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Millennial Dining Trends: What Have You Noticed?

I attended a food industry discussion panel tonight, not as an industry professional but as a curious food blogger who works in the tech industry. The topic:

Cracking the Code on Millennial Dining.

Some takeaways were that, compared to older generations, millennials value:

Personal relationships over celebrity status
Newness over brand name cachet
Access over monetary gifts
Time over money
Customization over everything else

How have you seen millennial trends affect restaurant in your area? Positives? Negatives? In SF, we've seen an uptick in:
-"secret" everything: menu items, cocktails, rooms, entire clubs
-mix n' match dining: lounges attached to restaurants
-mix-use spaces: coffee bars that turn into restaurants that turn into clubs
-apps for everything: bill pay, bill split, reservations, "nearby and open"

Detailed post on the panel and a few more photos here: http://www.chezpei.com/2014/06/cracki...

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  1. Yes, an app for everything. Now there's one for menus:


    1. Only thing I am aware of is loudness, catering to people who are more on devices than actually conversing continuously with one another.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Karl S

        But never making eye contact.

      2. I've noticed young folk (and sadly, people my age) think it's acceptable to yap or text while placing an order, or even dealing with a retail clerk in general. Also youngn's who are out to eat, on a date, whatever, and will place their phone next to their plate...and fiddle with it, instead of their companion

        7 Replies
        1. re: BiscuitBoy

          >>and fiddle with it, instead of their companion<<

          I was distracted by Freud on the violin.

          1. re: Kris in Beijing

            HA! Or Nero. I typed it fast without thinking...change one letter and still has the same connotation in my conext

            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              Fiddling with your companion--the adult version of the Happy Meal. :)

                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                      Hmmm, I don't suppose you're kris from exo?

          2. Interesting.

            I see the same things in the business environment with employees. As a boomer, it is a tough adjustment.....but adjust we all must do!

            1. The funniest part about this to me is that a generation so aware and leery of being "marketed to" would participate in helping the marketers. I'm kinda disappointed.

              I would've thought the best approach would be a restaurant with enough "fuck you" in it to randomly morph - near constant reinvention. Oh, and definitely no traditional advertising or announced focus groups.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MGZ

                There have been a few chefs competing on Chopped in the last 2-3 years who have essentially been doing this-- shop their markets each day, write a new menu each day.

              2. Small plates, loud spaces, no reservations.

                  1. re: LeoLioness

                    Wow. Ain't that the truth?
                    ....and, IMO, thank goodness for that!

                    1. re: sedimental

                      I'm less of a fan.

                      On the one hand, I am glad that there is a range of really thoughtful, wonderful food and corresponding bar programs with a strong emphasis on service in unexpected places, like the neighborhood bar.

                      On the other, I like formality. I certainly understand that a restaurant may have trouble filling seats on say, a Tuesday at the kind of place where a jacket and tie is recommended. On the other, it's sort of dismaying to me that everything is so casual, to the point where you're celebrating a special occasion and the couple next to you looked like they were out gardening but decided to come in for a $300 dinner instead.

                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        it's sort of dismaying to me that everything is so casual, to the point where you're celebrating a special occasion and the couple next to you looked like they were out gardening but decided to come in for a $300 dinner instead.


                        This is so me, I am sorry - I probably was out gardening and yes, I do know there is paint in my hair thank you. ;)

                    2. re: LeoLioness

                      That'd be great by me. EMP in jeans and a tee shirt. I'm there. The shirt might be older than the kids at the next table though.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        Circa 1987 still wearing it with pride. Picture via Myrtle Beach two weeks ago.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          More like cougars! grrrrrrrrrrr !!!!

                          (lmao, I'm sorry but I crack myself up)

                          1. re: jrvedivici

                            That should be an inspiration for the millennials to see how a healthy diet and clean livin' will help preserve one's girlish figure.

                            Seriously though, I'd love to see fine restaurants have to shed some pretentiousness in order to appeal to younger diners. I mean, jackets are to keep warm and the necktie ain't nothing but the parsley garnish covering the empty spot on the plate.

