Millennials: Who Do We Think We Are? Part 4 – Millennials as Employees

Millennials:  Who Do We Think We Are?   Part 4 – Millennials as Employees

Continuing our 5-part series about Millennials, Part 4 focuses on Millennials as Employees.

My goal with this series is to share first-hand information from the Millennial generation that will help restaurateurs and business owners who serve and employ them.  By interviewing a group of Millennials, I came away with expert-worthy commentary and a newfound appreciation for at least some of the quirks that make Millennials a generation unto themselves.

As with most generations before them, hospitality roles are often a Millennial’s first job.  With a significant portion of our country’s overall economy dependent on Millennial employees, your competition needs Millennials as much as you do.

We posed an interesting question to our subject group of Millennials:  “What are some of the challenges to attracting and retaining Millennials as workers?” 

As a business owner, it should come as  no surprise that the person who interviews, hires, trains and manages your employees is critically important to the success — perhaps even the survival — of your company.  When your team includes Millennials, the person who serves as your hiring ambassador is HUGE!

As workers, Millennials proudly profess that they are “very entitled and don’t want to settle for anything less than we can get”.  Whether it’s a higher hourly wage, a signing bonus, or flexible hours/flexible schedule, Millennials readily speak up for what they want/need in order for the job opportunity you have to fit into their lives.  It would seem that once a job offer has been extended and accepted, work life as we all know it would simply pick up and continue on.  But not so fast…

Paradigms & Assumptions

Not surprisingly, the Millennial attitude accompanies them into the work place.  “Whatever is better, we will go after it.”  If you are not a Millennial, that sentence would likely translate as ’more money, more time off, not always getting stuck as the closer’, etc.  The Millennial feedback we received, however, is quite a bit different and offers a glimpse into the ever-changing employment landscape.  “If we have a crappy boss, we leave.  There are so many places to choose from and they all pay pretty much the same rate.  $12 per hour with a great boss vs $12 per hour with a crappy boss makes our decision a no-brainer….we’ll just leave and go somewhere else.”

Another hot button with Millennial employees is when the scope of work that they are asked to do does not mirror the title they hold.  “If the duties of our hired role don’t fit our liking, we leave.”  I asked for an example.  “Well, if we work at a retail store and are given the role of Sales Lead, we should be selling merchandise and giving good customer service – not cleaning light fixtures or mopping floors!  We may be at the bottom of the bottom but we’re above cleaning floors.”

Return on Investment

Our conversation moved on to talk about the issues that are important to Millennial employees.  Financial compensation is obviously important yet Millennials say they want to be shown their value through money which translates as being adequately compensated for what they are being asked to do.  “If I’m going to be running a store, I should be paid to run a store, not $11 an hour.  We are given keys to the store, alarm codes, etc. and we have the responsibility to get the store open on time, run it throughout the day so the owner doesn’t have to be there, and handle customers, employees, no-shows, money, merchandising, etc.  That is not an $11/hour job.”

To Know & Be Known

On the more personal side of employment, Millennials say they want to have a relationship (or be known by) the owner of the company.  Said one Millennial, “I worked for Target for a couple of years and was not known by the Store Manager or the District Manager.”  Millennials inherently know that they are an important part of running a business.  Unfortunately, when the owners of the business or the people running the company don’t even know their name, they don’t feel valued.

“We have ideas about how to make things better for customers, more profitable for the company, or more efficient for the employees.  But when we don’t know, have never met, or don’t have the chance to talk to the owners (or the ‘real’ people in charge vs. just another hourly employee who probably doesn’t care anyway), we can’t help.”

To feel known is one of the most basic human needs.  While time is definitely one of every business owner’s most valuable commodities, it can be a very valuable currency in the eyes of Millennials who often won’t admit that they would like to find a mentor but will often gravitate toward a natural leader who takes a personal and professional interest in them.

With necessity being the mother of invention, business owners are always on the lookout for inexpensive and cost-effective ways to improve their companies.  While not ‘free’, taking time to get to know the people who keep the doors open and the cash registers ringing could offer huge ROI for any business owner.

