Dining Out Tips and Trends
By Bernard Freeman
Targeting Millennial Diners: What the Next Generation Wants for Dinner
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are evolving. Traditional dining, from what’s on the menu to what it costs, is changing. Now-a-days, diners want fresher food, value for their money and customer service.
A BrandKeys study looked at food preferences among a total of 3000 people, 1000 in each of three groups: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. The results?
Boomers, who look for healthy foods, also want great service and say they pay extra for it. Gen X can be practical and want value for their money, not necessarily the cheapest price. Millennials, who tend to have sophisticated tastes and aren’t necessarily loyal to restaurant brands, want healthy food in a casual setting.
Restaurants are changing to meet the needs of diners, especially millennials, who were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. A key dining demographic, there are approximately 80 million Millennials in the U.S.
“We’ve found that creating moments in the dining experience that are personal, shareable, and what we call ‘friction-free’ lead to satisfaction and repeat visits,” says Adam Pierno, director of brand strategy and planning at Santy, a brand strategy company that recently polled Millennials to identify what makes them dine out or stay at home for dinner.
Pierno says Millennials value being able to split checks easily and like paying the bill on their phones or tablets, as well as apps. They also enjoy knowing an eatery’s “hidden” menu and appreciate restaurants that are flexible with substitutions.
“Good service is still in style, as well,” says Pierno, noting 57 percent of diners say it’s an important factor in deciding where to eat.
Millennials don’t dine out as often as you think. Pierno says the generation’s dining occasions are down by as much as 20 percent since 2007. Many millennials would rather eat dinner at home while enjoying entertainment like streaming movies and video games.
While 71 percent of Millennials say they’re budget-minded, they’re not very interested in eating fast food. They like fast-casual eateries and will splurge for big occasions. Still, the recession taught them to be wise with their money. “They don’t like to risk dining out at a place they aren’t quite sure will deliver a great meal or experience,” says Pierno.
With the restaurant industry worth $632 billion, restaurants will be competing for the attention and spending power of this new generation of diners.
You see them driving in your neighborhood, stopped at local parks and even on TV shows like, “The Great Food Truck Race.” Food trucks seem to be everywhere these days.
In just five years, food truck revenue has grown 12 percent, according to IBISWorld, a company that tracks industry and market research.
The $803 million a year food truck trend, which started during the recession, brought gourmet food to customers in various communities across the country, from Miami to Chicago to Los Angeles, and many smaller cities too.
Truck offerings include cupcakes, pizza, donuts and fusion food, like Korean barbeque combined with Mexican cuisine.
Chefs love keeping costs low in a mobile operation, which enables them to share their cuisine with many different eaters. Consumers love the variety of food truck options and appreciate being able to eat high quality food on-the-go, like during lunch hour or while hanging out at a nearby park
“Consumers seem to love food trucks because they make interesting, often high-end food more accessible and convenient,” says Mark Brandau, managing editor of “1851 Magazine,” acknowledging the food truck trend is here to stay.
Craving dessert? Looking for burgers? Whatever you want to eat can probably be found on a gourmet food truck. Search social media to see where your fave mobile vendors will be, then get curbside and prepare to eat. Lines typically aren’t long, and tips aren’t expected either – a definite bonus for foodies.
“Our customers are savvy consumers who are interested in mobile food trucks for lots of valid reasons: value-priced food, artisanal small businesses, a sense of shared community,” says Matt Cohen, founder of Off the Grid, a street food organization company in San Francisco.
The trend will grow as more communities accept the idea. “Since more cities are relaxing their restrictions on food trucks, the trend is only going to proliferate,” says Brandau. Up next for food trucks? More catering opportunities (think weddings and events) and increased tech use, as well as “a move toward healthier food from the trucks,” says Cohen. “Better and better food.”
Kid-Friendly Dining: Food, Fun and Family
“As more families are dining out more and spending more, restaurants need to cater to their unique dining criteria in order to satisfy their needs, which will nurture a loyal customer base,” says Sharon Sprague, co-founder of KidNosh, a restaurant review site for parents looking to dine out with kids. The site’s restaurant reviews, which are written by parent for parents, factor in kid-friendly amenities, as well as food quality and overall service.
A restaurant.com survey of 988 adults reports 59 percent of parents dine out with their children at least once a week, with 70 percent of parents saying restaurant dining is a great way to spend time with family. The survey also found 40 percent of families go out for American food, followed by 25 percent for Italian and 21 percent for Mexican.
“Not only are they spending more than couples without kids, but parents are likely to share good dining experiences with other parents on social media and word-of-mouth,” says Sprague, who thinks the kid-friendly commitment is likely permanent.
So how are restaurants wooing families? They’re serving healthy food choices like lean meats, fruits and vegetables; impressing kids with tech tools like video games and old-fashioned fun including crayons and paper, as well as books. There are also kids-eat-free days as well as kid-friendly activities like balloon artists, face painting and make-your-own pizzas or sundaes.
Another sign restaurants are family friendly? “They have family bathrooms or changing tables in both women’s and men’s room,” says Sprague.
Restaurants want repeat business from families with kids who eat at off-peak times like pre-dinner rush or on off-peak days like Monday or Tuesday. Parents seem to be pleased with the family-friendly offerings too. The restaurant.com survey found 57 percent of parents like dining out as a way to teach kids table manners; 54 percent say it teaches kids about different cultures; and 66 percent of parents think it’s an opportunity get kids to try new foods.
Value Dining: Are Dinner Deals Really a Bargain?
You’ve seen the ads: all-you-can-eat appetizers, 3-course dinners for $30 and 2 meals for $20. The premise seems tempting but, are these really good deals or are they simply marketing efforts to get diners to buy more food and drinks?
“In my experience, the ‘bottomless’ or ‘endless’ quantity-type offerings aren’t as much of a value as you’d think, unless you can eat your weight in pasta or appetizers,” says blogger Kendal Perez of Hassle Free Savings, who explains diners need to evaluate how much they’ll really consume and how that compares to the restaurant’s regular pricing.
Getting a deal at a restaurant with large portion sizes, for example, can mean even more value if you box up leftover food to eat for another meal. “If you’re a leftover fan like me, it’s a win-win,” says Perez. “I don’t dine out often, so when I do I try to find some kind of savings.”
Perez, who suggests diners look for coupons or daily deals for restaurants, says offers like Groupon can be good, but have their limits, since diners often end up indulging in expensive extras like cocktails, desserts and additional appetizers. “This can often get your bill up to what it would be without the discount, or even more,” she says. “Bottom line: use discounts responsibly!”
Value Dining Considerations:
- Look for reasonable incentives, like $2 off an entrée. If you have to buy more than you want or need, it’s not really a good offer.
- Eat a late lunch. You’ll pay lunch prices, and doing so could save you more money than a coupon. The value is in the portion size, since many lunch and dinner entrees are similarly sized, but lunch is nearly always a cheaper dish.
- Be wary of the fine print! Watch out for coupons that refuse substitutions and limit you to specific items only, such as only valid on one of the restaurant’s 10 chicken entrees.
- Check expiration dates. Many bargains only last a short time to entice you to dine at the restaurant right away. Also note that some offers are only good during weekdays, not on weekends.
- Sign up for restaurant emails to get offers and coupons in your inbox.
- Follow the restaurant on social media too, where you can often get coupons and advance notice of upcoming promotions.
- Download the eatery’s app if they have one. By setting a reservation on the app or using it to place your order, you may be eligible for freebies like a complimentary dessert.