When people hear “Millennial”, they cringe (young and old alike). Millennials are often looked at as an uncrackable code of changing desires from a marketing standpoint. Especially in the restaurant and bar industry. Hundreds of online articles list reasons why marketing to the younger generation seems impossible. Selling to Millennials may be completely different than selling to older generations, but it’s not as impossible as some would think. Below is some advice from an (actual) Millennial about (actually) marketing to Millennials.

Millennials Shop via Word of Mouth and Social Media

Millennials have come to distrust general marketing more than any other consumer market before, and would rather get first-hand info from their friends than buy into mass marketing.

We market to each other. When we’re at a place we like, we can check in on Facebook, or post a photo to Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter. Laugh all you like about Millennials Instagramming their food, but it has an impact on your business: it’s free advertising. If a dish is particularly delicious or visually appealing, we will take a picture and tag our location to tell our friends that we’re having a good experience. Our friends see that, and then want to go as well. It lets us share poor experiences as well.

Photos tell more than a written description. Seeing your menu written out is nice, but seeing a photo (or lots of photos) of the food and interior of a restaurant, café, or bar compels us more to actually go to that place.

Events Should Be Posted on Social Media

If you’re hosting an event, or band, or specialty menu, the event should be publicized online. Ideally on the big three: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This will allow customers to quickly find the time, the date, the location, and a description of the event, rather than scrolling through a webpage (or worse, not being able to find it online at all). Take pictures of events and post it on Instagram or Facebook. Seeing people genuinely enjoying themselves at your establishment will make a younger crowd more likely to come in.

If you run food or drink specials, post those online as well.

Everyone Knows Everyone

Something not generally taken into account when selling to Millennials is the way the staff at a restaurant or bar is treated. Lots of Millennials work as servers, hosts, cooks, or bartenders, or we have at least one friend who does. If we know that the staff is not treated well at an establishment, we are less likely to go there.

Think of it as selling to the generations of the early 1900’s, when reputation was based on word of mouth and the integrity of the company.

Make Sure Your Tech is Up-to-Date

Make sure your website is functional to today’s standards. Having a poorly designed landing page with a sideways scan of your menu (or no menu) just won’t cut it anymore. You need to make sure your online presence helps you and doesn’t drive customers away.

Digital changes that will help:
  • Make the switch to credit card machines if you haven’t already. Cash-only may seem like a cost-saving strategy, but not a lot of Millennials carry cash (unless they work in the service industry) and you’re probably driving customers away (older generations included). Offer credit card options, and if you can, offer Apple Pay and Samsung/Android Pay.
  • Make sure your website is up to date and functions well on mobile devices. Most people (not just Millennials) are looking for bars and restaurants on their phone when they’re actively making a decision to go somewhere, especially if they’re out-of-towners. As a bar or restaurant, your website should be easy to use. A customer should be able to know your location, hours, menu, and prices within 30 seconds. It should be easy to tell the basics of your establishment at a glance. If people can’t find that info right away, chances are they will not spend more time looking for it and will simply go somewhere else.
  • Your menu should be online (up to date and with prices) and should be easy to view without having to enlarge or download to look at.
Digital changes that won’t help:
  • QR Codes. QR codes may have their place, but it’s not in marketing. People are unlikely to download a scanning app just for your ad, or take the time to scan it.
  • Getting on social media, then never using it. If your establishment has a Facebook or an Instagram, make sure you use it or lose it. Having bad social media can be worse than not having it at all. Update often: once a week or every other week is fine for a restaurant, café or bar. Make sure your followers know about any events you may have coming up or new beers on tap.
The “Ever-Changing Market”

Millennials tend to steer away from chain restaurants, or restaurants that try to mimic popular chains. We value unique experiences, and because our money goes fast in the current economy, we would rather spend our time and money at a place we will enjoy. We want to have new experiences and enjoy that time with a spouse, friends, or family. This makes Millennials seem like a fickle market, but as long as your business model isn’t stagnant, we will keep coming.

Millennials don’t have much free time to go out (with the average Millennial working 45+ hours a week according to Forbes) and even less free money to spend (the average Millennial is only pulling in $35,592 a year according to SmartAsset). They want the best value for the best price but are willing to pay more for food they believe is quality.

Offering up some (not necessarily all) of the following may boost your rating with Millennials:

  • Craft beers, or local beers/liquor, and craft cocktails. We like buying things with effort and passion put into it. Let your bartender get creative, and let the market guide you on what kinds of beers they want to see. Offer a rotating series of beers on draft, and offer some local selections. People in the 40+ bracket may not pay $10 for a craft beer, but if Millennials like it enough, we will.
  • Locally sourced or Organic ingredients go over well. A lot of Millennials are environmentally and socially active in their communities and want to see their local bars and restaurants doing the same. Networking within your own food community may not be the cheapest option, but will give you a deeper connection to locals.
  • Vegan/Vegetarian/Gluten-Free or Dairy-Free Options. This isn’t always possible depending on what your menu is, but if something happens to be any of these things, make a clear note of it! List those options online so people looking for “Vegetarian restaurants” or “Gluten Free Options” will find you.
  • Student discounts or student ID nights. Offer bar specials a day or two a week for University students if there is a college nearby. Millennials may love variety, but when it comes to a college hangout, they’re dedicated.
Millennials are the new market, and marketing to them is easier than one may think.

Keep these questions in mind:

  • Am I giving people a unique and enjoyable experience?
  • Is the treatment of my staff affecting my Millennial market?
  • Do I have a strong online presence?
  • Am I taking advantage of local ingredients/liquor where I can?
  • Is my website helping or hurting my business?

Millennials want to socialize in bars and restaurants as much as any other generation, but we value other experiences. Talk to your customers in the 18 to 30 bracket, listen to them, and start getting used to seeing people taking selfies with their food in your restaurant.