Millennials:  Changing The Workplace (for the better!)

We wrapped up our conversation talking about how Millennials are changing the workplace.  “We stick up for ourselves,” was mentioned by one and affirmed by others in the group.  “We are showing companies how to treat their employees – because we leave so easily if we are not treated well.”  Said another, “We are raising the bar about how bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees should be treated.  We decide what we will allow.”  Millennials know that jobs are pretty easy to find these days and if one job doesn’t work out, they have options at several other places.

We mentioned earlier about the competition among business owners to attract and retain Millennial employees.  Millennials know this.  “We are challenging employers to come up with things that will make us want to stay,” citing tuition reimbursement as an appealing incentive.  While hourly jobs are allowing Millennials to ‘get by’ today, few see themselves job hopping from hourly job to hourly job over the long haul.  By offering tuition reimbursement, Millennials appreciate the hand up and feel a sense of loyalty to the employer who is helping them today and into the future as well.

As a business owner, there is definitely a fine line when it comes to employing Millennials.  Every policy, rule or decision can be second guessed to keep the tail from wagging the dog.  Millennials are making their way in the employment world as best they can – which is pretty impactful, you have to admit.  While it can easily feel like the ball is completely in their court, the “employees first” expectation that they are redefining has the ability to create a new, better norm for all sides:  employer, employee, and customers.

Food For Thought:  Common ground can almost always be found at the bottom of a coffee cup or maybe over a beer on the other end of a game of beanbag toss.


The Brand Consistency Problem: Policing vs. Promoting

The Brand Consistency Problem:  Policing vs. Promoting


Once upon a time, Pete could do it all.  The year was 2002 and he had just launched Pete’s Bar & Grill in downtown Atlanta. With only 8 employees under his wing, there wasn’t much he didn’t see or do.  Who handled marketing?  That was Pete.  Accounting?  Pete did that too. Design?  Pete was no designer himself, but he oversaw design as well.


In Pete’s mind, he had set himself up for success. He knew his food was really good, that his branding was on-point, and that no one would be able to pass up Tuesday night “Karaoke & Kabobs”.  Pete’s Bar & Grill was his pride and joy, and so long as he was in charge, not one thing was going to mess it up.


But that was back in 2002 – the good ol’ days when Pete could do it all.  Fast forward 15 years to the present. Instead of managing 8 employees at a single location, Pete now managed a small kingdom of 30 franchised locations.  From the outside, it would appear that Pete was living the franchise-owner’s dream.  In reality, Pete had a big problem.

‘Close Enough’ Is Good Enough


When Pete’s Bar & Grill first expanded into the hands of franchisees, everyone was gung ho and had no problem adhering to brand standards and design guidelines. They understood how important it was for the brand to look consistent across every marketing medium so that customers would know without a doubt that they were at the one and only Pete’s Bar & Grill.


But as the success of the brand grew, so did the pressure.  In the hustle and bustle of feeding hungry customers, keeping the bars clean, placing orders, managing inventory, and keeping up with food safety regulations, spending time and energy on the ‘proper’ use of logos and colors seemed less important – especially since sales were going so well at all of their locations.


Rachel, Pete’s corporate designer of six years, began to notice the company’s branding was slipping.  Franchisees were just too busy to dot the ‘I’ of every font choice or cross the ‘t’ of every color option and began throwing together hodge-podge variations of Pete’s Bar & Grill branding just so they could get some semblance of marketing in front of customers.  Rachel tried pushing brand regulations with the franchisees, but the more she persisted, the less his franchisees seemed to care. You could cut the tension with a knife.

Good vs. Great

Now, Pete was a smart man. He’d done the research and knew that the difference between a good brand and a great brand was consistency.  After all, consistency is the cornerstone of franchising and was one of the key reasons that Pete decided to franchise in the first place.  Consistent food, consistent service, a consistent experience, and a consistent ‘look’ is exactly why he chose the franchise model.  Clearly the franchisees were delivering consistent food, service, and a consistent customer experience.  But how could he achieve branding consistency without either policing his franchisees or bogging down his creative team?  That seemed to be the question of the day.


