At 80 to 90 million strong and 25 percent of the U.S. population, the millennial generation of consumers ages 18 to 33 is a force to be reckoned with. According to a report by Morgan Stanley Research, millennials make up 51 percent of fast casual restaurant customers. Given these statistics, it’s important for fast casual restaurant operators to understand how millennials influence fast casual industry trends — and do what you can to accommodate this significant fraction of your customer base.
1. Millennials are influenced by information they find on the Internet. Perhaps more than any other group, millennials base many of their dining decisions on online reviews such as those found on Yelp, and they seek out information on sites like Google My Business. In addition, they like to let others know about their dining and shopping experiences, with, according to MillennialMarketing.com, 70 percent feeling the need to share positive and negative impressions of restaurants.
For this reason, it’s important to monitor your online reviews regularly, responding to as many as you can with a “thank-you” or an explanation of how you’re addressing situations that weren’t to customers’ liking. Keep your Google My Business data up-to-date as well.
2. Millennials are omni-channel consumers. Millennials like to interact with their favorite brands, merchants, and restaurants online as well as in person. Just as importantly, millennials are heavy social media users; for example, 46 percent regularly post original photographs on social media sites, according to MillennialMarketing.com.
Millennials’ omnichannel bent puts the use of technology and social media at the top of the list of fast casual industry trends. On the technology front, this means offering mobile apps that allow time-strapped customers to order and pay for food from their smartphones and find it ready to go when they arrive at restaurants. To help encourage millennials to mention you during their social media activity, put your Twitter, Instagram and other social media handles clearly on every menu (along with any creative hashtags you might want to include), so they can quickly spread the word about your establishment to their friends. It also means ensuring that your menu items are camera-ready — worthy of posting on Instagram and Facebook — and that your social media pages tell a story about your restaurant.
3. Millennials have a different definition of “healthy” food. In the past, most consumers equated “healthy” with “low-calorie.” However, when considering fast casual industry trends, don’t ignore the fact that this perception has changed. More than 50 percent of millennials queried by Morgan Stanley Research defined “healthy” food as fresh and less processed and as containing fewer artificial ingredients than may once have been the case.
To better appeal and cater to millennials, use ingredients such as grass-fed, hormone-free meats; fresh, rather than frozen fish; and locally sourced produce delivered to your restaurant several times a week. Leverage social media, advertising, and other marketing vehicles to demonstrate you have adjusted ingredient-purchasing and serving practices to correlate with millennials’ preferences.
The sheer number of millennials in the U.S. — not to mention their buying power ($200 billion, Forbes magazine recently reported) — gives them great sway in dictating fast casual industry trends. Paying attention to these trends can help you stay ahead of the pack.