Consumer Trends

The truth about millennials

Jake is what many would think of as the typical millennial. He’s 22 and single with no kids. His parents pay rent on his one-bedroom apartment. He goes out six times a week—typically enjoying lunch with coworkers or hanging out with friends at a bar.

Matt also is a millennial. He’s 33 and owns a home that he shares with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. He eats out a couple times a week—most often with his family, though occasionally he spends time out alone with his wife or with friends.

To assume these two men of the same demographic group have the same preferences and experiences would be a mistake. “We believe that we need to stop referring to and treating millennials as a homogenous group,” says Maeve Webster, senior director at Chicago-based market research firm Datassential. Restaurant operators would do better, Webster says, to instead think of millennials as two separate groups: young millennials (roughly ages 18–24) and adult millennials (ages 25–34), and form strategies that cater to this split.

There are similarities to be sure: all millennials are tech forward, for example; and generally, they’re experimentalists, Webster says. But research shows some key differences. Adult millennials are more adventurous eaters, more likely to try forward-leaning trends in flavor and food service, such as izakayas and food trucks. Young millennials tend to identify more-established flavors (red velvet or chorizo, for example) as “cutting edge,” largely because it’s all new to them—a finding that holds opportunities for operators to reinvent “classics” for a new generation.

Another important difference between young and adult millennials has implications for how operators communicate with each group. A good brand story resonates with a generation that has grown up with a TV in every room. However, adult millennials are looking for opportunities to insert themselves into a restaurant’s brand story, so they’re are more likely to use apps to “check in” at a restaurant and post reviews online. Because they’re more sophisticated (due to their age and life experience), when they look up a restaurant online, they’re more enticed by high-quality photos. Young millennials, on the other hand, want to see images—even if lower quality—of every item on the menu presented in a well-organized, searchable way.

For operators, once you break it down—identifying which group  you’re looking to target, why and how you’re going to go about it—it’s easier to handle, Webster says. 

Who considers themselves “foodies”?

  • 43% of adult millennials
  • 36% of young millennials

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