While restaurateurs are frequently advised to aim their marketing campaigns and sales pitches at millennials, they may be missing their biggest target audience if they do. The economy is always shifting, and the preferential customer and the demographic that can make or break a restaurant’s reputation and success changes along with the times. These days, the customers with the biggest spending potential are Baby Boomers, and restaurants must start looking at that generation as a significant source of business.
Baby Boomers to the Rescue
Baby Boomers represent a large portion of the economy and, according to the National Restaurant Association, people 55 and older are the fastest-growing sector of the restaurant industry’s customer base (and work force). Boomers have the largest spending power of all the generations—$2.3 trillion, compared to Gen X’s $125 billion, millennials’ $200 billion, and Gen Z’s $43 billion, according to Technomic’s 2016 Generational Report. Although it’s rarely good to generalize, the thought is that Baby Boomers tend to know what they want in restaurants, and they have the time and money to search for establishments that have what they are looking for.
Who are Baby Boomers?
Traditionally, Baby Boomers are defined as those born between 1945 and 1964 – the years following World War II; however, given the size of that cohort, which spans 20 long years, the generation has been split into Boomers I and II. Boomers I were born between 1945 and 1955 and Boomers II close out the next 10 years of that 20-year span. If you look at the entire Boomer generation, however, the oldest boomers would be in their early 70’s now, while the youngest ones would be approaching the age of 55.
To round out the generational picture, following the Baby Boomers are Generation X (Gen X, born between 1966 and 1976), Generation Y, also referred to as millennials (born 1977-1994), and Generation Z (born 1994 to 2012). Millennials represent the largest demographic since the full 20-year Baby Boomer generation. Gen Y is a savvy and discerning cohort with little brand loyalty, and the typical Gen Y-er is always looking for the next best thing. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, are more quality-oriented, more stable and more loyal… which is why restaurants should explore their preferences and start taking their views into serious consideration.
Boomers Love Eating Out
According to experts, customers aged 55 and older are big spenders in restaurants; they enjoy dining out and they tend to favor familiar brands and local establishments. According to the market research company NPD Group, U.S. Boomers were responsible for 23 billion restaurant visits in 2015, accounting for $172 billion in sales. With this in mind, restaurant owners are beginning to move away from Gen Y appeal – which includes maximizing on every trend as it comes (and goes) – and are starting to return to recognizable, stable branding to attract the older customer.
How to Cater to Baby Boomers
Boomers are mostly empty-nesters with disposable income, which means they have the financial means and the freedom to dine out. They also have their specific needs and preferences, and to embrace this important group of potential diners restaurant owners should be aware of the following:
Low Noise and Plenty of Light
Baby Boomers like to focus on conversation, so background music should be kept at a low level. In addition, candles don’t cut it with this demographic; they need stronger lighting in order to read the menu and enjoy their food. In that same vein, menus should be highly readable, with larger fonts and easy-to-see colors and designs. And while you’re at it, ensure that the seating is comfortable and user-friendly.
Focus on Service
Although it should go without saying that service is important in a restaurant, Baby Boomers in particular appreciate polite and friendly customer service. They also view dining out as a form of entertainment, so you should look for ways to make the dining experience interesting and fun. This doesn’t mean a violinist roaming from table to table; rather, a novel twist, such as an open kitchen, could make a difference.
Less is More
There’s no need to load the menu with big portions and over-sized plates; as people get older they actually need less food, and they tend to enjoy smaller meals and more modest portions. In addition, highlight the fact that your menu is heart healthy, as health-conscious Boomers are looking for low-fat, well-balanced meals. Shift the focus to freshly prepared foods with healthy cooking styles, like broiling and grilling, and plenty of vegetable-based options.
Another opportunity to cater to the Boomer market is to offer smaller or shared plates. A small portion lends itself to experimentation and offering shared plates is a way to get customers with particular tastes to try something new. In addition, smaller portions are less expensive, so if diners want to try a dish that is different from what they usually order, the lower price and the fact that dishes are shared can make them more likely to take a gastronomic risk.
Everyone Loves a Bargain
Boomers like to be rewarded for their loyalty, which is where frequent-diner programs come in. Offer coupons and discounts, along with combo meals and daily specials, which will attract this demographic.
The Family-Centric Boomer
Today’s Boomers are grandparents who are involved in their grandchildren’s lives and enjoy spending time with them. Along with school activities and sporting events, these grandparents enjoy taking their grandchildren out to eat and restaurants should be ready to cater to the youngsters – with their focus on fast, easy food – along with their grandparents, who for the most part, value healthier options.
Speaking of Value…
Although reports say that Baby Boomers have the most spending power among all the generations, value is still important to them. According to a recent Technomic report, 63% of boomers say value is a significant factor when choosing a restaurant, while 55% say that low prices are important. If their favorite dish is also priced right, they may continue to return to your restaurant to order the same thing over and over again. Keep in mind, as well, that Boomers, perhaps more than other diners, are looking for consistency along with value, and they will notice as soon as portion size changes or prices rise.
Don’t Overlook Technology
Contrary to popular belief, Baby Boomers are not averse to using social media and technology, although they may use them differently than younger generations. While Instagramming attractive dishes is a “thing” for Gen Z-ers (and a great way to draw business for restaurant owners), Boomers are more likely to look at a restaurant’s Facebook page or website to peruse new and interesting offerings. For that reason, it’s important to maintain a strong presence across these networks to lure the more tech-savvy boomers.
Convenience is important to Baby Boomers, and ordering food for takeout is popular with this demographic. A recent report states that close to 40% of all restaurant orders made by Boomers are for takeout (rather than for dining in or having food delivered). Therefore, if restaurants are looking to reach Boomers, online menus should be easy to navigate and always up to date. According to Technomic’s Generational report, “57% of Boomers say they look up restaurant menus online via a computer, while 35% say they do so via a cell phone/smartphone—compared to just 22% who do so on restaurants’ mobile apps.” So while restaurants should keep using their app for other types of diners, they should focus on website menus to maintain online ordering traffic by Baby Boomers.
Appeal to Boomers to Boost Your Bottom Line
We’ve established here that Baby Boomers are a huge demographic with plenty of disposable income and time to dine out frequently. While Boomers have different needs and preferences than younger diners, there’s good reason for restaurant owners to target their business and take their preferences into consideration. Design a menu with both new and familiar flavors, offer shareable and smaller plates, and create a comfortable and inviting dining environment. In addition, developing strong loyalty programs, focusing on customer service, and keeping online menus up-to-date, are all great strategies to keep Boomers coming back to your restaurant.