Millennial Marketing and Dining: Tips from QSR and Fast Casual Brands

Posted by: Cherryh Butler

Although restaurant sales are expected to reach a record high of $683 billion in 2014, the numbers are less robust for casual dining. According to the NRA, casual dining with only a 0.2% increase in sales in 2014 and this is the third year in a row the sector is seeing growth under 1%.

The growth projection for limited-service restaurants, on the other hand, is a 2.1% increase. In order for the casual dining sector to climb back to the top of the food chain, it will have to learn a thing or two from the QSRs and fast casuals that are winning with consumers. Specifically, the ones that have the attention of the 80 million Millennial consumers. Gen Y has more expendable income and desire to dine out than any other prior generation. However, gaining Millennials’ attention also comes with a demand for higher quality food, memorable experiences and the ability to co-create with their favorite restaurants.

Millennials don’t want to just eat a meal; they want every meal to be an experience; they want to participate. Millennials, whose traits include adventurous, tech-savvy and highly social behaviors, will always show more love and loyalty to brands that provide them with memorable experiences. The most successful brands treat their customers like a spouse. Similar with what can happen in a long-term marriage, it’s possible for consumers to fall out of love with a brand when they become bored. It’s the brand’s job to keep enticing its beloved Millennial consumer, as the future looks bright with this cohort.


Source: Bera Brand Management 

While brand value used to equate functional and emotional benefits divided by price, Millennails have created a Participation Economy, which has led to a new definition of brand value:

Brand Value = Emotional benefits + Functional benefits + Participative Benefits / Price.

BrandStand (1)

Brands that win with Millennials fall within the high-participation/high-shareworthy section of the above graph.

Participation is co-creation of products and services, customer journeys that start before the meal and often end after they occasion, and marketing. Brands that have high participation are brands invite Millennials into each one of these processes. When we dissect the meaning of highly shareworthy, it is not just about creating easily shared content; it is about creating shareworthy experiences that will add to the Millennials story and/or life. Many of the most loved brands – Starbucks, Chipotle, Krispy Kreme – create surprise and delight by being high participation and high shareworthy at the core.

Other reasons Millennials are choosing limited-service over casual dining include:

  1. Innovative menu options
  2. Fast, convenient service often paired with useful technology
  3. Better overall value. Customers save money on tipping, get faster service and often have better food choices, so Millennials often limited service brands has having a be better overall value for their time, money and flavor adventure.
  4. Increased transparency regarding sustainability and food sourcing.

Casual dining brands wanting to reclaim their authority in the restaurant space should follow these 5 rules:

1. Create affordable food and appetizer flavor adventures:
Qdoba Mexican Grill, for example, is spicing up its menu with a Mango Mojo sauce for some of its entrees. The sauce features sweet mangos infused with the spice of chili peppers.

2. Introduce alcohol drink innovation that’s shareable in the social space: BD’s Mongolian Grill, for example, recently launched a summer drink menu that features common drinks but with an Asian twist to connect the customer back to the brand. Instead of a Moscow Mule, the brand is serving the Mongo Mule, made with Prairie Cucumber Vodka, Finest Call Lime Sour and ginger syrup. Another option is the Asian Pear Cooler with Grey Goose La Poire Vodka, Finest Call Sangria Mix, Finest Call Lime Sour and lemon-lime soda. Both make great photo opportunities for social media.

 Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 2.15.13 PM3. Build peer affirmation that connects your physical restaurant and the social space: Dairy Queen, last summer, ran a three-month social media campaign that invited fans to post pictures of themselves eating food or ice cream at DQ in order to win coupons.

4. Give your secret recipes away on Pinterest because more consumers will enjoy them in your restaurants than make them without you: Chipotle takes this a step further and pins recipes it doesn’t serve in the restaurant but thinks its customers will like. Selections include Chilled Avocado and Mint Soup, Grilled Capon with Salsa Verde and flank steak fajitas.

5. Integrate technology into the customer journey: Starbucks mobile app is a great example of connecting with the customer via technology. It not only entices the customer to pay via mobile app with freebies, it also gives them with free songs and games and shows them where their nearest stores are located.

Photo Credit: Bera Brand Management & Flickr via Justin Brown.

About Cherryh Butler

Before joining Barkley this year, Cherryh spent her career as a journalist writing for a variety of publications, including American Fitness magazine, The Kansas City Star and Her 4-year-old son makes her a "Millennial...See Cherryh's full bio.