Elisabeth Ribbans on millennials and restaurants
Napoleon called Britain a “nation of shopkeepers”, but 200 years on, and with high streets in decline, it would be more accurate to say we’re a nation of foodies. Recent decades have seen a boom in restaurants, with quantity (an estimated 4,000 new openings in the past four years), quality and choice like never before. Among European cities, London is second only to Paris for Michelin stars. Cookery programmes dominate TV, just as books about food top the bestseller lists.
However, the boom is looking increasingly like a bust. This year, many “casual dining” chains have been forced to downscale, including those owned by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. London’s City AM newspaper recently reported pre-tax profits at the UK’S top 100 restaurants down by 80 per cent to £37 million (€42 million) from £194 million a year ago.
Oversupply, the economy and jitters over Brexit are factors, but for those hoping to survive in the mid-market, no demographic is being more keenly targeted here and elsewhere than millennials. They eat out more, they’re more demanding than previous generations and, according to Deloitte, will “[shape] the future landscape of the restaurant industry”.
So, here are some key things to know about catering for the 18- to-35-year-olds. First, they care passionately about where food comes from, one sign of which is that there are now 3.5 million vegans in the UK, compared to 150,000 a decade ago. Millennials are driving this trend and menus are changing fast.
Just don’t try to discuss the menu. Automated service is in; talking to waiters is out. “This age group much prefer to order remotely from their table,” says a friend in the business. “They don’t want the formality of a conversation, so we’re providing at-table technology for them.”
Talking of clicks, Instagram is the new word of mouth. Millennials rely greatly on recommendations by friends on social media. Restaurant group Zizzi found that 18- to 35-year-olds spend a total of five days a year browsing food pictures on Instagram.
Not that it always leads to a reservation. The popularity of delivery services such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats attests to millennials’ craving for restaurant food at home. It’s a trend that puts at risk the main business of restaurants, and is leading to “dark kitchens”, premises where restaurants combine resources to cook simply for delivery rather than for eat-in customers.
Perhaps the biggest shock is that ten per cent of US millennials never leave a tip, according to a recent survey for Creditcards.com. This is astonishing, especially when I recall my 30-something brother being chased down the street by an angry waitress in Boston because he didn’t tip her after she spilled lunch in his baby daughter’s lap. Funny to think that that baby girl is now a millennial, and today she has, in a good way, a whole industry chasing her.