                            1. re: jrvedivici

                              I had to laugh at this one. A millennial dining trend. My thought's exactly.

                            2. re: MGZ

                              one thing i've noticed lately (not dining at a "jacket and tie required" place but at least the kind of place where my husband feels he should have his big-boy pants on): the 20-something girls will have on the long dresses, the big jewelry, the full makeup. the guys accompanying them will have on the shorts, the tees and (grr) the baseball caps.
                              i guess the trend is to wear whatever makes you happy even if you are over- or under-dressed in regards to your dining companion.

                              1. re: rudysmom

                                "[T]he 20-something girls will have on the long dresses, the big jewelry, the full makeup. the guys accompanying them will have on the shorts, the tees and (grr) the baseball caps."

                                Warms my heart to know that I could still fit in.

                            1. re: jpc8015

                              I'm sorry to say it, but I think that's becoming the defining characteristic of my Gen X contemporaries.

                              1. re: MGZ

                                It's not just the Gen X or Millennials - Americans in general seem to have all kinds of food issues now. I really noticed it last summer when I hiked across France & Spain. In France, I met mostly Europeans, but no Americans. The Europeans (and Asians and Africans) ate & drank everything that was put in front of them with no comments other than how good it was. Once I got to a certain part of Spain, I encountered quite a lot of Americans. Almost every one of them, from 19 to 60+, announced at every meal that they didn't eat this or that. It was really quite striking how no one was like this except the Americans.

                                1. re: tarheelexpat

                                  Yup, this.

                                  When I started in the industry 20+ years ago, it wasn't Gluten Free, it was coeliac disease, and we knew what it meant, and it was serious.
                                  Now, it's a trend,and I even get guests give me a smug little smile when they mention how they are Gluten Free. I wish I could just say "oh, so bread makes you fart?"

                                  Another case is when I have been functions manager and we are serving alternate drop menu. Not choice, we place beef and chicken alternately at the table, and diners are welcome to swap amongst themselves.
                                  "Oh, but I'm allergic to chicken!"
                                  Me: "wow, you're the twenty second person in this room with the same, unheard of allergy!"

                            2. Mother of a Millennial.

                              She likes to play in the kitchen and eat stuff she cannot find commercially.

                              1. +1 on Customization, which bleeds in to Specialization.

                                As in, a MM will pay an exorbitant price to get the best version of that "thing" that is valuable to the individual, but will value-budget-discount hunt for everything else.
                                See: eTsy and

                                Marketers of cars have found this -- a "luxury car" may have both too many bells and whistles and simultaneously not enough, if that one sought lux attribute is absent. http://bit.ly/n3wc2r4MM

                                I also think "authenticity" is valued, which can be an element of all the OP's list: Personal relationships, Newness, Access, and Time.

                                PS -- these desires aren't "wrong" or "Kids these days," but rather a reflection of the abilities of the market as a whole.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                  "[T]hese desires aren't "wrong" or "Kids these days," but rather a reflection of the abilities of the market as a whole."

                                  I agree. As suggested, I also think that there are those outside of the target generation that share certain of these inclinations and would find benefit in a progression.

                                2. Casual - none of this black tie formal waiter stuff. "I don't wear a suit to work I am not going to put one on to go to dinner"

                                  Sourced - breweries, fisheries, farms - everything has a name, a story - provides opportunity for fetishistic knowledge and informed choice." I am really feeling some Rohde Island Oysters and a Brooklyn Lager right now"

                                  Crafted - both in décor and cuisine seeing the hand in the work is important - "this was made here, by us, for you, with real stuff"

                                  Variety - Chicken fingers and nachos are not on bar menus around here any more - now its lamb tacos and duck prosciutto BLTs and the menus change frequently not the same stuff from week to week - have to keep it fresh "I loved the vegan banh-mi at the local pub but I am really excited to try the watermelon gazpacho they have on this week"

                                  Unorthodox - things need not be combined in traditional manner - Korean tacos, curried mussels, Asian and BBQ on the same menu, its all good as long as it tastes good "Ill have two falafel tacos and a side of corn on the cob"

                                  13 Replies
                                    1. re: kattyeyes

                                      yes, that episode made such waves because it took that ethos to an extreme, funnily. Not a millennial but I do fall victim to this - I am more likely to pay $$$$ for something from a named farm in Lancaster and am a total sucker for the meet the vintner wine tastings and email editorials my wine shop puts out, I know my preferred breweries :( total foodie fashion victim here.

