Restaurateurs have long tried to woo younger customers, particularly those in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket. But new research shows that it’s actually the baby boomers who are driving sales. According to a study last year by market research firm NPD Group Inc., baby boomers have increased their share of restaurant traffic by 6 percentage points while millennials have decreased their traffic share by the same amount. Working later in life and delaying retirement gives boomers more discretionary income, and some empty nesters may prefer not to cook full meals at home as often.
The boomer generation is adventurous and will try new foods, especially healthy options and menu items that are perceived as a good value, but dining establishments must offer impeccable service to win this crowd over. “Boomers want to feel special — like they are part of a community,” says Cindy Heilman, MS, DTR, author of Hospitality for Boomers: How to Attract Residents, Retain Staff, and Maximize Profitability (Cindy Heilman 2012). “Servers should be trained to greet people with warmth, kindness and generosity.”
Training staff so that they can field questions competently and truly make baby boomers feel welcome should be a priority. “Highly successful restaurants train their staff to make the connection,” says Heilman. “[Boomers] need to feel as if the server or host truly wants them to be there and to feel welcome. Customers should leave in a better mood than when they came in.”
Attract and retain baby boomer clientele by following these best practices:
- Greet baby boomers warmly and seat them in a quieter section away from the kitchen door, service stations or bathrooms.
- Make sure the dining area is adequately lit and keep the noise level low enough to foster conversation. Easy-to-read menus and comfortable seating are must haves.
- Staff should know the menu inside and out and be prepared to answer diners’ questions. Prep staff to field questions about food allergies, dietary restrictions and portion sizes. A confident staff leads to good service and happy diners.
- Offer healthy but tasty menu items. Guests in this age bracket appreciate menus with smaller portion sizes and vegetarian, gluten-free, low-fat and low-sodium options. Be prepared to offer modifications or substitutions to help diners enjoy their meal while meeting health requirements.
- Baby boomers enjoy the classics, but they’re also adventurous and enjoy trying the new spices and flavors in ethnic cuisines.
- Boomers enjoy getting a bargain, but they will pay more for high-quality, local or organic foods. Baby boomers are loyal customers and want to be rewarded for that loyalty. A free glass of wine or complimentary dessert acknowledges that their repeat business is always welcome. Offer deals, coupons or discounts to retain loyal customers and attract new ones.