It was reported recently that popular American brands like TGI Fridays, Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings are facing sales slumps and soon, dozens of restaurant closures.
"Casual-dining restaurants face a uniquely challenging market today," Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith recently wrote in a letter to shareholders.
According to Smith, these sit-down restaurants' struggles can be blamed on the most-frequently besmirched generation: millennials.
"Millennial consumers are more attracted, than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants and eating quickly in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants," Smith wrote.
As a reluctant millennial myself, I can’t say that he is wrong. My Pinterest is filled with recipes, many I have tried with great success and some that have been awarded the coveted ‘Pinterest Fail’.
When it comes to not cooking, there are a slew of services now that will deliver either fresh ingredients to my door, or fresh ready meals ready to heat up.
A new favourite in our house is Deliveroo. Restaurant food to your door; after all who wants to eat fried chicken and Indian all week? But is that really the sole reason that me and mine do not dine out?
Having joined the hospitality industry recently, I found myself trailing through our client list, looking at their websites and updating their details. A tedious job, but out of 100’s of clients I found a number of places I desperately want to eat at.
The reason? The experience.
They all offered something amazingly fantastical that I wanted to take part in, share with my friends and family and most importantly share on my social networks.
As a result of the digital age, people’s need for social experience has become much more pressing. This isn’t new, the importance of experience, it's just the younger generations need to feel and experience everything they interact with.
So what you’re selling is no longer just food, it is the sense of belonging - social interaction, identity, status, escapism - and it is that that will buy into the discovery crowd.
So what can restaurants do to keep their doors open and attract a younger, pickier generation?
Convenience is a huge factor when it comes to choosing where to eat, both when it comes to delivery and speed of service. And casual dining chains are still playing catch-up with regards to delivery.
So here are our top five tips on how you can increase your productivity and appeal to a market where convenience and experience is key.
1. Addressing pain points in the guest experience
A good restaurant should always be mapping out the dining experience to understand where they can add value or solve a problem. If you are not doing this you need to pay attention to the before, during and after, from both a diner and restaurant point of view. The under 35’s are desperate for a more immersive experience, we want to try everything and take beautiful pictures in the process. To some the perfect food picture is tedious and uncouth, but the opportunity you have right here is the perfect word of mouth marketing opportunity.
Paying the bill has always been thought a unique opportunity to add value when people are ready to go. Ask your servers what they do each night during this step of the meal the ask your servers to think about being a diner and think what important to them? How do you add convenience without taking away that last personal touch from the waitstaff?
By offering a service that allowed guests to pay for their meals with their phones - no processing credit cards or keeping guests waiting for the bill, staff can focus on delivering great service and improving the experience instead.
This system is is built close to the ideal, it's seamless and the diner is able to leave and pay on their own terms.
2. Providing platforms to engage with your customers
There are a million ways to connect with your audience now, not all of them social media (although there are only just a few that are more powerful). You can announce new menu items, special promotions, the list is endless for unparalleled branding opportunities.
Instead of relying on traditional press to tell your story, you should be telling your own from the very start in the same spaces your customers do. Define your voice, tone and aesthetic and that will make your concept unique and thus your dining experience.After all, it’s marketing 101 that people don't buy products, they buy people and this is a massive factor when influencing the Millennial generation.
Introduce the team behind the restaurant, celebrate your community and personally thank guests for coming in. That is hospitality at its core.
3. Enable ways to receive immediate feedback from guests
A studies have shown that 60% of diners read reviews “almost always" or "frequently" when booking a table. [Source]
If you think about it, how many products have you bought from Amazon without clicking that little 5 star button, or without explicit consent from a friend that it has worked for them?
Many restaurants struggle to get diners to leave a review, finding most are only spurred by the motivation to tell others of a bad night. Alternatively, why not bring the opportunity for a guest to write about their amazing meal and experience right there at the table, not only is the guest verified but you also know that you are getting real, honest feedback from your customers. That feedback is incredibly valuable, not only will it help you find hidden talent within your team, but also see weaknesses on the menu and identify any other pain points your guests are encountering.
Plus as an added bonus, you can reach out to guests and ask more information about their experience.
4. Run the perfect shift every night
Running the perfect shift is a must. Whenever my partner and I decide we want to eat out, it's usually on the fly. Given our separate schedule it's actually really difficult to plan in advance. We usually book a table an hour in advance and there is nothing more offputting than turning up to a place to eat and nothing being available. Especially if that restaurant doesn't have a booking service we can easily use on our phones.
Making sure you provide an excellent dining experience usually means that you are connected to the wider part of the world. Our plans are usually made on Skype, and one of us will go to one of the million booking websites and see if our place of choice allows us to book a table. Given we are normally at work we can't speak to restaurants on the phone.
It is imperative that you ensure you have the tools you need to optimize your reservation books, seat more guests and overall provide them with better hospitality.
5. Getting the word out and reaching new diners
In this day and age being a restaurant is a competitive business, and it doesn't help that the way millennials interact with industries is changing the rules. Making sure guests are able to find you can be quite the challenge. New technologies and digital strategies are slowly addressing these challenges in new and exciting ways.
Of course, one person's context is different from the next. I may be in work looking for the right place to meet friends in the next half hour, whereas someone else might be trying to coordinate a date later in the week. With all the choices available it is important, particularly on mobile devices to show a digestible list of the most relevant options. Diners don't search for specific restaurants, they search for events, special holidays like Valentine's Day and specific occasions, like business lunches.Creating a promo page matching those searches could show you a 38% incremental lift in seated diners.
So hopefully, these tips have whetted your appetite in bringing in the new generation of food connoisseurs. Speaking as a millennial, I can tell you we love food, we're massive foodies. You just need to ensure you are reaching us and enticing us, the right way. We don’t want to kill you, honest!