Restaurants Taking Orders Again

As recently reported on MediaPost, an industry report showed that younger generations are dining out less frequently, but their Boomer and Silent Generation parents and grandparents are apparently picking up the slack. 

An NPD Group report revealed that Boomers and beyond (called “Mature Traditionalists”) are visiting every segment of the restaurant business more than they did in 2008. Even though total traffic is still lagging behind pre-recession levels, it showed a 1% increase for the 12 months ending September 2012. Not surprisingly, some of that increase is responsible for the recovery of the morning-meal business, which rose 2% during the previous year. 

We always knew the mature market enjoyed going out for breakfast.

For years, smart restaurant owners and marketers have offered promotions to draw in an older crowd such as “early bird” specials, discounts and uncomplicated loyalty programs. But given this new data, the industry needs to offer options that go beyond traditional programs and provide something truly unique – remembering that some things never change. We recently conducted some research of our own, taking focus groups to some popular dining locations. The findings confirmed that, yes, Boomers and seniors still enjoy dining out, but frequency and preferences skew by age.

It’s still social: Older subjects (mostly Silents and older Boomers) reported seldom eating out or making excursions monthly, either because they’re alone, can no longer drive, or are simply cost conscious. For them, it takes a special occasion or a group of friends for them to venture out. But while the younger Boomer subjects also cited social interaction as their main reason for dining out, their frequency is up to three times per week — similar to what they enjoyed while working full time.

Check out the specials: Promotions such as “buy one get one,” gift coupons and loyalty programs resonate well because they’re easy to understand and not conditional. One explanation might be that many Boomers are now “empty-nesters,” so a typical night out would be just for two. Another would be that retirees are simply watching their pennies.

It’s good for you: One theme surfacing is the need for healthy items as well as value items. Their appreciation for food has not changed, but they really enjoy the fact that there are more healthy options available. 

(Don’t) Eat everything on your plate: More than a few expressed concerns about portions being too large for the older appetite. The older group noted that they hated to leave anything unfinished, as they were raised during the Depression, while their younger counterparts believed restaurants offering large portions was contributing to the nation’s obesity issue. 

You really can eat atmosphere: Driving distance is a factor, but Boomers are willing to travel within reason to visit their favorite dining spots. Cleanliness can be a deal breaker, particularly when it comes to dining areas and restrooms. Parking access, likewise, plays a big role. Boomers are also beginning to feel some physical effects of aging in terms of tolerance to noise; one subject described sitting against a wall to help absorb background noise and interference with his hearing aids.

Service with a smile: Attention managers: There is a perception among these groups that staff courtesy is not deemed as important as it had been even a few years ago. They suggest adding some type of “Boomer sensitivity” into training programs.

The review: Boomers are more conscious of high blood pressure, cancer and other conditions, so they’re seeking fresh, safe ingredients and smaller portions. A special menu section promoting heart-healthy items with smaller portion sizescould be appealing and even command a premium.

Family-oriented restaurants could develop “grandparent programs” to bring in older Boomers and their grandkids for an early dinner, with menus featuring both kid-friendly and healthy fare. Childless, late-night diners might enjoy a unique nighttime experience with lower lighting, vintage music, and more comfortable seating.

Boomers are more likely to value staffs that make them feel at home and are knowledgeable about the food and ingredients; even better if waitstaffs are trained to be courteous and can make healthy, appropriate recommendations.

Older diners aren’t comfortable in venues with loud music and large, open spaces where noise carries, nor do they want to be surrounded by noisy groups or families with screaming kids. Restaurants might try arranging layouts to make some areas are more private, or even designated “kid-free.”

Despite being less receptive to digital media than younger consumers, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth investigating, as Boomers account for 30% of all TV viewers and internet, social media, and Twitter users, according to Nielsen.

The industry definitely has an opportunity to capture a larger share of the Boomer market and should review their menus, locations, décor, promotions and service level to cater to them — a group that doesn’t appear to be satisfied with current offerings.

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2 comments about "Restaurants Taking Orders Again".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , February 19, 2013 at 11:20 a.m.
    Huh ? Then again, you live in Harrisburg aka central Pennsylvania. Coke-awhile ?
  2. Shane Swisher from Varsity , February 19, 2013 at 11:32 a.m.
    @Paula- that research was actually conducted in Boulder, CO, not Pennsylvania. Check it out awhile.