Millennials are becoming parents, and that has big implications for restaurants

Some 60 million young adults are set to have kids over the next decade, and nothing changes behavior quite like children, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
Scott Mitchell

The Bottom Line

The restaurant industry, and consumer sectors in general, have been laser focused on so-called millennials, the large generation in their 20s and early 30s that supposedly don’t drive cars, eat a lot of avocado toast and struggle with student loans.

I have a lot of problems with the manner this group is portrayed, as if it is a single entity that kills entire industries just for the fun of it.

But regardless of how millennials act, they are about to change in a big way.

That’s because they’re having kids.

At the Restaurant Directions conference in Nashville on Tuesday, Technomic Vice President of Innovation Sara Monnette noted that 80% of millennials are expected to become parents over the next decade.

That’s 60 million parents.

“Nothing quite changes your restaurant behavior quite like children,” she said.

That’s true. Add children into the mix, and suddenly people don’t have the discretionary income they once did. They are also more pressed for time.

As you might imagine, this influx of so many parents could have major implications for a restaurant industry that has spent the past several years falling all over itself finding ways to cater to this group as if it was a bunch of childless young adults.

All generations do things differently than those before them, so exactly how this generation uses restaurants with kids in tow might be different, too.

That said, we can guess that the move of millennials into parenthood would likely add more fuel to the shift in restaurant visits toward more convenience-oriented fare.

That’s a long-term shift that has been going on for a long time, but in particular since the end of the recession. This year, Technomic expects sales at limited-service concepts will grow by 5.1%. Full-service concepts’ sales are expected to grow 3.2%.

That could be good news for those who are bullish on delivery: Premade food delivered straight to the home is the ultimate in convenience.

Chains and concepts that are more family friendly would also benefit as the number of parents increases.

Indeed, as my colleague Pat Cobe has written, the potential growth in millennial parents could be a boon for chains such as Chick-fil-A and Cicis.

And the addition of so many parents will put pressure on operators to ensure that their restaurant is family friendly.

But mostly, the number is a reminder that, as consumers age, they move into different stages of life, and with those different stages come different demands.

Restaurants that have focused on a preconceived idea of what it means to be a millennial could suddenly lose customers who’ve decided that their old haunts just aren’t family friendly enough.

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