Engaging “Generation Y” to Grow Your Restaurant

Generation Y (aka millennials) are expected to outnumber baby boomers sometime this year making them the largest generation in the country. At 73 million strong, it’s vital to know how to reach these 22- to 37-year-olds.

Marketing to millennials should look more like engaging with your friends than traditional advertising. They want entertaining content, fun experiences, and authentic interactions with real people. They’re suspicious of marketing, and if it feels too much like a sales pitch, they won’t respond to it. But there are still ways to reach them! Read on for some helpful tips.

Get Social

You know that “kids these days” are always on their smartphones. But did you know that 95% of Generation Y follows at least one brand on social media? Every additional follower on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is one more person that you can market to directly — without spending a dime.

Luckily for the restaurant industry, food-related content is incredibly popular across social media. High-quality photo and video content are what the people want! So don’t let them down. A DSLR camera is a great tool, but a newer smartphone camera can still do the trick. It never hurts to have some photo editing skills as well to make the colors really pop.

While food content is a great start, also think beyond the plate. Go behind-the-scenes and introduce your followers to the people behind the product. Take a short video of the chef talking about some of his favorite ingredients, or making one of his signature dishes. Introduce your fans to one of your bartenders. Post a photo from your last staff party. Remember, you’re treating your followers like friends. They need to know who you are if they’re going to feel personally connected to your brand.

Engage!

Keep in mind that social media is a platform for two-way communication. It’s not enough to just post a killer video and trust that the rest will happen on its own. Make sure to engage with the people who are reacting to your content. Respond to comments, thank new followers, and follow them back. And when they post their own photos from their time at your establishment, make sure to like and comment.

And don’t forget to check out the analytics! All social media platforms have reports that business pages can access. You’ll be able to learn about activity on your feed, how each post is performing, and gain insight into your audience — who they are, and when they are active on social media. This information will help you determine what content is getting results so you can tailor your posts accordingly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work — it can be. But there are ways to make it easier. Apps like Buffer and Hootsuite let you schedule all of your social media content — pictures, copy, and hashtags — in advance. Then, the software will post to your social accounts for you based on the schedule you set.

You can plan out the whole week’s worth of content at once. Using scheduling software will ensure that social media isn’t forgotten in the hustle and bustle of running your restaurant. Just make sure that you’re checking in and interacting with your followers daily.

Remember — consistency is key. It takes time to build an online community, but with perseverance, you’ll see those follow numbers start to increase.

#experiences

More good news for the restaurant industry — millennials prefer experiences to goods. In fact, all generations are shifting away from buying “stuff” and towards participation in events.

Restaurants already have a leg up, since dining out is an easily accessible experience for many. But let’s go beyond anniversary dinners and birthday parties, shall we? How can you bring the capital e “Experience” to your restaurant and customers?

Bring in a guest chef for a special tasting. Host a beer dinner with a local brewery. Teach a cooking class, culminating in a tasty meal and a glass of wine. Have a seasonal farm-to-table dinner. The key is for it to be unique and one-time-only. You want to throw an event that will create valuable memories — and great pictures for the participants’ social media feeds.

When the time comes to get the word out about your event, your social channels will be invaluable. Make sure to do regular posts leading up to the big day.

But millennials love recommendations from people they trust. So try going a step further by enlisting the help of local micro-influencers — bloggers and social media personalities with follows from 10,000 up to 100,000 people. Find out who your local food bloggers and event curators are, and see if they’d be willing to do a post about your event.

There may be a cost associated with their post, or you may be able to exchange the post for free tickets to the event. But since these influencers have devoted fans who want to know what’s going on around town, it may be worth the cost to get their shout out.

Finally, try to get outside the four walls of your restaurant. Food festivals are an incredibly popular experience with Generation Y. They attract a huge amount of social media engagement, and they get your name and your food in front of people who may be outside your normal demographic. They can be challenging logistically, but the payoff for a successful festival can be well worth it.

Miserly Millennials

Many millennials graduated from college just as the economy was taking a huge downturn. Their careers were stalled right out of the gate, and they’re still feeling the effects over 10 years later. Add student loan debt to the tune of $1.3 trillion, and it’s no wonder Gen Y is incredibly cost-conscious.

This doesn’t mean that you have to destroy your cost of goods in order to keep prices low enough to attract these penny pinchers. But consider offerings that could attract a group that may normally not be able to afford your restaurant.

For example, a very high-end sushi restaurant offers happy hour from 5:00 to 6:30 pm on weekdays. They provide smaller portions of select menu items at reduced prices; $18 appetizers are served as small plates on the happy hour menu for only $9. This deal is routinely included in lists of the best happy hours in town.

These reduced prices give the less affluent an opportunity to try high-end food at a price they can afford while keeping the restaurant’s cost of goods under control. And remember, today’s entry-level marketing assistant is tomorrow’s VP of Marketing — with a lot more disposable income.

Cooking for a Cause

Many millennials participate in causes and social activism regularly. They sign petitions, make donations, and vote with their dollars by boycotting brands that they feel have transgressed. They want to do good.

Give them the opportunity to give back while having fun. Charity events build brand goodwill while also supporting a cause.

Get customers involved by:

  • Hosting a toy or food drive. Offer a small discount off their meal as thanks for their donation.
  • Donating a percentage of sales to a cause that’s important to you.
  • Raffling off a gift basket, prize, or a dinner for two to your restaurant. Sell tickets to customers, and donate the proceeds to a charity.

Local charities are a good choice, as they may be more transparent than huge national organizations. Plus, many people like the idea of keeping their donations in their own communities. Before selecting a charity, do some research on CharityWatch.org to verify their credentials. You can also see how much of their money goes to aid vs. administration.

Let Them Participate

Millennials like to be active participants with the brands they support. They expect companies to engage with them, ask their opinions, and respond to their feedback. So actively encourage that interaction, and watch engagement increase.

Debating between two new menu items? Let your customers vote on it. Adding a cocktail to the menu? Host a naming contest on social media, and give a prize to the winner. Ask people to share the photos they’ve taken at your restaurant, and send a gift card to whoever took your favorite.

Encouraging your followers to get involved will show that you value your customer’s input and build a deeper connection between them and your brand.

They’re Not Getting Any Younger…

With the oldest millennials approaching their late-30s, many of them are now parents. In fact, 40% of millennials have kids. So being kid-friendly can be an important selling point when they’re considering where to go out to eat. Clean high chairs, plastic cups with straws, and a kids menu will all help parents feel comfortable bringing the kiddos.

Include pictures of families and kids on your social media (with the parent’s permission, of course!) to show your followers that their little ones are not only allowed but welcome.

And with both parents sharing childcare duties more evenly than ever before, make sure there is a changing station in every restroom!
At the end of the day, marketing to Generation Y is really about building relationships. Share what excites you, ask them what they think, and give a little back. If you treat your Generation Y customers as pals instead of prospects, you’ll be well on your way to securing a group of loyal and profitable patrons.

Engaging Gen Y

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