While the economy has chugged along at a promising pace with low unemployment and increased consumer spending, restaurants have seen a positive impact in 2018 as consumers choose to spend more on dining out.  But, with the recent stock market volatility, upticks in inflation, declining home sales, growing credit card debt and other economic downturn indicators beginning to percolate, some economists are hinting that another recession could soon be around the corner.

In the restaurant industry, same store sales and traffic are up slightly for November, but the six-month outlook has been stagnant or trending down for the last several months as operators seem more uncertain about the future. Meanwhile, menu price inflation is now outpacing overall inflation, which suggests dining out is becoming more expensive relative to other lifestyle costs. 

But, counteracting this trend is the fact that millennials now spend more on dining out than any other age group, and nearly half spend more on dining out than they’re saving. It seems most would rather spend money on prepared food than spend time preparing it themselves—a habit that could be hard to break, even if money gets tight. Meanwhile, their collective spending power has also surpassed that of the Baby Boomers, establishing Gen Y as a priority demographic for restaurant operators.

That’s why attracting millennials can be a critical strategy for business growth—or frankly for survival if, in fact, things do start to slow down. Figuring out how to do that can be tough, especially for restaurateurs who are perhaps a generation or two removed from Gen Y. Here are some tips for turning your restaurant into a millennial hot spot that can help weather any storm.

  • It’s all about the experience. More than just a hot meal, millennials are seeking an experience that’s unique and exclusive. Many want to cultivate a personal brand that revolves around being a tastemaker—someone their peers look to for the latest in what’s hot and exciting. Creating this experience-based atmosphere can make your establishment stand out. Whether it’s unique décor, live entertainment, game night, a paint-and-sip event or an eclectic menu, offering more than just a meal can turn dining into an experience.
  • Make it ‘Gram-able. The vast majority of millennials use social media, so sharing their adventures has become second nature not only for documenting the moment and memories, but also for showcasing their social scene. Creating Instagram-worthy photo ops—such as a one-of-a-kind entrance, a breathtaking view, unique signage or a recognizable backdrop—turns a visit to your restaurant into a shareable moment and transforms your millennial customers into an army of social marketers.
  • Introduce interactive features. Millennials have grown up surrounded by technology and they expect their dining experience to be high-tech. This generation prefers on-screen ordering at the table or at the counter, but also craves face-to-face interaction with their friends. For example, hosting a weekly trivia game night creates a fun and engaging experience that attracts loyal millennial customers who are looking for an affordable night out.
  • Engage influencers. Internet influencers have brought recognition and notoriety to fashion, makeup and lifestyle brands, and they can do the same for your restaurant. By engaging with local celebrities and influential personalities, inviting them in to share their experience with their social followers, your establishment can leverage that audience to attract new patrons who want to be in the loop on the hottest new trends.
  • Focus on service. While it might sound like millennials value style over substance, they still expect exceptional service. Your staff must be attentive, friendly, welcoming and participatory in the dining experience. Encourage them to volunteer to take photographs, to go above and beyond to make the experience memorable and fun. For millennials, dining out is less about the food and more about the social event, so encourage your staff to foster that atmosphere.
  • Cater to special occasions. If money is tight, dining out becomes an affordable way to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and other milestones. Market your facility for special event celebrations and make sure you have systems in place that make separate checks for large parties simple and efficient. This is a great opportunity to turn a first-time guest into a loyal patron.
  • Update your tech. In order to deliver the experience, service and unique atmosphere that attracts millennials, your managers must have visibility into purchase trends, foot traffic and other customer data so that they can prepare accordingly with ample supplies and appropriate staffing. This may require updating backend systems to modern solutions that provide the insights needed to operate with just-right resources, from perishable ingredients to serving staff. Otherwise, you run the risk of running out of that exclusive special dish that everyone’s been talking about or excessive wait times that turn an amazing experience into an abysmal one. And, worse yet, you can be certain that will get shared on social media, too.

Regardless of where the economy heads in the short or long term, diversifying your audience reach by attracting more millennial customers can be a boom to any restaurant business. After all, those memorable experiences, interactive features and top-notch service will be a draw to patrons of every age bracket. Some things never go out of style, no matter what your age.

As CMO of Compeat, Kristi Turner oversees product marketing strategy, competitive positioning, brand awareness, digital presence, customer retention, lead generation, inside sales, and internal and external communications. With over 27 years of domestic and international strategic business and marketing experience, Kristi has a successful track record for building scalable SaaS revenue growth, empowering employee cultures and customer centric marketing strategies. Kristi holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from University of South Florida. She resides in Atlanta with her husband and two children.
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