For many people, baby boomers and millennials seem like oil and water: they might exist in the same space, but they do not mix.
Many businesses looking to market to age groups tend to think of millennials as tech savvy activists, with a focus on ethical issues and diversity. Baby boomers are often positioned at the top of household wealth and food spending. The generational divide between these two groups can seem massive and frustrating, especially to business owners like restaurateurs.
After all, when two age groups have such vast differences between their priorities and viewpoints, how in the world can you cater to the community around you that includes both groups? And will you have to alienate your core baby boomer customer base in order to court millennials into your restaurant?
The thing is, millennials and baby boomers have more in common than you’d think, particularly when it comes to consumer choices in the food industry. Many of the strongest food trends are being driven by both age groups, and for good reason. Combined, they represent 58% of the consumer market.
The differences lie in why each group leans towards what trends. By understanding their unique motivations, you can better understand how to market successfully to those customers.
Note: The actual years in which one generation starts and ends are vague and never quite agreed upon. For our purposes, let’s say that the baby boomer demographic is comprised of consumers born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, while millennials were born between the early 1980s and 2000.
Your brand matters.
There are so many restaurants and so many food choices that appeal to both sets of diners. Both baby boomers and millennials are choosing where they spend money based on the brand of the restaurant as much as the food itself.
For both groups, it’s about being pro-active in supporting businesses worth helping stay in business. So start thinking about your brand and what your marketing focus is.
For millennials, a brand needs to stand for something more than just the product, especially in terms of ethical business practices. For baby boomers, your brand is a promise of product consistency and quality.
That’s not to say that there isn’t overlap – plenty of baby boomers want to support ethical businesses and millennials are concerned about quality, too. But as a whole, these are the concerns that face these two generations and they’ll be looking for it when it comes to picking where to eat.
Keep your menu transparent.
Millennial and baby boomer consumers both want control of what they eat, and to be able to trust brands are transparent about their ingredients. Both sets of consumers might look for food choices free of antibiotics and GMOs, but your local millennial diners could also be concerned about animal welfare. Item descriptions like cage-free and free-range may go a long way with the younger crowd.
Another thing that appeals to both groups is the idea of simplified food. Organic can be a complex word to define for diners, but “simply these fresh ingredients” is a phrase everyone can understand. Baby boomers and millennials can both appreciate your language and feel like they are making a healthier choice for themselves in the process.
It’s easy to hear millennials and immediately think teenagers or college students, but don’t fall into that trap. Since the millennial generation starts in the early 1980s, that means consumers in their late 20s and early 30s are definitely a significant part of this group.
Guess what? Those consumers are starting families. You need to start thinking about appealing to millennial parents, especially millennial moms who often handle the food budget (although being a stay-at-home dad is becoming more and more an option for millennial men).
The trend of new millennial families is only going to continue in the years to come – as of now, 90% of all new American mothers are millennials. These hip, young parents want to still enjoy cool food, and have their younger children accommodated. You don’t necessarily have to transform yourself into a family restaurant, but making your business a place where these young parents can easily take their kids is crucial.
And at the same time, baby boomers might be largely composed of empty nest parents, but they’re also grandparents now. And like millennials raising families, finding restaurants that will accommodate groups with young kids is important to these grandparents.
Don’t forget luxury and comfort.
Yes, everyone wants to eat healthy. But at the same time, comfort foods have a huge appeal for both millennials and baby boomers. High quality, uptown comfort food brings a level of fun and luxury to the dining experience. They want to be treated to something special, using good ingredients and made with care.
For baby boomers, these kinds of splurges bring a culinary nostalgia and authenticity from their childhood, and as older adults it’s a way to treat themselves with a little indulgence. Regional delicacies can be huge in bringing in those kinds of consumers.
Meanwhile, millennials are more accepting of natural animal fats like butter and lard compared to processed cooking fats. Again, focusing on simple, unprocessed ingredients (even if the dish isn’t necessarily low in calories) can be an enticing element to your menu. Authentic cooking methods and an authentic experience is the key for millennials.
Offer ethnic cuisine that’s new to them.
When it comes to ethnic cuisines, baby boomers and millennials are looking for the kinds of cuisines they’ve never tried before. The average American consumers might be well-versed in Chinese and Japanese fare, but have they tried Korean? Greek food might be a mainstay, but what about the eastern Mediterranean? They’ve tried Mexican food, but have they tried Cuban (beyond the sandwich, of course)?
Baby boomers want to feel like they’re travelling the world, while millennials are looking to experience and understand more cultures through food. But you don’t have to be specifically a Cuban or Korean restaurant to entice these diners.
Consider creating fusion dishes using flavors and ingredients from these different countries. That way, you pull in their interest while still making the food accessible. Kimchi, harissa, piri piri … your options are endless!
And again, none of these trends fit every baby boomer or every millennial. Both groups consist of a multitude of different personalities and points of view. But when you look at the overarching trends between the two age groups, it’s a relief to see that maybe their goals and focus when it comes to dining decisions aren’t so different after all. And with these few adjustments, you can attract both groups to enjoy the great food at your restaurant together.
Need a plan for how to work with your millennial employees?