How to Better Appeal to “Foodie” Millennials

It seems nowadays everyone is a foodie – with the hashtag “foodie” being used over 244 million times on Instagram. It’s not a surprise that restaurants are feeling the pressure to attract more of a foodie generation to their facilities. How do you begin to legitimize your restaurant as a “foodie” establishment in the eyes of Millennials and Gen Z today? We know locally grown menu items and unique foods and spices (Sriracha anyone?), tend to catch their eyes. But there are other ways to “foodie” your Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) – and it doesn’t necessarily require a menu overhaul.

1. A twist on the familiar

Millennials are looking for familiar products that have an element of surprise or added value, so take what you already do and turn it on its head

Millennials and Gen Z are seeking both adventure and comfort rolled up in a convenient package. In response, food service operators are considering twists on the familiar by adding unique ingredients such as rocoto and lime to pasta sauce or dried seaweed to salads. Millennials are looking for familiar products that have an element of surprise or added value, so take what you already do and turn it on its head, such as adding an unusual pizza topping, upscaling a burger by improving the quality of meat, or adding an unusual cheese infused with a hot new spice.

Not only can it drive sales but it can justify a higher price – Millennials are willing to pay more for something if they see value in what they’re getting. The trick here is that you don’t want to stray so far from your offering that customers may find it hard to stomach. If you are a fried chicken and biscuits shop, perhaps selling vegetable-infused yogurt is too far of a stretch, but a cauliflower coleslaw will fit right in. Another highly successful tactic is a mash-up – think Korean BBQ tacos – as long as it’s truly delicious.

Research also suggests that Millennials prefer food options that indicate a specialized product or process. Innova Market Insights noted the use of the word “craft” or “crafted” has increased 248 percent from 2011 to 2015. Not surprisingly, single malt scotches and limited edition products tripled in sales in the past ten years. This indicates a preference for specialized, unique processes – how can your QSR leverage an artisanal process to refresh your brand?

If changing menu items is too big of an ask, simple add-ons, such as the sriracha ketchup packets available at Starbucks, can be added to the list of items available to personalize a meal. New hot toppings like Pinoy BBQ sauce or smoked avocado can help restaurants minimize the risk of making big menu changes while staying ahead of the foodie palate. Keeping it relevant to what your brand does best and adding a twist can be a huge benefit.

2. A beautiful share-worthy experience

With the proliferation of every possible type of fast food shop, how do you stand out? The new trend is to design a beautiful eatery that elevates the entire experience – for example, see these beautiful burger joints from around the world. Considering how attached Millennials are sharing on social media, particularly platforms with a strong visual focus, design elements can boost social media presence as much as a beautiful presentation. Brands like BBtease created an experience within the store that was beautiful, elegant, and instagram worthy. From the swirling distilling areas in the back that customers can watch to the variety of vegetation in the store, BBtease is the definition of a foodie’s paradise.

Image Source: SLD

Even mall food courts are beginning to up their game. But before you run in with a bucket of paint, ensure any new design elements support your brand position clearly and do not detract from its value. For Second Cup, it was all about creating a “neighborhood oasis” experience with the use of comfortable seating and ambiance. Beautiful design is nice but to get real value from any redesign project, ensure the results are solidly connected to your brand position with strategic insight driving the initiative.

3. Food that matters

This trend is a global phenomenon. Consumers’ new ethical perspective, driven by environmental and health concerns, has more restaurants offering organic meats and non-meat protein alternatives than ever before. Kale has been on a tear, growing 43 percent in the past four years, but is now being challenged by other types of superfoods such as moringa, grown in Haiti, and seaweed.

Millennials are also keen on buying from local producers and having a better understanding of where and how these products are grown or raised. Supporting ethical and local food sourcing with product stories that romance the origin of menu items, using key visual touchpoints such as packaging and signage, will drive a message that your QSR understands this is important to your customers. Make sure you put your money where your mouth is – false or misleading claims will backfire. So if you can’t commit to 100 percent organic, be honest about what you CAN do. This trend will continue to grow, with non-GMO expected to become the next demand customers want in their food.

4. A taste of somewhere else

Millennials and Generation Z are the most diverse generations in history. As immigration continues to change the North American population, there is significant growth in the taste of meals from different regions and countries. With the Hispanic population in the U.S. increasing, we can expect to see Latin American offerings dominate, but adventurous offerings such as okonomiyaki, and Japanese savory pancakes will be of interest to foodies, regardless of their ethnicity.

Millennials crave new meal experiences that both complement their sense of discovery and the diversity found in this segment of the population. Restaurants can capitalize on these trends by better understanding their customer demographics and ethnicities within their trading area, and then better reflect the needs and desires of those customers. However, as we mentioned in item no. 1, we are not suggesting you suddenly add poke to the menu of your Szechuan Noodles QSR.

Authenticity is also important to Millennials, so when adding a food item or flavor from another culture, be sure it is going to be regarded by your customers as a legitimate offering, and that it fits into your brand as an exciting, adventurous complement, not an odd distraction. Side dishes, desserts, or toppings are easy ways to integrate global food items with a minimum of risk.

5. Pop goes the QSR

Consider a trend that has been big for fine dining that we think has multiple benefits for QSRs: the pop-up experience. Not only does this allow you to penetrate a great location (where your ideal patrons spend their time) in a timely moment, but it also allows you to experiment with new items you may be considering. This concept also appeals to the sense of adventure Millennials are known for. Especially if linked to a secret menu or other special experience, pop-ups can create a buzz.

While they aren’t necessarily going to make a ton of money, they don’t cost much to set up and can be powerful tools for introducing an entirely new offering. For example, if you have never been open for breakfast but want to penetrate that daypart, a series of pop-ups could test the menu and create a stir before introducing the actual menu into your network. Having a great pop-up concept kit ready to go allows you to easily take advantage of events such as festivals.

The key to making a pop-up work is to understand that offering your regular menu items is not what this is about. It is about creating excitement around your brand and sharing a unique experience with your most coveted patrons. Sending your best staff with a clearly articulated talk track, a delightfully surprising menu and highly desirable, limited availability, branded swag or collectibles will get you the most bang for your buck.

The era of continuity in business is long gone, and the food service industry needs to embrace disruptive changes that are being driven by a void in the marketplace. Exploring how the addition of exotic or unique spices and ingredients can enhance existing offerings can help create excitement and drive visitations. Adding healthier and more ethical ingredients will also fulfill the needs of Millennial foodies who want to eat well, and making it look beautiful will increase your presence on social media. Ultimately for the Millennial foodie, it’s all about the experience and how it can be shared socially with friends and family. Eat up! It’s time for change.