                                      1. re: JTPhilly

                                        Nah, you just know what you like (I do, too). Nothing wrong with that.

                                    2. re: JTPhilly

                                      >>everything has a name, a story - provides opportunity for fetishistic knowledge and informed choice.<<

                                      The "micronization" of knowledge-- every piece of general knowledge can be verified on a phone in a couple of minutes, so arcane details and subtle differences are much more important.

                                      "Who wants to be a millionaire"-style "Call A Friend" to solve a bar dispute? Obsolete.

                                      1. re: JTPhilly

                                        I think you hit on some of the biggest trends in Millennial dining.

                                        In addition I'd throw in a special love for comfort food like fried chicken, barbecue, macaroni and cheese, etc. Many Millennials were significantly impacted by the recession and the comfort food trend in 2008 seems to have been wholly adopted by Millennials. Moreover I think most restauranteurs will agree that Millennials are more concerned with perceived value than previous generations. This is not to say that Millennials have abandoned fine dining, but they are paying much closer attention to what a $198 tasting menu at Le Bernardin gets you versus the $195 20-course degustation at Atera.

                                        1. re: JungMann

                                          very true on comfort foods hence the immense popularity and brilliant marketing of Federal Donuts http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/din...

                                          1. re: JungMann

                                            JM, apparently some millennials are doing much better financially than my 26 and 24 year old sons. They both have college degrees, one's in the Navy, the other's a teacher, they both are talented home cooks, and I can't imagine either of them having the disposable income to afford a $198 tasting menu, or even choosing to spend their money that way.

                                            1. re: kitchengardengal

                                              "I can't imagine either of them having the disposable income to afford a $198 tasting menu, or even choosing to spend their money that way."

                                              Plenty do and more are now than ever before.

                                              This made me smile, remembering a time, almost twenty years ago, when I was fresh out of law school and lucky enough to land a job that came with a low, five-digit signing bonus. Practical thoughts of repaying my mountainous student loans, establishing credit, or saving to buy a house never crossed my mind. I wanted to eat at the kind of places I saw on "Great Chefs" and drink the best wines I could pronounce the names of.

                                              At about your kids' present ages, me and my (now) wife went to such a place in Philadelphia. Armed with the zeal of hunger, new clothes, and a pocket full of cash (I didn't even have a credit card), I excitedly bounded to the stand and recited my name.

                                              The Maitre d' smiled back without glancing down, "Certainly. Should we wait for your parents?"

                                              That doesn't really happen anymore - or there would've been no point to the panel discussion the OP attended.

                                              1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                I think there's some parallel things going on where some Millennials may have more "disposable" income for high-end restaurants, iPhones etc because they are less interested in previous generation items like cars. In my own city, real estate is also so out of control that I can actually understand why a 20-something may no longer feel that saving a few hundred dollars a month is really going to change their circumstances much. So why not spend that money on a dinner you can then Instagram to all your friends?

                                                1. re: julesrules

                                                  One of the things that seems to be a trend, and a complete challenge to marketers, is that MM will "break the bank" for their one or two speciality interests, but be completely frugal in other, perhaps intricately related areas.
                                                  Made up example -> has to have linen napkins, but will eat at the couch using plastic ware, With that napkin.

                                                  1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                    Linen napkins are quite frugal. I have my (Irish) grandmother's from 100 years ago - they improve with use. They absorb better than most paper or cotton napkins, and do everything better (including no pilling on your clothing).

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      I'm talking exclusively about what MM are purchasing these days, and the high/low nature of what they value.

