Boomers add restaurant occasions while Millennials cut back

Although efforts are being made to shift marketing and menu decisions toward Millennial consumers' preferences, restaurants have experienced a decline in visits from the younger demographic.

According to new research from The NPD Group, restaurant visits from Millennials have dropped steadily throughout the past five years. Conversely, visits from their counterparts in the Baby Boomer and older demographics have increased. Boomers are making more visits to every segment of the restaurant industry than prior to the recession.

Historically, older consumers were less frequent restaurant visitors than those in younger age groups and so received less marketing attention as efforts were made to reach the heaviest buyers, according to the NPD report titled "Boomers and Beyond — Targeting for Success."

The visit rate for older restaurant consumers is now the same as it is for those younger. Boomers and older have increased their share of restaurant traffic by 6 percentage points since 2008, while Millennials have decreased their share of traffic by 6 percentage points.

Restaurant traffic has improved slightly since the Recession (traffic was up 1 percent for year ending September 2012), according to NPD's CREST foodservice market research, although levels remain below those in 2008.

Morning meal visits have completely recovered to pre-Recession levels (up 2 percent for year ending September 2012) — tracing entirely to increased visits by older consumers. This demographic is also providing support for recovery of lost dinner daypart visits. Viewing visits per capita, older boomers are now heavier users (most frequent) of restaurant morning and dinner meals than any other age group.

"A lot of restaurant marketing dollars are aimed at Millennials, but market share capture remains the growth path for restaurant operators, just as it has been for the past five years," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "Gaining market share among population segments increasing in both number and their use of restaurants, like Boomers, eases the struggle. Operators just need to keep in mind that reaching the older customers requires recognizing what it is they want from their restaurant experiences."

According to QSRweb Blogger Barry Klein, a marketing consultant and former marketing executive at McDonald's, restaurant marketers are smart to not ignore the Boomer generation, as these consumers hold 70 percent of U.S. wealth.

"People in this (Boomer) age group are working, spending more time outside the home and definitely cooking fewer meals. They have more disposable income, and spend it on themselves. Restaurant occasions are integral to their lifestyle, no longer unusual or special. Most of them get excited about new restaurants opening in the neighborhood, and are willing to try new tastes offered by their favorite places," Klein wrote. "Those of us who are responsible for marketing or provide marketing counsel for restaurants need to stop and take a hard look at our target audiences. We should be digging into the right media and creating the messages that can reach and influence Boomers."

Read more about restaurant trends.

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