Between news headlines and political gridlock, Latino Americans have lately found themselves at the center of U.S. discourse. Putting aside contentious immigration debates, this growing population already accounts for a major portion of American industry—both as members of the workforce and as consumers.
Of course, lumping all Latinos into a single group can lead to overgeneralizations. Brands should take heed in their pursuit of this demographic, remembering that Mexico and Colombia may share a language, but the countries couldn’t be more different in other aspects.
Who are they?
In the U.S., Hispanic or Latino origin can refer to everything from nationality and lineage to country of birth, per the Census Bureau. This means that first- and second-generation Hispanic Americans are grouped with recently arrived immigrants.
Stateside, certain nationalities are more prevalent than others. Mexican-Americans are far and away the largest group, numbering more than 35 million according to the Pew Research Center. The second and third most ubiquitous groups are Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans, at 5.4 million and 2.2 million, respectively.
Regardless of immigration, these numbers will grow, given the young age of most Latino Americans. Sixty percent are 35 years old or younger. For perspective, those percentages drop to 52 for black Americans, 48 for Asian-Americans, and just 41 for whites.
The ultimate fast-casual fans
Going beyond numbers, Latinos represent a lucrative opportunity for restaurants, specifically limited-service operators. The Hartman Group found that Hispanic Americans are more likely to dine at fast casuals (50 percent) than non-Hispanics (45 percent). While that dynamic reverses for fast food, with a greater portion of non-Hispanics visiting those restaurants (62 percent), more than half the Latino population (59 percent) visit fast-food stores.
Like the general public, these consumers are more likely to indulge when they dine away from home. Per Hartman Group, 59 percent eat less healthy away from home compared to a mere 14 percent who eat healthier when dining out. Twenty-seven percent do not alter the healthfulness of their diet at restaurants.
The importance of family cannot be overstated when it comes to the Latino population. In a 2016 study by market research and analytics firm RealityMine, Hispanic Americans varied from the general population in the company they kept when dining away from home, as well as preferred mealtimes.
Throughout dayparts, they are more likely to dine with family. For fast food specifically, the gap is most marked at lunch and dinner. During the former, about 45 percent of Latinos eat with family, compared with roughly 33 percent of the overall population. For dinner, it’s about 68 percent and 57 percent, respectively.
Mintel research has shown that members of the Hispanic community are 23 percent more likely than the total U.S. population to be cooking enthusiasts. Nevertheless, a greater percentage of them (about a quarter) dine out Sundays—traditionally a day for at-home family meals—than the general population (roughly 18 percent).
Win them over
Create a family-friendly environment. Strong kids-meal options and a welcoming atmosphere can go a long way in attracting the enormous segment of young families.
Get hyper local. A growing number of restaurants are specifying whether their cuisine hails from a certain nation rather than a broad region. Even within a single country, there can be a wide variety of dishes and cooking techniques.
For example, Oaxaca (often considered the culinary mecca of Mexico) serves very different specialties than Mexico City or even the Yucatán Peninsula.
Do not misappropriate. You needn’t be an expert in Latin American culture to bring such customers into your restaurant, but increasing social awareness and consideration have made the stereotypes that once dominated the portrayal of Hispanic Americans not only obsolete, but also, in some cases, offensive.
Put things in context. While the Latino community maintains certain cultural traditions and values, its members are not as different from other Americans as some may suggest. What appeals to white or African-American millennials will probably resonate with young Hispanic Americans, too.