15 Things Millennials Look For In a Restaurant

Millennials and RestaurantsYou got to get ‘em while they’re young.

The often-fickle, job-hopping Millennial generation is no less frenetic with their choices in restaurants as they are in their choices in careers. So getting them to try your restaurant isn’t hard, but getting them to come back might be.

And as a recent Forbes article showed, Millennials have over $200 billion in buying power, and will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. The point is, attracting this picky generation as loyal customers now, before the stubbornness of old age sets in, is crucial.

So how do you do it? Here are 15 things Millennials look for in a restaurant.

A Social Conscience

That same Forbes study said that 75% of Millennials expect a company to give back to society. We’re not saying you need to go all Ben and Jerry’s and donate proceeds from everything you do to charity. But even small stuff like selecting one menu item whose proceeds go to charity, or sourcing from local farms whenever possible shows Millennials you care about more than the bottom line.

Free Wi-Fi

In “the generation of the entrepreneur,” people are using everything now as a mobile office. And that includes your restaurant. Sure, you’ll get the occasional person who orders a refillable Diet Coke at your restaurant and proceeds to work on their laptop for hours, but it’ll be dwarfed by the business you’ll attract by having convenient Wi-Fi connectivity for all your guests.

A Creative Menu

You don’t necessarily have to put unheard-of combinations of ingredients on your menu. But you do need to use more interesting vocabulary in how you describe things. So instead of a “Burger with cheese, tomato, onion and mustard,” describe it as “flame-broiled beef chuck/sirloin blend with fresh American cheese, local tomatoes and onions, and Dijon mustard.”

Quality Ingredients

Millennials by and large have shown they’re willing to pay for quality ingredients. So if you are describing your menu with the verbiage above, make sure that’s the true story. Put organic veggies and hormone/antibiotic free meats on your menu, and stress the origins so Millennials know they’re buying local.

A Ridiculous Food Item

Look around the Internet.  Sure, people are health conscious, but an equal amount of coverage is going to stuff like the Beer Keg Bacon Burger Pizza. Gimmicky? Of course it’s gimmicky, but publicity is publicity and if you’ve got something outrageous, Millennials will take notice.

Rewards Programs

Because Millennials are still price conscious, a good rewards program that’s easily digitally integrated will keep them coming back. Offering extra rewards for sharing your loyalty program with friends earns extra points, as millennials love nothing better than a bonus for helping others out.

Small Plates

This doesn’t mean you should only offer up tiny portions of expensive food like so many trendy restaurants have done. It means that Millennials see dining out as a social experience, and like to try different foods. So the old model of massive entrees for one person are out, and the smaller plates with individual bites for the whole table are in.


You know why every fast-casual joint with franchising aspirations calls themselves “The Chipotle of Whatever?” Because that model works. Millennials love creativity, and nothing is more creative than being able to craft your own food. Chains like Counter Burger and Blaze Pizza have successfully banked on this, adding literally millions of combinations of proteins, veggies, cheeses and sauces to their own creations so Millennials can be fully involved in the culinary process. Keep a close eye on food trends to consider for your restaurant.

Social media hashtags

The quickest way to make sure your Millennial customers are promoting your restaurant on social media is by making it easy for them. Put your Twitter, Instagram and other social media handles clearly on every menu, along with any creative hashtags you might want to include.

Check-In Deals

Getting $5 off your check for pressing one button on Foursquare is about the quickest $5 you can make. These check-in promos can bring Millennials in and, more importantly, keep them coming back. Adapt your promotions and marketing campaigns to appeal to Millennials or you may get left behind.

Low Price Points

Yes, despite their penchant for quality ingredients, free Wi-Fi, and a fully-customizable menu, Millennials still want things to be cheap. Kids these days, right? But it’s on you to figure out how to price your menu so that the price points will be appealing. Hence the rise of the fast-casual chain.


It’s pretty much marketing 101, but words like “artisanal,” “hand crafted,” “home-made” and “locally sourced” make everything on your menu sound better. And even though they’re pretty tough to define, they’re the kind of terms that have been shown to drive Millennials in the door.

Camera-Ready Food

The rise of technology has literally allowed us to share anything with anyone in the world at any given time. And what do most people choose to share? A picture of their lunch. But only if it looks good with an Instagram filter. So while presentation has always been important, you may want to take some shots yourself when preparing dishes to make sure they’re the kind of thing that’ll get at least, like, 50 likes.

Global Flavors

The beauty of America is that we draw from cultures all over the world to make some of the greatest innovations in the history of the planet. And food is no exception. Millennials value diversity more than any previous generation, and even if your restaurant is a niche for one cuisine, you still might want to take some hints from other cuisines to create a more interesting menu for short-attention-spanned Millennials.

A Brand Story

For better or for worse, to Millennials a restaurant isn’t just a place to eat. It’s like a friend you go and visit. And who wants a boring friend? Even if you’re a former club DJ who’s decided his life’s passion is making donuts (like Mojo Donuts in Pembroke Pines, Florida), let your customers know that. Your brand distinguishes your restaurant from its competitors, so make brand building a priority and a strength of your business. The more they have to say about your restaurant, the more they’ll talk about it to their friends, and the more they will drive people to eat with you.

You want your restaurant to stay ahead of your competition, right? Well, keeping the preferences of the next generation of customers in mind is a great place to start. Depending on the type of restaurant business you run, some of these ideas may be a better fit than others. The most important thing is to show that you understand your customers and cater to their wants and needs. If you can do that, then the Millennials that visit your restaurant will eat, drink and be merry.

Image courtesy of iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.