By Sean Beckner, CEO of Front Flip
Sure, Millennials can be high maintenance when it comes to the food on their plate. They have a passion for locally grown and raised, fresh, organic and perhaps gluten free.
But that's just one piece of the puzzle.
When Millennials make a decision to spend their hard-earned dollars at their favorite restaurant, they are looking for an experience. According to a recent New York Times article, it's not breakfast, lunch or dinner but a "food event."
But despite being a tough crowd to win over, the generation born between 1977 and 2000 has been called, "the largest and most influential generation of consumers ever" by Jeff Fromm, Barkley EVP and author of Marketing to Millennials.
At 80 million strong, Millennials are a coveted generation for fast casual restaurants, who are bending over backwards to make their brands more relevant.
While Baby Boomers may want to be fussed over by a constant stream of servers, Millennials want technology to eliminate the fuss, said Fromm.
"Useful is the new cool," he told me. Millennials want to use digital, social and mobile technology when they go out to eat. That's what makes dining fun."
One way to do that is by offering them mobile rewards. But don't make a Millennial wait 10 visits to "earn it." They want instant gratification. It's part of their DNA.
Your ambience can also make or break your food event. Millennials want to "plug in," socialize with friends, take an Instagram photo or 20, maybe even listen to a couple of tunes on Spotify.
Restaurants are taking note—introducing more stylish furniture, flat screens, and incorporating pieces from local artists. It's all in an effort to create a lounge-like environment and provide plenty of "eye candy" for Millennials to capture on their mobile phones.
According to an informal survey of my Millennial staff, interaction with smartphone apps will easily eat up about 40 percent of their dining experience.
The next point I want to make is probably the most critical piece of the Millennial dining event. Can you offer them a memorable experience?
In a recent chat with Anthony Gianino, senior director of Marketing for KBP Foods, he told me that, "Millenials expect an experience. They want far more than food as fuel. They expect to interact with a brand in a fun way on their mobile phone."
Take your loyalty program; if you can introduce a mobile platform that feels more like a game than a chore, that's when the younger demographic will truly engage.
Just imagine a group of 20-somethings smiling, snapping photos and tweeting about your loyalty program. Now imagine your managers and staff getting in on the action, giving fist bumps to customers after they win a prize through your loyalty program.
Now, that's a memorable experience.
Alan Rust, owner of Twisted Fresh restaurants, said Millennials make up nearly half of his customer base.
"The reasons for attracting this group are endless," he told me recently. Millennials advertise for you and are constantly communicating with large groups of friends through social media, he said.
That's why Alan does all he can to cater to the Millennial crowd.
"The minute you step foot in my restaurant, you feel an energy, a feeling of excitement. That's what Millennials want."
So what happens when Millennials are having a good time at your restaurant? They tell their friends. Not once but several times throughout the meal. Each and every one of them will likely do one or more of the following: Tweet, Instagram, Vine, Snap Chat or Facebook. They'll talk about the food, the architecture in the restaurant, and you better believe they'll mention any discounts or freebies they win through your loyalty program.
Millennials have a generous side that can truly benefit your business. Give them a discount to your restaurant, and if you let them, they will quickly share it with friends. Why? Because they enjoy making recommendations and being known in their group as a trendsetter.
Plus, Millennials love to dine in groups. If one of the diners has a discount, going out for a meal is a no brainer.
Restaurants that really want to seal the deal with Millennials will keep the experience going long after the meal is done. Don't just feed them information on Facebook and Twitter. Offer them a fun, exciting experience that drives them back to your locations.
Millennials love to broadcast their lives to friends and family. Give them the food event they're looking for, and your restaurant will not only make a cameo but become a star of their show.