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The age factor

I’m about to show how green I am. Last week’s trek to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the Restaurant Leadership Conference was the first time I’ve traveled to a large industry conference. I was there to learn, to pick up on trends and to discover the issues currently concerning high-level restaurant executives. Of course, that meant talking to c-level employees in person—something I typically do via phone or email. It was a task that sounded intimidating to this millennial. Why? I expected a bunch of grey-haired white guys who may or may not want to give time to some young editor. What I saw, though, took me by surprise.

The average age of this year’s attendees was significantly lower than I expected. In fact, standing at the front of a general session, I was shocked by how many people looked to be around my age. Yes, there were still a lot of older gentleman, but it was well balanced by several younger men. (Yes, I am purposely saying men. Age aside, men seemed to far outnumber women at the conference.) The intimidation factor subsided. Many of these industry leaders were my peers.

It was great to see so many young faces at a leadership conference, but it also gave me pause. Many of the sessions at RLC devoted time to understanding millennials—our behaviors, our preferences, etc. In fact, we were one of the most popular topics on the stage. It makes sense to want to learn more about my demographic. After all, according the Kristin Muhlner, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based newBrandAnalytics, we have $600 billion in purchasing power and will comprise 36 percent of the workforce by 2025. But while you were talking about us, I was taking a hard look at you, hoping to figure out an older demographic group. How are you different from me?

For one thing, some of you actually put down your phones. The smartphone—something most millennials consider to be an extra appendage—just didn’t seem as important as what was going on in the room.

And the definition of “business casual” seemed to vary slightly between the two distinct demographics. While many of my peers rocked jeans, you were all in slacks. While the workforce has definitely grown more casual, it made me wonder what the “appropriate” attire for these events really is.

You also seemed much more comfortable at the schmoozing game that goes on at these big industry events. It might just be that you’ve attended more of them, but the Baby Boomers in the room definitely gave off more of an air of confidence.

Yet, despite some of these differences, age didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the interactions going on at RLC. Instead of looking at each other as young up-and-comers or older, established businessmen, it was a conference full of leaders. 

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