MRM EXCLUSIVE: How to Win Over the Millennial Market

Millennials love chain restaurants. In fact, the latest EquiTrend Report found that they prefer chain and franchise restaurants more than older generations do. Ranking Five Guys as their favorite burger restaurant and Chick-fil-A as No. 1 in the chicken restaurant category, they also included Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Papa John’s as top picks.

For specific brands named by Millennials, this report is great news. Even those that don’t make the list, though, should see a silver lining: The possibility of reaching and capitalizing on this influential group of consumers certainly exists; businesses just need to tailor their marketing in order to do so.

What do Millennials look for and value when choosing to dine at a particular franchise restaurant? It’s a good start to reach this audience by becoming more mobile-centric through programs like mobile check-ins that allow customers to share their locations and restaurants of choice on social media. But businesses can engage this audience only when they learn to emphasize those characteristics that distinguish it.

Target the Millennial Mindset

Millennials crave authentic and empowering content that connects them with others, particularly those in their communities. That’s why a social media platform that focuses on local branding is important. If restaurants can include the names and faces of people Millennials recognize or if they can highlight local events, then they can promote a personal touch. Localized content creates a connection by invoking a sense of trust and loyalty, which are attributes this generation values.

Millennials also tend to be environmentally conscious. They love the farm-to-table process, and 52 percent of organic food shoppers are Millennials who have children. Restaurants that can provide fresh, local ingredients have an advantage in attracting this younger demographic. But even if restaurants can’t offer these sorts of products — because of availability or cost — loyalty programs that reward customers with a free meal after 10 purchases or use a point accumulation system that donates to local organizations cultivate a structure of “giving back.” For instance, Starbucks recently instituted its first corporate bond aimed at sustainability projects, putting $500 million toward its support for sustainable coffee growers and similar efforts. Such concepts are popular with Millennials, as they think of the brands as being both environmentally conscious and community-oriented.

Businesses like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A are successful with Millennials because they already have various reward systems and partnerships in place. More importantly, they cater to Millennials’ day-to-day habits. This generation prefers cooking at home, ordering delivery or dining quickly, and so casual dining chains — which might be perceived as less convenient — are struggling to attract them. Those restaurants becoming more competitive in this space are offering delivery services and faster dining options. For example, The Cheesecake Factory recently announced that it will expand delivery services to half of its U.S. locations through DoorDash. Not surprisingly, The Cheesecake Factory also ranked highest for Millennials’ choice of casual dining.

Win Over the Millennial Market

By recognizing these qualities and implementing them into their marketing strategies, franchise restaurants can start to gain ground with the Millennial market. Here are four tips to help restaurants speak this generation’s language:

1. Give Them a Great Deal

Millennials love a good discount. Money-conscious and often living on a budget, they will most likely try out your restaurant — and hopefully return — if you offer a deal. A good deal will help get them in the door, but the deal has to be more than just a price cut. To attract Millennials, a restaurant has to suggest exclusivity, be emotionally satisfying, and not feel too gimmicky.

Most importantly, target Millennials through text messaging or Facebook and Instagram. Social media will make that discount easier to access and use, and it also will allow your customers to share their experiences with their friends and followers.

2. Cultivate a Culture of Familiarity

This generation is driven by technology, the environment, and socializing. Offering free Wi-Fi at your restaurant, providing happy hour incentives, and incorporating large tables that can be used for gatherings all can help your business attract Millennials. You also might consider updating your aesthetic for this younger generation by incorporating cleaner lines and more modern landscaping.

You can add a technological aspect to the dining experience itself with tablets at each table. Ziosk, which provides the tabletop tech for franchises such as Chili’s and Olive Garden, claims restaurants with the devices installed get more appetizer, dessert, and coffee orders than those without. The tablets can also include pay-to-play games for customers to enjoy while waiting for their meals, helping offset the purchase and installation fees.

3. Offer Luxurious Options and a Unique Experience

Particularly choosy about the foods they eat, Millennials want menu offerings that are simple, easy to understand and contain fresh (or at least healthful-sounding) ingredients. Franchises can take the local, handcrafted feel and infuse it into their offerings. Moreover, Millennials pay as much attention to how their food looks as they do to what’s in it. It’s all connected to social media, where the “Instagramability” of food and the dining experience is a big trend.

When it comes to service, Millennials want food that is prepared and served quickly but feels like a luxury. Millennials also want to feel important and see passion behind their purchases, so customer service should be personalized with a strong attention to detail. This generation loves an experience, so give them one, and make it an experience that they can deeply engage with.

4. Build a More Potent Brand

Whenever possible, work on your brand and positioning. Millennials are conscious of high-quality branding, social media, and website design, which leads them to assume (however incorrectly) that poor technology and branding reflect poor product quality. Because the perception of a company is so important to Millennials, positive reviews and word-of-mouth marketing also help your business build loyalty and long-term engagement.

Making better use of sites like Yelp can help your restaurant not only garner a substantial number of reviews, but it also can let you communicate directly with your customers through responses. That engagement increases brand visibility and marketplace positioning.

Immersing your marketing in this Millennial world takes an awareness of social responsibility, technology, and the overall sensibilities of this generation. Given that Millennials are now the predominant consumer generation, knowing how to court them is an important step in your franchise restaurant’s continued viability.