Desperate for a solution, Rachel began to do some research.  She jumped on Youtube and did a search for brand consistency and found a quick two-minute video by Lucidpress that was exactly on point with the growing pains that were happening at Pete’s Bar & Grill.  Rachel couldn’t wait to share her huge find with Pete!  


“Hey Pete… ever heard of Lucidpress?” Rachel greeted him at the office the next morning with a surprisingly hopeful disposition. They sat down and took a look together.

The Evolution of Brand Management

“Wow, Rachel, you are a genius – this is fantastic!”  Pete couldn’t have designed a better solution himself He discovered that Lucidpress is a cloud-based brand management tool that:

  • Streamlines marketing by allowing any franchisee to customize marketing collateral on their own without waiting on the help of a designer.
  • Protects franchisees from going off-brand with custom, lockable templates — that way “close enough” variations are never a possibility
  • Reduces the custom collateral request turnaround process from weeks to minutes.
  • Provides publishing and printing services, delivered right to everyone’s door.


So they gave Lucidpress a try.  Rachel began designing flyer, menu, and business card templates based on Pete’s Bar & Grill brand guidelines.  From there, she locked down the logo, colors, and other branded elements that should never be altered, and then she shared the templates with Pete’s franchisees.  The franchisees loved it and immediately began dropping in the local details for their individual locations.  After all, that was much easier and less time-consuming than the hodge-podge creations they had been doing on their own – and Rachel was now a valued part of Pete’s franchisor support team instead of the adversarial ‘branding police’.  Franchisees were excited to send their finished projects to the printer, to publish them online, and to post them to social media.

Light at The End of The Tunnel

Pete wasn’t fully aware of how well the new solution was working until two months later when he stepped inside the building of his most frequent brand offender.  When he couldn’t tell the difference between his franchisee’s designs and Rachel’s, he knew he had finally struck brand-building gold.

Pete recognized that he — like a lot of other franchisors — had been unintentionally wasting precious time and resources policing brand standards instead of promoting them.  What a relief it was to know that now he could encourage everyone to get back to doing what they do best…build their businesses! 


This article was contributed to the National Franchise Institute by Nick Hatch with Lucidpress  (385) 557-5117

Millennials: Who Do We Think We Are? (Part 3 – Marketing to Millennials)

MILLENNIALS:  Who Do We Think We Are?

Part 3 in a 5-Part Series:  What Restaurateurs & Business Owners Need to Know About Millennials

Marketing to Millennials


In case you live under a rock, let me be the first to tell you that Millennials are addicted to their phones and technology.  With that in mind, it would be logical to think that the best way to market to Millennials is through electronic devices – and you’d be right.  But, what is the best message to craft so that your marketing dollars actually hit their target?  Continuing our series about Millennials, Part 3 focuses on Marketing to Millennials.


Headline:  Attract Other Millennials!

Whether you sell a product (and especially food) or a service (think entertainment-related), one of the best ways to attract Millennials to your establishment is to market to other Millennials.  A candid comment that was shared with me during my Millennial group interview session was that “we (Millennials) don’t want to go to places filled with 40-year-olds” – or, even worse, “our parents”.

Like attracts like and this is especially true with Millennials.  During my interview I asked the group, “What are the most effective ways to engage Millennials?”  It took less than two seconds before I heard, “Engage other Millennials”!  In other words, focus on letting Millennials know who else is going to be there – i.e., their friends and especially attractive members of the opposite sex!).  While online dating continues to be very popular and new dating apps are springing up for every demographic group, Millennials prefer to meet new friends and prospective mates in a social setting.

Meetup-type events that show how many people (and exactly which people) will be at a specific place – perhaps your restaurant – could be a fun campaign.  If radio advertising is part of your marketing budget, switch things up a bit to attract the Millennial crowd.  Your radio spot will plant the ‘Welcome!’ seed and if Millennials behave like, well, Millennials, their social media activity could be the perfect fertilizer.

