When it comes to targeting a specific slice of the consumer pie, operators often focus on the much-discussed Millennials or even the younger Generation Z, sure to inherit their laurels as the hot new demographic.
But an oft-overlooked consumer has the potential to be more loyal than a Millennial and more prescient than a trendy teen. New mothers, as well as new fathers, may be a missed opportunity for restaurants, according to the Hartman Group, a consumer research firm.
“They’re kind of an intensified version of everybody else in that they’re looking for better, higher quality food that’s affordable and tastes good … options,” says Helen Lundell, an ethnographic analyst for Hartman. “ They’re going to be more engaged and thoughtful about those things than a lot of other demographics because there’s so much change in their lives. They’re being forced to reevaluate.”
Lundell, who is a new mother herself, recently addressed the topic in Hartman’s newsletter by drawing on both her research background and her personal experience. Not only are new parents more purposeful in making healthy food choices, they are also looking at restaurants from a different angle: one in which they must consider the logistics of dining out in a new way.
Lundell says that retailers seem reluctant to market or even accommodate new parents.
“There don’t really seem to be people actively saying, ‘Hey, you’re a new mom; we can do this for you,’” she says.
Nevertheless, Lundell believes restaurants—both full and limited service—can make small changes to make new parents feel more welcomed. The potential payoff for these modifications could translate to return visits and even lifelong, loyal customers.
For example, new parents who decide to dine in will often take up more space than the average patron given accessories like strollers, carriers, and diaper bags. By simply reassuring these customers that it is all right for them to take up the space, operators can make these customers feel more accommodated, Lundell says.
For fast food or takeout, Lundell says parents have a different set of obstacles to consider.
“In a fast food setting, clearly there are some logistical challenges,” Lundell says. “It’s hard to be hard for mom to get from the desk to table because she doesn’t have as many hands as she normally has; waiting in a long line is going to be difficult if she has a temperamental baby with her [like] a time bomb when you never know it’s going to go off.”
Besides speedy throughput, quick serves can make wait times less stressful with entertainment items. For example, Lundell says pizza places near her home offer kids pizza dough balls to play with.
Lundell says that other operational modifications could include a changing table in the men’s restroom to accommodate fathers and seats that can be used for breastfeeding.
“Let’s just think about what’s going to make life easier for people” Lundell says. She cannot point to more than a handful of establishments that specifically target new mothers and fathers.
San Francisco–based Munchery, which delivers chef-made meals, was founded by new parents who were looking for healthy, convenient meals. Today its most popular gift card is meant for new parents. Gorditos, a healthy Mexican fast casual in Seattle, markets to new parents with its “Baby Burrito”—a dish so big that parents are encouraged to take pictures of the burrito next to their newborn. New York–based biergarten, Black Forest Brooklyn, recently posted a banner that welcomes new mothers to breastfeed at the bar.
Still the majority of operators are not targeting this demographic, but a little effort might have a big ROI in the long run.
“It’s a time when people are not just changing, but forming new habits,” Lundell says. Restaurants that offer healthy foods and make new parents feel welcomed could become a reliable option in the future. “I think that makes a big difference to people just having a fallback—something they can rely on and they can trust moving forward is going to make a difference to how people eat.”
By Nicole Duncan