Reaching Millennials to Improve Restaurant Traffic Growth and Loyalty

couple, dining, restaurant, deli case
Today, people have more choices than meal occasions. How do they choose?

Our recent national study on millennials and the dining decision provided some truly insightful takeaways:

  • Genuine customer loyalty and maximizing in-store opportunity are imperative to a brand’s short- and long-term success with this demographic.
  • Growing up with technology always within easy reach, millennials tend to view the world as “me-centric.” They’re accustomed to experiences built for specifically for them. Tweaking your customer interaction and marketing to cater to this mindset can pay big dividends.
  • Given the ever-increasing purchase power of Gen Y, a strong millennial customer base presents not just a challenge, but an exciting opportunity to reverse the no-growth trend. The key is to examine your tactics now, and change them if necessary to get ahead of the curve. Gain their trust and hold on tight.

Do you have your customers’ loyalty? We’re not talking about formalized loyalty programs here, but the genuine support and allegiance of your patrons. In the age of the millennial, loyalty is critical to growth in a no-growth category.

If you’re not sure you have their loyalty yet, consider a few ways you can earn it:

Experience and insights.

This may go without saying, but it’s imperative to provide the optimal experience for customers on every visit and to use every interaction to gain insights – insights you can use to surpass their expectations next time. Make each visit personal and meaningful, and while you’re at it, observe and listen. Watch how they interact with the physical restaurant and the staff, and when they have suggestions or criticisms, take them to heart.

Download the presentation of our national Millennial dinging study: Dining’s L-Shaped Change.

Flexibility

Ask yourself, is the restaurant flexible? Is the staff accommodating? Do you allow customizations to menu items? Will you split the check for large groups? Identify and remove all stopping points for the customer, to make the experience frictionless.

Marketing and operations fluidity

Use each visit to encourage more visits. In-store promotions and creative loyalty programs should be fresh, engaging and create value. Also, consider carefully how your operations and marketing teams are working together. Are they both on the same page? Are front-line personnel aware of promotions so they can inform the customer? Do your marketing plans offer creative ways for employees to deliver meaningful, shareable, frictionless visits? If it’s been a while since you evaluated your marketing tactics, there’s no better time than now.

The early bird gets the millennial

Our research showed that nearly 70% of millennials make the decision to dine at home or dine out in less than six hours. With such a limited timeframe, you must be opportunistic and work to create craving during the decision window. Mind the gap, and make it count.

Showcase your food

Create effective, drool-worthy imagery and entertaining messaging to draw in customers. Is your food indulgent? Embrace it! Show it off with an Instagram post or a tweet. Millennials are in touch with their guilty dining (and social media) pleasures. Don’t just “show the food” – show it off. Nowadays, two taps on Instagram tends to be the currency of the industry.

If your audience doesn’t come to you, go to them

Hit your customer during their decision-making process by utilizing media dayparting and geo-based targeting. Be there when it counts. Take full advantage of the efficiency and flexibility of the same digital tools millennials are already using.

It’s important not to look at Gen Y as an elusive unicorn. Get their attention (and dollars) by capitalizing on loyalty and opportunity. By taking these steps, you can develop high relative awareness for your restaurant. If you build (on) it, they will come.

When A Restaurant’s Brand Story Isn’t as Good as the Real Thing

Four Peaks, Brand Story, Beer, Brewpub, Restaurant, Dining, Experience
Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewery is a fantastic in-person experience, but doesn’t tell that story well.

A unique brand story is a powerful way to connect to customers. Great stories can define the brand and help people understand the role of the products in their life. Brands can struggle to find their story, even to define themselves inside their own organization, so it’s no surprise that many companies don’t have the luxury of a brand or products that translate to customers.

As a brand marketer, I love the challenge of finding that story through an understanding of the customer and their relationship to the brand. We love to take apart products that may seem dull or disconnected on the surface and dig in to find the insights that lead to meaning.

It’s much more frustrating to see a brand that has the building blocks of a great brand story and not telling it effectively. A perfect example is Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewing Co. They make a line of beers that appeals to serious enthusiasts but is also accessible for casual drinkers. Their beers (especially the award-winning Kilt Lifter on draft) was something I was seriously looking forward to when we moved back to Arizona.

They are committed to producing fantastic beer but don’t project that and come across as too serious or snobby. Craft beer can walk the line that wineries do, alienating newcomers. The focus at Four Peaks is on exploring beer in a fun, but not goofy way. They’ve designed their pubs to reflect this same feel. They are open, inviting and built around making trying the beer feel fun. The attitude is reflected in the service at pubs. Asking questions of a bartender or server isn’t intimidating. They welcome the question and provide answers that don’t make you feel uninformed.

The beers themselves reflect that feeling. The flavors aren’t shocking to the palate, trying to capitalize on trends like bitter hoppiness and going overboard. I’ve never tried a Four Peaks beer there that I didn’t like, or that even left me unsure. There are only a few other breweries that are this successful (I’m looking at you, Deschutes). While each beer makes sense in the lineup of taps at a Four Peaks pub, they stand out at other bars too. By tasting the product, you can tell the people at Four Peaks absolutely love creating and sharing beer.

Why then, do they hide this sensibility in their marketing, social and website? They do produce behind the scenes videos and some articles that talk about what they’re doing. Wouldn’t it be great if those pieces had the same feeling of sitting down at a Four Peaks pub?

Their product, the beer, is definitely created with a purpose. The marketing, less so. It feels like they produce clips for YouTube and Facebook posts because they feel that they have to which is a shame because there is so much joy behind the work they do to make their beer.

If you visit their website, they describe each beer in an almost clinical way. For example:

“An English Style stout that’s somewhat bitter, but is smoothed out by serving it with a nitrogen/CO2 blend. The nitrogen is less acidic than CO2, and creates the characteristic cascading small bubble effect and tight head. The addition of flaked oats further rounds out the flavor while creating a velvety smooth mouth-feel. Different from an Irish Stout in its subtle roastiness and subdued dryness, this beer finishes thick, chocolaty, and very creamy.”

These are the answers you’d get from a beer snob. Why is this writing so different from the answers I would get if I asked a Four Peaks employee at the pub? It is so clear that they are missing an opportunity to build a story around each of these beers. They would still be able to incorporate the details that beer lovers might want to know – the specific malts and hops. But wrap it all in the story behind the brew. What inspired them to chase down this recipe and perfect it?

If anything, a brewing brand with pubs and tasting rooms should be the most fertile ground for stories. Pubs are built on trading stories over our pints and making connections. Four Peaks has designed their pubs to be perfect for just that.

This brand is all about the beer, and they have so many stories they could tell. But the messaging they employ obscures that so people have to go into the pub to find that out and appreciate the experience. But in a chicken-and-egg scenario, would I go into the pub if I didn’t already know about their approach? Insiders may overlook their marketing and continue to buy (I know I do), but Four Peaks is missing a huge opportunity to show newcomers the fun and passion behind what they do by being more thoughtful about the way they present their brand story. Here’s to better storytelling in the future.