Happy Hours, Independent Ownership & ‘Your Purpose’:  Millennial Magnets

  • Millennials are big users of happy hour specials, citing ‘value for your dollar’ as a draw.  Said one Millennial, “I would definitely pay $8 for a bucket (which I now know, because I had to ask, is a sandbox bucket with a lot of shots in it and a shovel) but would not pay the normal price of $11 to $13 if I know I can get them cheaper by going during happy hour”.  Despite the fact that Millennials have disposable income that they often choose to spend on food, beverages and social activities, a ‘deal’ allows them to do more eating, drinking and socializing more often.
  • Is your company independently owned?  Millennials like to support non-franchise business owners and they feel especially endeared to them if the owners are Millennials themselves.  I have a feeling that if you are a Millennial franchise owner and your marketing message is properly crafted, your peers will show up in support of your efforts.  Millennials already eat at franchise concepts – quite a bit, in fact – so if they have an added incentive to help one of their own succeed, they’ll be there!
  • While everyone expects companies to make a profit above and beyond their operating costs, Millennials want to know that you – and thus THEY — are part of a bigger purpose.  Again, pulling comments from Part 2 of this series about the animal shelter that offered free adoptions for dogs over 3 years old, your marketing should highlight a cause or purpose which shows Millennials that your company cares about more than simply making money.  Do you sponsor community events?  Do a portion of your sales get donated to a charity?  Does every member of your team log volunteer hours with various organizations?  Tell your company’s story and, better yet, let your Millennial staff help share your ‘why’!

Epic Fail Marketing Message

In talking with my test group of Millennials, the question was, “What are common mistakes restaurants make when trying to reach Millennials?”  Without hesitation, the response was, “When they (restaurants) reach out on social media or in commercials, they use someone who is too far out of my age bracket to be effective (my Mom vs. the cool guy down the street).”  When I asked for a bit more clarification, they mentioned the “wrong (too old) language”.  Ad copy should be written in Millennial-friendly speak not the Queen’s proper English (okay, I’m ad-libbing there – they didn’t actually mention the Queen’s English but you get the idea).

Like It Or Not, Like Attracts Like

Adding to the question above about mistakes that restaurants often make when trying to reach Millennials, another specific comment was, “Being taken care of by a server who is 25 or 45…who am I going to connect with better?”

So what does that have to do with marketing to Millennials?  Well, like attracts like and Millennials generally like each other.  They bond over tattoos and piercings which is often an ice breaker, they listen to the same music, they typically have the same sense of humor, and they speak the same language (“Millennial”).  Keeping these comments in mind as marketing messages are created will help to position your company well with Millennials.

   Attract Other Millennials (“tell us who else will be there”)

+ Value (happy hour/tappas)

+ Your Company’s Higher Purpose (beyond profits/altruism)

+ Tell Your Story (who owns your business)

= Your Winning Marketing Message

Upcoming articles in this series include:

  • Part 4 – Millennials as Employees
  • Part 5 – Millennials as Business Owners

Are YOU Your Company’s Greatest Risk?

Are YOU Your Company’s Greatest Risk?

Steven began his working career some twenty years ago.  Learning business ropes from his father and taking every opportunity to learn from previous bosses and mentors, Steven had a high level of confidence that one day he would own his own company.

Ten years into his career, Steven finally quit working for the man and branched out on his own.  After a slow ramp-up period, things started clipping along and Steven was eventually making money – a profit, even.  In the grand scheme of things, Steven knew that he should probably be surrounding himself with other smart people who could help him make informed decisions about important areas of his company that he wasn’t really all that familiar with.  But ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ are two different things.  Steven ultimately and unwittingly became one of the greatest risks to his own organization.

Steven had heard mention of cyber security.  He thought there was a slight chance that his company could be vulnerable but he also thought he had a better chance of winning the lottery than he did of being hacked and since the lottery was already a several-million-to-one shot, he pushed cyber security thoughts out of his mind.  His naïve beliefs actually blinded him to the realities of how vulnerable his company really was – and at his own hand, no less.

