Young diners sit around a restaurant table.

A negative reputation in the neighborhood can crater a restaurant, but a positive one can keep the doors open for years.

How Restaurants Attract Millenials in 2020: Stand for something

Connect on a personal level with customers by demonstrating you care about employees.

Demographics are shifting, and they’re changing the landscape of restaurant branding. As the Baby Boomer generation grows older, new generations, like millenials and Gen Z, are taking up the mantle as the nation’s largest consumer base. 

Younger consumers don’t evaluate restaurants with the same lens as their older counterparts. While it’s forcing many restaurants to change and adapt, it’s also creating new opportunities for small and mid-sized restaurants to distinguish themselves.

With a larger importance being placed on socially-conscious brands, small restaurants are in a greater position than ever to challenge national brands on the local level.

Attract younger customers

Socially conscious restaurants enjoy positive brand recognition, increased customer loyalty, and higher-caliber employees. According to Kantar’s Purpose 2020 Report, two-thirds of millenial and Gen Z customers express a preference for brands that have a point of view and stand for something. As the baby boomer generation ages, appealing to this sentiment will only become more important.

This is particularly crucial for smaller restaurants that rely on local support. A negative reputation in the neighborhood can crater a restaurant, but a positive one can keep the doors open for years. 

Personal relationships are the new way of talking about marketing beyond ads and promos. It addresses the needs of millennials who are more motivated when they feel inspired, trusting, and aligned with the restaurant’s values. Then they care enough to tell their friends, wear the t-shirt, follow on social media, etc. How many mom-and-pop shops stay in business because their brands connect to their customers?

Don’t fake it

So how do you go about building a socially-conscious brand? The first key is to be authentic. Eighty-six of consumers say that authenticity is a key differentiator when making a purchasing decision. We live in a cynical world, and most consumers can spot a phony brand a mile away. 

Put some time and thought into the positive impact your restaurant can make in the community. Then weave it into your mission statement so it’s fundamental to your brand identity and drives your decisions moving forward. Promote your positive brand across all your marketing channels with specific examples of your restaurant’s impact. They feel authentic and stick in your customers’ minds. 

"It’s worth noting that you can do a lot of the marketing design yourself without being an expert designer. Today's template-driven tools make it fast and easy to find and customize designs for any restaurant marketing purpose, then publish them into the proper channels."

Looking for somewhere to start? Beef up your positive reputation by focusing on these three aspects of your brand: the environmental, the communal, and the personal. 

Be environmentally conscious

Show your customers that you about eco-friendly practices. That could mean shining a spotlight on your organic ingredients, or promoting your commitment to sustainable sourcing. Show you care by supporting local initiatives or providing deals to customer who engage in eco-friendly practices. 

A great example of this at the local level is NW Raw, a juice bar in Ashland, Oregon. Every part of their branding, down to the leaf in their logo, positions them as fresh, natural and eco-friendly. Their Instagram is filled with photos of their products outdoors at parks and on hikes to show a reverence for Mother Nature. They also walk the walk. The Ashland Chamber of Commerce awarded NW Raw the 2019 Green Business of the Year Award. 

Be a pillar of the community

This is especially important at the local level. Consumers want to feel a connection to the businesses they patronize. An active presence in the community can build the type of brand loyalty that keep customers returning to your restaurant over the national chains.

Some evergreen ideas to show you care:

  • Sponsor local youth sports
  • Host communal events like open mics and live shows
  • Incentivize your employees to volunteer with local organizations

Be a restaurant you’d want to work for

Connect on a personal level with your customers by demonstrating that you care about your employees and treat them with respect. Happy employees create a welcoming, upbeat atmosphere that clients pick up on. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a callous attitude towards those who work for you can cost more than a good employee. Position your restaurant as an organization rather than a dictatorship by shining the spotlight on your employees and their hard work via your website and social media. 

A great example of this branding in action is MOD Pizza. They pay more for minimal-wage jobs, and they promise to teach willing employees the skills necessary to attain even better jobs in the future. Their CEO started the company with the mantra “Our product may be pizza, but our purpose is people.” Their social media highlights inspirational stories and gives the employees a voice. It seems to be working. By 2017, MOD had opened 200 stores, and after raising $160 million this year, plans to open over 1000 by 2024.

Be your best restaurant this year

Building a new brand, or refreshing your old one, requires time and commitment. It only takes one day, however, to take the first steps. So why not start building yours today? 

Mark Plumlee is a marketing writer at MustHaveMenus, an online design and marketing tool for restaurants. Trail Blazer fan by day, sleeping dude by night.