The 20 years from 1980 to 2000 were those of significant innovation and technical development here in the U.S., driven primarily by our constant pursuit of higher technology and more modern conveniences. It was in this era that we saw home computers become dramatically faster and more sophisticated, microwave ovens become commonplace, and telephones lose their cords. Better, faster, and more productive innovations were signs of the time.
This era also gave birth to the millennial generation—a consumer segment that has recently captured the attention of full-service restaurant operators everywhere because of their appetite to spend on eating out. According to recent research, millennials eat out more often and spend more money doing so than any other generation. In fact, millennials spend 44 percent of their food dollars—over $2,900 annually—on eating out. In addition, 53 percent of them eat out at least once a week, which is 10 percent higher than the general population. However, it’s the 87 percent of millennials that will “splurge on a nice meal, even when money is tight” that makes full-service restaurant operators salivate.
Of course, along with this type of spending power come the spoils. A large number of full-service restaurants have gone to great length to cater to the millennial segment—from changing the menu or the interior design and making food more “instagrammable.” But what restaurant operators need to understand about this segment—aside from their inclination to spend—is their innate desire for speed and efficiency, key characteristics that defined the generation in which they grew up.
Full-service restaurants focused on providing a better, faster, guest controlled experience are appealing to the true DNA of the millennial generation; however, this is a delicate balancing act. A rushed, self-service environment isn’t exactly what most full-service restaurants are looking to achieve and often creates a negative reaction from customers. Restaurant operators need to be smart about the enhancements they make and the efficiencies they create so as to avoid cannibalizing the environment and experience they’ve worked so hard to construct.
Take for example, one of the biggest pain-points for both restaurant operators and their millennial customers—the payment process. This is the age-old dance that we all do with our table server when it’s time to pay the bill. The bill gets dropped off at the table with a smile. “No rush, whenever you’re ready,” your server says. You quickly review the bill, offer up a payment card, and then wait. Eventually, your server is back to retrieve your card and usher it to the POS to process. You continue to wait until your card comes back to the table. Sound familiar? It’s the slow, cumbersome back-and-forth that’s, well, not very millennial-friendly.
With a predisposition for speed and convenience, millennials are demanding a better experience that allows them to assume full control of the speed and method of payment. This type of self-directed, pay-at-the-table technology is just now arriving on the scene for full-service restaurants. It represents a smarter investment not only because it enhances the customer experience, but because it creates efficiencies that strengthen a restaurant’s bottom line. At a time when U.S. restaurant traffic is forecasted to remain flat, this type of technology can allow restaurants to turn tables faster and increase revenue while decreasing costs, while actually enhancing the customer experience, particularly for a key demographic like the millennial generation.