On his way into his office one day, Steven found a jump drive in the parking lot.  He picked it up and after grabbing a cup of morning joe, he plugged the jump drive into his computer to see if he would be able to figure out who it belonged to so he could return it.  Unfortunately, someone didn’t ‘accidentally’ drop the jump drive – it was intentionally left there, seeded with a virus that sent out a beacon to its cyber-criminal owner to transmit where it was plugged in.  The innocent act of simply plugging the jump drive into his computer ultimately bypassed security and provided the criminal with full access to Steven’s company as well as his family’s personal files.  And just like that, Steven became a statistic.

What You Need To Know

The article below discusses factors that impact businesses, business owners, and members of their Board of Directors, and it also discusses areas that may significantly increase cyber risk, potential liability, loss of business and reputation.

It’s safe to say that data breaches are getting worse and we hear about another major breach somewhere around the world almost every week.  For some, breaches have become commonplace, a part of doing business.  If that’s true, I would argue that ignoring the risks rises to the level of negligence.

The level of concern, especially among business owners, is definitely ramping up.  Despite this concern though, far too many CEO, executives and Boards are not taking the risks seriously.

“Optimism Bias” & Complacency

The first factor that adds to your risk is a theory called, “optimism bias.”  Below are some survey questions I frequently use when speaking at conferences:

  1. Do you believe your firm or business will be breached this year?
  2. If yes, is there an 80% or 30% chance of the breach?
  3. Do you believe another firm/company, or, “the other guy,” will be breached this year?
  4. Is there a 30% chance or 80%?

Most surveyed believe they will not be breached or there is a low probability.  Conversely most believe the “other guy” will be breached and there is a very high probability.  Why?  What have you done differently?  Is your security better than Target, Home Depot, NSA, the Pentagon, Lockheed-Martin, your local merchant?
So ask yourself, “Do the standard security practices work better on my network, or do I use magic security practices that no one else is aware of?”  Whether you are the victim of a random drive-by breach or specifically attacked in order to gain mergers and acquisition data on your clients, you are under attack and you will likely fair no better than most.

If you think your security is better, why do you believe that?  Most businesses surveyed believe their security is pretty good, certainly better than their neighbors’, and the chances of suffering a breach are fairly low.  In reality most companies either will be or have already been breached.  Amazingly, a large number of business owners who claim they won’t be breached also had little to do with the implementation of their own security and likely do not truly understand it.

According to the FBI, cyber crime will eclipse terrorism.  In the past, the saying was that “there are only two types of companies:  those that have been hacked and those that will be”.  Sadly, even that is merging into a new category:  those that have been hacked and those that will be again…

Don’t Assume Someone Else Has Taken Care Of It

Passively assuming that someone else, like your outsourced IT company or your in-house IT department, is identifying and addressing the threats and risks is not an adequate form of risk management.  Some IT professionals may be skilled and thus able to serve a dual-role as security and IT professionals, but most are not.  So, the battle begins — that is, the battle for budget.  Your IT guy’s primary focus is likely “uptime” and making sure everyone can access the network.  Security, unfortunately, plays second fiddle. 

In some cases the IT department or outside company doesn’t know the full risk or extent of the vulnerabilities, but this is unlikely.  What is more likely is that they do know but are hesitant to reveal how bad it really is, and how vulnerable your company is, for fear of the impression it will create.  Regardless of the reason(s), the message about how much risk exists gets lost and is never fully conveyed to leadership which is a risk in and of itself.  IT departments and companies are playing with fire when they don’t reveal the true risks and vulnerabilities and then allow the leaders to address them.

Caveat Emptor!

Have you have seen some of the TV ads for anti-virus companies that claim to speed up and protect your computer?  Regardless of their true intent, they imply  that they will make your computer or network 100% secure.  Well, news flash, they don’t and they can’t!  As a CEO, executive, or Board member, if you are given the impression that your network is secure – or if you’re told nothing and therefore assume it is secure – what will your reaction be when you are breached?  You need to know how bad it is, along with the risks and the vulnerabilities in order to evaluate, mitigate and make informed decisions, so go ask!

