It’s Per­sonal

Elis­a­beth Rib­bans on mil­len­ni­als and restau­rants

Business Spotlight - - CONTENTS - ELIS­A­BETH RIB­BANS is a Bri­tish jour­nal­ist and ed­i­to­rial con­sul­tant. She is also a for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of The Guardian in Lon­don.

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.

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