Much ado about millennials: An on-the-go generation grows up

What gives with millennials? By now, you know the tropes of this generation like those in it know their Twitter feeds.

Yet as much as folks like to pigeonhole millennial diners (avocado toast, anyone?), perhaps their generalizations aren’t always so spot-on. 

First of all, millennials aren’t who they used to be. They’re getting older—and what they want out of foodservice is changing along with their idea of what makes a fun Friday night. As this group navigates new stations in life, with growing careers and changing priorities and, for many, kids, the interests of those youngest millennials (age 26) can vary widely from their counterparts entering their 40s.

Second, millennials may have not been that #monolithic to begin with.

Through its own research over the years, Parkhurst Dining uncovered that consumers of the millennial and Gen Z variety are not that easy to homogenize. The idea that “they all do this and they all do that” doesn’t truly bear out, says Mark Broadhurst, vice president for the contract management company, which oversees foodservice at about 35 colleges and 35 business and industry outlets.

On the run

But if forced to analyze in broad strokes, a few key themes emerge. Millennial diners are busy, with 39% saying they frequently have no choice but to eat on the go, per Technomic’s recent Generational Consumer Trend Report. Despite that squeeze, they may not be relying on processed items to save them time. Half of millennials said they’d pay more for foods described as fresh, while 42% said the same of scratch-made and natural items.

Around the globe

When it comes to food choices, they take an exploratory approach: 64% of millennials say they enjoy trying new flavors, while 44% would like to see more ethnic options at restaurants, according to Technomic. Older millennials tend to gravitate toward crowd-pleasing cuisines that are also sharable, such as Italian and Mexican, likely influenced by their families.

Tech top of mind

Millennials are the demographic most interested in tech-centric offerings from foodservice, Technomic found, eclipsing even Gen Z. Mobile ordering ranks highly among millennials, with 59% saying they’d be likely to use it, as does online order tracking, with 58% expressing interest.

At Oracle’s new Austin, Texas, office—a corporate live-work campus that caters largely to millennial staff—the dining team found that the addition of self-checkout kiosks actually enhances the level of service it provides, rather than detracts from it.

Despite initial concern over the kiosks, “that [customer] interaction remains huge,” Shon O’Donnell, general manager of the campus’ foodservice, told FoodService Director earlier this year. “Not only has it not taken a back seat, but our staff is actually freed up to interact more because we don’t have to place people at cash registers.”

Photograph: Shutterstock

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