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Restaurants shift focus back to baby boomers

While headlines in recent years have been following the influence that millennials are having on the foodservice industry, it’s important for operators not to shift completely away from the preferences of other generations.

Baby boomers still represent a sizeable portion of the economy. They know what they want in restaurants and other establishments, and they will seek out those establishments that do have what they are looking for.

Boomers have the largest spending power of all the generations—$2.3 trillion, compared to Gen X’s $125 billion, millennials’ $200 billion and Gen Z’s $43 billion, according to Technomic’s 2016 Generationalreport. Operators stand to gain by targeting boomers, and it pays to cater to their preferences.

Strategies that can be implemented by operators include:

  • Updating sides with new forms and flavor profiles while making sure center-of-the-plate still stands out.
  • Menuing smaller plates (as single servings or sharables).
  • Ensuring technologies implemented by the operation for off-premise dining are up-to-date and easily accessible and understandable.

Updated flavors and forms

Forty-four percent of boomers say that a restaurant having a mix of new and familiar food is important to them when choosing where to eat, Technomic’s Generational report finds. To strike a happy medium on menus, operators can pair new and interesting sides with familiar proteins. For instance, at Trattoria Dell’arte in New York City, diners can enjoy the Braised Three-Bone Short Rib entrée, which is served with pecorino polenta.

Of course, mash-ups are big these days, as are global cuisines—and it’s not just young diners who seek those flavors out. Approximately one-third of baby boomers say they prefer to visit restaurants that offer dishes with new or innovative flavors and ingredients, according to Technomic’s Generational report.

The top overarching global cuisines preferred by boomers are still Italian, Chinese and Mexican, but many are also interested in regional cuisines within those categories—such as Sicilian cuisine, Sichuan (or Szechuan) and Oaxacan, respectively. Diving deeper into these cuisines offers diners the chance to try out different iterations and new flavors of a cuisine that they’re already familiar with.

The value proposition

While boomers have the most spending power among all the generations, value is still a key traffic driver—63% of boomers say it’s important, while 55% say low prices are important, according to the Technomic report. This can lead to ordering out of habit. If they know they like a dish, there is a possibility they will continue to order the same thing. They know that the money they are spending will be for something they like, and this can translate to “value” for these consumers.

However, that doesn’t mean operators can’t provide them opportunities to experiment, making the experience fun and affordable. Small/shared plates can be an area of opportunity with boomer customers. First, they offer a smaller, more approachable portion of an unfamiliar flavor, which can translate into diners being more willing to try something new. Second, small or shared plates take the pressure off—if diners want to try a dish that is different from what they usually order, the lower price threshold and the fact that dishes are shared can make them more likely to take a culinary risk.

The value of technology

Baby boomers use social media and technology differently than younger generations. While Instagramming over-the-top drinks or dishes that have gone viral might be a good hook for Gen Zers, boomers are more likely to look at a restaurant’s Facebook page to check out new and exciting offerings. For that reason, restaurants should be sure to maintain a presence across multiple channels to ensure the biggest reach.

Off-premise dining is very popular with baby boomers. In fact, 37% of all restaurant orders made by boomers are for takeout (as opposed to dining in or getting food delivered). And while younger generations order food for takeout because they have less time to cook at home, boomers tend to do so more for convenience, according to Technomic’s Generational report.

If operators want to reach boomers, online menus need to be up to date. According to Technomic’s Generational report, 57% of boomers say they look up restaurant menus online via a computer, while 35% say they do so via a cell phone/smartphone—compare that to just 22% who do so on restaurants’ mobile apps. In other words, while operators should ideally offer both options (websites and apps) to consumers, if they’re trying to appeal more to boomers, they should focus on online website menus.

Appealing to boomers to ensure patronage

While baby boomers have somewhat different needs and preferences than younger diners, there’s considerable motivation for operators to harness their business, and taking their preferences into consideration is key.

Menuing a variety of both new and familiar flavors, offering shareable and small plates to encourage participation in those new foods and to appeal to value-seeking diners, developing strong delivery and takeout programs and keeping online menus up to date are all great strategies to keep boomers coming back.

This post is sponsored by Mrs. Dash Foodservice

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