimentary or discounted bakery-cafe menu items.
● Give them a deal. Boomers are looking for coupons and discounts, says Riggs. Daily specials and combo-meals are also attractive to this group.