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    Don't Forget About Gen X Customers

  • Often nicknamed “the forgotten generation,” operators need to remember this group’s strong spending power and penchant for loyalty-worthy brands

    unsplash/Tom Sodoge
    Gen Xers like to have some control, and customization is high on their list of priorities.

    Millennial-friendly marketing? Check. Gen Z appeal? Check. Attracting Gen X? Wait, who are they again?

    Oftentimes, Gen X is forgotten when it comes to target demographics and consumer research. “It is an average generation and very representative of the total population,” says Susan Schwallie, executive director of food and beverage consumption for the NPD Group in Chicago.

    There are around 65 million Gen Xers in the U.S. today, and while they are the smallest generation, they’re at the peak of their earning power. According to market research company Datassential, they make up 31 percent of total income in the nation, though they comprise only around 25 percent of the population.

    The group is an important one for quick-serve and fast-casual restaurant operators: When members of Gen X go out to eat, 80 percent of the time they’re choosing one of those restaurants, as opposed to full-service operations. Plus, they spend more on food than any other generation, Datassential’s May 2018 “Generations of Change” Gen X report found. Operators ignore these consumers at their own peril.

    The age range of Gen X falls between almost 40 and 54 years old. It’s a group that grew up with brands, and most Gen Xers “gravitate to brands as a reliable habit,” Schwallie says.

    As for what today’s brands need to offer to this demographic, practicality is key. Above all else, Gen X is looking for family-friendly restaurants. Many members of this generation—the first in which women were encouraged to have their own careers—had children later, and still have kids at home. This group is looking for a restaurant “they trust and that’s reliable,” Schwallie says, whereas Gen Z is looking for an experience.

    Gen Xers, she adds, “don’t seek out food for a social experience, but are much more pragmatic.”

    Health is also important. Since the front end of this generation falls around 54 years old, nutrition is becoming more important to them. “It’s a bonus if they can go somewhere and get something that’s beneficial or offers some sort of wellness,” Schwallie says.

    Datassential research finds that these consumers are probably looking to up their fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain consumption and decrease their consumption of high-caloric beverages (energy drinks, alcohol, soda) and indulgent foods. At the same time, though, members of this generation are more set in their ways, having completed much of their culinary exploration in younger years.

    Value is also key. Although most Gen Xers are fairly secure, many are also facing extra financial burdens, such as taking care of aging parents and children at the same time, says market research company Euromonitor. Because of this, they’re cautious in their spending and more likely to be interested in restaurants with reward programs. Especially if they’re feeding a family, Schwallie says, loyalty programs and some decent value are important to them.

    In return, Gen X consumers will be loyal to the restaurants they like best. Datassential reports that they are generally willing to go at least somewhat out of their way for a place they love. In fact, 86 percent of them returned to a favorite restaurant the last time they ate out. Additionally, Datassential reports that almost two-thirds of Gen Xers had a good idea of where they were going to eat out ahead of time, with only the remainder making last-minute decisions.

    This demographic doesn’t self-identify as foodies as often as millennials and Gen Z’s, but they’ll return to a restaurant with food that impresses them. Topping their list of what’s important when dining out is freshness, followed by taste, cleanliness, value, consistent quality, and affordability, Datassential reports.

    Gen Xers also like to have some control, and customization is high on their list of priorities. Build-your-own, all-you-can-eat, self-serve buffets and their ilk are popular, and they also like to order full meal packages that include beverages and desserts for a set price—if building these combos themselves, of course.

    While serving outstanding or gourmet menu items doesn’t necessarily wow Gen X consumers, Datassential reports that technology doesn’t overly impress this generation, either. When it comes to ordering, old-fashioned human contact is important, with 83 percent of these customers preferring to order their food via person rather than kiosk or tablet.

    With a hefty amount of spending power, kids and elderly parents to feed, and a generous reserve of brand loyalty, Gen Xers are a valuable group for brands to consider. This generation might often be forgotten, but it serves operators best to keep them in mind.