When it comes to eating out, Millennials' attitudes and behaviors are often contradictory ... just like older generations, according to a recent study conducted by BBDO Atlanta.
BBDO surveyed 1,000 Millennials about their eating-out habits and attitudes, including their views on 21 of the most popular QSR and fast-casual restaurants. It also probed their general values and beliefs.
Food and eating it with friends and family are integral to Millennials' lifestyle, and nearly 5 out of 10 describe themselves as "foodies."
But they're also major fast-food consumers who frequent leading QSR chains like McDonald's, Subway and Burger King.
In fact, the research found that 60% of Millennial “foodies” eat at fast-food restaurants at least once a week (compared to 48% for adults), and one in four Millennial males eat fast food four times a week or more. (Yet, Millennial men are more critical of the dining experience.)
Health is always top-of-mind among Millennials, and, like older consumers, they often feel conflicted about eating out for this reason. Female Millennials, older Millennials (25-35), married Millennials and Millennials with children all report that they feel guilty if they eat out more than two or three times a week. Those who self-identify as “curvy” say they won’t budge on flavor, but they’re looking for healthier options and checking out the nutrition information on menus.
For Millennials, the food itself is the number-one contributor to restaurant loyalty, and consuming tasty fast food clearly co-exists with their interest in staying on top of current food trends and finding new places with unique flavors and "great atmosphere."
At the same time, 75% say they would pay more for great food at the expense of great service.
Millennials view food as a form of self-expression and entertainment, associating it with personal story-telling. They Instagram what they eat, follow food celebrities on Twitter, and try new places ranging from the trendy to neighborhood "holes-in-the-wall," BBDO notes.
They're also much more influenced by their friends' opinions of a restaurant than by reviews on sites like Yelp. If their friends like it, they’ll go. And If they like it, they’ll share pictures and their own reviews of it.
The contradictions extend into Millennials' views of technology at the table. Fully 88% admit that they check their phones at the dinner table, but 44% say they hate it when others do the same. One in seven Millennials wants free Wi-Fi in restaurants, and about a third of men want to be able to pre-order and pay using their phones.
* The South accounts for the most frequent diners, with 41% of Millennials in this region reporting that they eat out more than four times a week, and one out of five saying they eat at QSRs such as Chick-fil-A and Arby’s.
* Bringing the kids along doesn’t mean compromising on flavor. In fact, 48% of Millennials with kids are looking for places offering unique flavor combinations, versus just 9% of those without kids.
* Asked how their food choices will change over the next five years, Millennials' #1 answer was that they want to be more adventurous about those choices. About a third also want to be able to create their own meals (38% cite the variety on a menu as a loyalty-driver).
* In terms of values and beliefs, 48% of Millennials said that their families define them, and 16% said that their passions do. Honesty ranked highest in what matters most in how they live their lives.
“There's so much written on Millennials; we just wanted to find the gaps," said Rich Santiago, SVP and director of behavioral planning at BBDO Atlanta, who authored the study. "We looked for a big ‘aha,’ but the most interesting part, for us, ended up being the contradictions.”