Convenience v. Security

Technology has been both a blessing and a curse.  Most of us have a love-hate relationship with our computers and mobile devices.  What we love about them is the convenience, but the security, or lack thereof, threatens that convenience and our privacy.  Most people find the security practices tiresome, awkward, and annoying.  For instance, do you password protect your smartphone or mobile device?  Believe it or not, many don’t.  Passwords are annoying though, right?  Many who do use passwords, usually because they are required to, use a very easy password, like 1234.

In 2014 3.1 million Smartphones were stolen.  With no password or an easy password, a hacker or thief who finds or steals your Smart phone or mobile device has full access to all of your social media, email accounts, texts, contacts, etc.  Think about the high volume of data that your firm deals with, creates, receives, transmits, and carries around monthly.  It is all at risk.  You can’t afford to put yourself at risk because you find security rules inconvenient.

Self-Imposed Ignorance

Self-imposed ignorance occurs when the threat or risk is downplayed. Conversely, “optimism bias” may also be a factor here.  When I speak to companies about cyber-security and the need for a risk assessment, far too often I hear:  “I’m not worried, I don’t have anything the hackers want to steal”, “I’m not worried, my business is too small”, or “I’m not worried, our IT guys make us use really good passwords and we have cyber insurance.”  Wow!  That’s like saying; “I will never get in a car accident because I am a great driver” or “I have good insurance.”  Some things you just can’t control. The old saying was: “There are two things you can count on:  death and taxes.”  The new saying includes a third thing:  getting hacked!  It will happen.  In fact it probably already has and you don’t even know it.

What You Can Do:  Tips, Procedures & Techniques

There are many tips, procedures and techniques that you can implement to improve your security, but, in my opinion, the first place to start and the most important is to do a self-risk assessment:

  •      –  Understand the information you collect;
  •      –  How it flows across your network;
  •      –  What devices it resides on;
  •      –  Who has access to it;
  •      –  How it is kept secure, and;
  •      –  Who you are connected to, (e.g. ISP, Cloud provider, other services, etc.)

If an incident occurs or a client asks what you did or are doing to secure data, responding with, “I don’t know, ask my IT guy,” or, “We use really good passwords,” is probably the worst thing you can say.  Statements like that will significantly increase your liability and make you look incompetent about an issue that is foremost on most people’s minds these days.

The point is, take an active role. You need to lead and manage the process.  Don’t just hand it over to someone else like the IT department or an IT guy/gal or company, and forget about it.  Never assume that your security is great, good, or even adequate.  In all likelihood, it’s not.  Security is a process that needs to be continually managed vs. a set-and-forget concept. At any given time you must be able to articulate what you have done to protect data and your company.  Pointing to the IT guy – whether internal or from an outside company – is not a risk management solution or a valid response during an incident response investigation.  Where does your company stand? Are you a basic, progressing or advanced organization?  Take charge, take control, and manage.


This article was contributed to the National Franchise Institute by David Willson who is a retired Army JAG and an attorney.  In addition to having worked at NSA, he helped to establish CYBERCOM and provided policy and legal advice for many cyber operations.  As the owner of Titan Info Security Group, he specializes in risk management and cyber security to help companies and law firms lower the risk of a cyber incident and reduce the potential liability if and when the firm or its vendor is compromised and all of the client information is stolen.  He also provides cyber security awareness training and assists with other unique cyber issues.

If you are seeking resources to assist in your self-assessment, email David Willson for a free “Cyber Self-Assessment” form.

Millennials: Who Do We Think We Are? (Part 2 – Millennials As Consumers)

MILLENNIALS:  Who Do We Think We Are?

Part 2 in a 5-Part Series:  What Restaurateurs & Business Owners Need to Know About Millennials

Millennials as Consumers

Continuing our series about Millennials, Part 2 focuses on Millennials as Consumers.  My goal with this series is to share first-hand information from the Millennial generation that will help restaurateurs and business owners who serve and employ them.  By interviewing a group of Millennials, I came away with expert-worthy commentary and a newfound appreciation for at least some of the quirks that make Millennials a generation unto themselves.  If you are a business owner – and especially a restaurateur – keep reading!

