You can't beat progress: How to make the most of the millennial generation

As previous generations before them, the Millenials are redefining dining habits – and operators need to keep up, says consultant Tucker W "Bill" Main FCSI


The Millennial generation and their smart phones are quickly redefining the ‘guest interface’ aspect of foodservice in the casual dining, full service segment.

This was made very clear in a recent story on Distractify, “Restaurant Watches Old Surveillance and Shares Shocking Results On Craigslist”. The restaurant in question discovered that the reason service had slowed down so dramatically in 10 years was because guests were taking so much longer to read the menu, order, eat, pay and leave. And the reason for that was because they were busy using smart phones to photograph the restaurant, the menu, the food and each other!

My reaction is very positive. The guests referenced were acting like ambassadors’ of the restaurant, sending out dozens of “brand impressions.” Half the customers spend three minutes taking pictures of the food? I believe we call that 4 Walls Marketing. For the last 40+ years we have said and believed that the most powerful form of advertising is word-of-mouth. Well, here is a story that is pure and captivating.

This operator should be thrilled that these guests are in his operation, not a competitor’s. Now, I understand the frustration and problems associated with slowing down service and table turns, and maybe even lowering average check. And I would expect the complaints from the servers, who earn their living from tips, since fewer covers = lower tips. However, these are the same servers who earn more per hour, with tips, than the average general manager, so forgive the crocodile tears. But the operator should be thrilled that he (she) has a fully engaged “4 walls marketing machine in action,” and that the likelihood of these guests not only returning but becoming promotional advocates is high. The lifetime value for these types of frequent guests is off the charts.

So, what is the answer to declining customer counts, longer waiting lists, and discontented servers?

1) Calculate and analyse ticket turn time

Very few full-service operations optimise firing time, use of runners and handheld POS, and so forth.

2) Go to one server per four tables

Or, even three (five tables, tops). Then servers have the time to “make the experience” for these guests. Smaller sections always mean higher tips. Most servers don’t believe it, but ask Outback

3) Standardise selling narratives

Develop the correct ‘talking points’ so that servers can keep the guests moving. Rework your service sequence to accommodate these new rituals of Millennials…and all of us, really. When the cell phone became a camera, we all knew we were seeing a paradigm shift. Get over it.

4) Re-engineer the menu

I call it menu optimisation. We know this generation spends less time looking at the menu than previous generations. So, reduce menus by another 20%. If an item does not sell 5% of category, eliminate it or make it a special order. See my article on menu optimisation in the Q3 2014 edition of Foodservice Consultant (Americas) for more detail.

5) Maximise the guest greeting

50% of the dining experience is defined by the first three seconds, so the greeter, host/hostess or maître d’ should be a qualified and savvy floor manager. Greeters need to be engaging, set a tone, subtly establish rules and protocols and realize that success is not how long a party spends in the restaurant—or how much they spend. Success is whether guests come back and become word-of-mouth ambassadors.

In the final analysis, this issue comes down to knowing who your customers are and how to meet their needs. If your customers are not of the smart phone set, then you have already figured out how to serve them. But with 79 million Millennials aged 18-33 in the marketplace, my sense is that eventually you’ll need to improve throughput, service cycle and guest turnover times. Be grateful for the kind of social media /smart phone marketing that article is describing. The Millennials are who they are; better to go with the flow and accept the reality.

And re-read #4 above. I have never met a menu I couldn’t make smaller.

Tucker W. “Bill” Main, FCSI, CSP