                                            2. re: JTPhilly

                                              I've been tempted by the "sourced" technique since my first visit to Japan fourteen years ago.

                                              Oysters from Itsukushima!

                                              Green tea from Shizuoka!

                                              Berkshire pork from Kagoshima!

                                              All of that and more from places I'd never heard of before my first visit.

                                              Yet, my fondness for geography, food, languages, and eventually a unique appreciation for Japanese marketing, all contributed to keeping my wallet svelte...


                                            3. «Personal relationships over celebrity status»

                                              I've a silly little Twitter account I don't use much, but a couple of days ago I got a notice that someone new was following me. I looked at the profile, and the person is a budding actor.

                                              The next day I noticed that he'd added another *800* people to his following list. When I did a search on his name, there were a flood of tweets thanking him for the follow, as if his (very minor) celebrity status had been conveyed upon them, too.

                                              Digging deeper into it, I've come to see that there are apps one can use to flood Twitter with follows to raise your profile and generate followers in return.

                                              These poor folks seemed rather oblivious that they'd been followed by bot software, and this minor celebrity has no interest in their tweets. He only has an interest in what they can do for him in return. (After all, who could keep up with tweets from nearly 10,000 people?)

                                              I hope not all millennials are similarly duped with these faux 'personal relationships'. People can't be that gullible, can they?

                                              3 Replies
                                                1. re: RelishPDX

                                                  <People can't be that gullible, can they?>

                                                  Oh my, Yes they can! For every skeptic out there, for very cynic, there are twice as many clueless yet trusting souls in the fields for the wolves to devour.

                                                  1. re: mcsheridan

                                                    Well it only took 48 hours for the follow/unfollow trick to go full cycle. I've now been unfollowed, and a whole new batch of people are sending out tweets thanking Minor Celebrity for their automated follow. SMH

                                                    LOL, I was just thinking, perhaps I should send out a "thanks for the unfollow" tweet.

                                                2. I took this "How Millennial are You?" test on behalf of my sons.


                                                  Neither of them scored into the Millennial range - both live more like Baby Boomers do, though they're 24 and 26 years old. One big difference in my boys and the average 20something is that they steadfastly refuse to use social media of any sort. It took years to get them convinced they should get smart phones. Coupla Luddites. (who also just happen to know everything about computers, gaming, networking, hacking, etc)

                                                  Neither of them talks funny like the examples in the article, neither would care if he could get into a "named" chef's restaurant.
                                                  They know good food, and know how to cook it themselves. It's pretty hard to impress them with expensive restaurant fare. It will be interesting to see if that changes when they have their college loans paid off and have a little more cash to throw around.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                    I took that test and got an 85. So does that make me young at heart?

                                                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                        You reach that conclusion just because I have an online profile and know how to text and a tat? I think of myself a libertarian. Oh, and I don't watch TV which seems to be a pretty good indicator of age group. On political stuff, I'm a very free markets kind of guy.

                                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                                          Fun test...Not you per se, but the questions. Online profiles - I have to go back and check/play with the results, but I believe young folk are LESS likely to mess with FB, etc, whereas the GenX'rs are. I could think of better questions such as:
                                                          -Can you drive an automobile with a standard transmission
                                                          -Have you ever watched a full episode of spongebob or barney
                                                          -Do you own CDs
                                                          -At a coffee shop do you order coffee (or an overly sweetened flavored thingy)
                                                          -Do you have any trophies that say, "participant"
                                                          -Do you own a camera

                                                    1. All of the items listed are about exploiting dining as a method of affecting a trendy personal brand to be telegraphed via social media. I hate to throw marketing jargon around like that but I don't know how else to say it.

                                                      Newness, access, secret things: they're all popular now because never before have you been able to so rapidly publish to everyone you know that you are doing something unique and special that others are excluded from, therefore making you better than them.

                                                      The funny thing is they don't really like "newness", "access", or "secret" things, when they are not able to be involved. If it is too much of a secret, and requires actual "access" then it's considered gauche, and the people involved are hand-waived off as too haughty and worthy of mockery.