Sustaining and growing a profitable restaurant requires a loyal and expanding customer base. Millennials – also known as Generation Y and Generation Now – are a large and diverse market with significant spending power. The progressive restaurateur will maintain an increasing awareness of them.

Who they are

The millennial generation:

  • Children of the baby boomers
  • Born between 1977 and the mid-1990s
  • The largest and most influential generation since the boomers
  • Number more than 80 million
  • The most ethnically and racially diverse group in U.S. history

Now in their late teens to mid-thirties, millennials are confident, optimistic, self-expressive multitaskers who can handle change and adversity. Raised with cell phones and the Web, they are technologically savvy as well.

Restaurant marketers can’t underestimate that relationship with technology. Millennials use social and mobile media to collect most advice, including where they should dine.

While this attachment to technology has shortened milliennials’ attention spans, it has not made them cold and distant. Conversely, it has bred an intense desire for connectedness among them. Millennials are the most active members on Facebook and often have the most friends on their profiles.

Their accessibility and their bond with media and technology make them attractive to restaurant owners.

Their outlooks and preferences

Millennials view dining out as a social event (i.e. a chance to connect). They prefer to eat at restaurants with a lot of choices and lower price points. They tend to favor fast food, deli food and pizza restaurants over coffee shops, high-end dining and casual dining. Their diversity and interest in new things draw them to more ethnic restaurants, too.

Equally important for restaurateurs to remember is that millennials can be moving targets. While they develop brand attractions and support reward and loyalty programs, their allegiances can be very flexible according to their circumstances.

How to connect with millennials

Keep the following in mind when marketing to millennials:

Encourage word-of-mouth recommendations: Millennials greatly value friends’ opinions when making decisions. Because referrals are so rampant among them, restaurateurs can consider spending less on new marketing and capitalizing more on their existing customer base. Market to this group well and you’ll probably reach their friends.

Maximize your social networking: Ensure you have an engaging online presence including interactive Twitter and Facebook profiles. Run any promotions across all social media platforms. Include calls to action that allow millennials to interact with your brand.

Highlight your social responsibility: Millennials are socially aware and responsible. They connect with brands that support sustainability and give back to the community. If you have them, emphasize organic, hormone-free, grass-fed and locally sourced items in menus, promotions and ads. Don’t overemphasize “green” and recycling; millennials already expect these as ground-level efforts. Look for new ways to become even more involved in community events and organizations. Learn easy tips and best practices by joining Conserve.

Show you’re digitally integrated: Use table tents with QR codes to your website, online promos and social media. Offer free wireless Internet in your restaurants to accommodate millennials’ drive for connection. Provide them with access to texted promotions and location “check-in” specials, as well as the ability to communicate with your brand on the Web.

Offer novelty: Millennials are drawn to new ideas, creativity, innovative design and graphics that move. Because they love to try things, offer samples of your latest food and beverage items at your point-of-purchase counter as well.

Communicate with a warm, personal tone: When reaching out to millennials, consider using emotive stories and anecdotes instead of statistics. Keep your messages clear and direct. Also ensure that your communications reflect their diversity. Your internal millennial staff can be excellent resources for ideas on creating and placing the right messages.

Millennials are the future of your restaurant business. Connect with them now in ways that matter to them and you’ll know why they matter so much to you.