Menu Items & Restaurant Offerings

The Millennial influence on menu items and restaurant offerings continues to evolve.  While it’s unlikely that junk food will ever go completely out of style, Millennials are re-shaping the menus of established brands and they are influencing the menu creation for new concepts.

So what do Millennials expect on a restaurant menu and what do they look for in a restaurant experience?  The headline here is that variety is the spice of life. 

Millennials are looking for a flexible menu that caters to every kind of diet (vegetarian, low-calorie, vegan and gluten-free) which, in large part, is what most restaurants have gravitated toward and are currently offering.  With the majority of Millennials falling in the over-21 crowd, dining options that offer alcohol are an inherent draw.

Millennials say they want ‘familiar but also a bit of a twist to it”, citing tappas as an appealing ‘adult’ option.  “We want to be out with our friends but we don’t always want to pay for a full meal.  We look for places that offer Happy Hour drink specials and less expensive tappas/snacks instead of just appetizers.”

One of the reasons that junk food will never go out of style is simply because it tastes good.  With a shift in recent years toward health-conscious choices, an emphasis has been placed on healthier food that also tastes good.  Millennials say that the quality of ingredients is another draw for them and it is especially appealing if ingredients are sustainably sourced.  Having said that, at the end of the day, no matter how high the quality is or how sustainably sourced the ingredients are, if the taste of the food is only so-so, Millennials will lose interest and will opt to spend their dining dollars elsewhere.

The Dining Experience & Customer Service

While the majority of Millennials ate Happy Meals when they were younger and graduated to fast-casual choices once they were old enough to drive and hang out with friends, today’s preference is casual dining and attentive service.

An employee who provides a relatable guest experience is a huge asset for your establishment.  In particular, the words “pleasant” and “noteworthy” were mentioned as desirable attributes.  Most of us recognize a pleasant shopping or dining experience but what does it take to provide a noteworthy experience?  According to Millennials there are a few key things:

  • Millennials want to be served or helped by people who are “ridiculously like me”:
    • Similar age (“we don’t want to be waited on by our parents”)
    • Similar ‘look’ (clothes, tattoos, piercings)
    • Similar personality, sense of humor, out-goingness
  • Millennials strongly believe that hiring for personality is important:
    • “The person who takes care of us is a deciding factor in whether or not we will come back. If we get a bad server, we may never come back for a second visit even if the food is good because we feel that if one server is bad, the others probably are too.”
  • “Be good at what you do and be helpful”:
    • Restaurants: Don’t just know ABOUT the menu, really KNOW the menu.  “If I ask about something on the menu or ask about a substitution, don’t say “I don’t know”.
    • Retail: “If I ask, ‘Where would I find X?’ we don’t want the answer to be ‘I don’t really know’ (and then not offer to go find out or make the effort to be helpful).
  • Being responsive to customers’ needs vs. joking around among themselves
    • “If I need something, the server should be promptly responsive. If the food comes out but I need sour cream in order to enjoy it, waiting 20 minutes to get it can really ruin the whole meal.  By then, my food will be cold and my friends will be finished.”
    • Say Millennials, it is very off putting “to see servers joking around with each other and screwing up orders.”

Ambience & Must Haves

There are some Millennial-inspired trends affecting the hospitality industry but what’s good today may not be so good tomorrow.  Millennials notice and appreciate ambience.  “Eclectic, vintage, and mismatched vs. matchy-matchy” were specifically mentioned.  “Unique and different” were also added to the list.  When I asked for examples, they cited blow-torched and branded tables.  The most interesting comment was, “It’s hard to say – our trends change so fast!   I would hate to be a restaurant owner today because we have such short attention spans.”

A universal ‘must have’ across all Millennial lines is that every business needs to have very good Wi-Fi and they should have USB ports at almost every table.  Mediocre Wi-Fi for the sake of saying that you have it is immediately noticeable to Millennials.  They know they are impatient.  If they find themselves waiting for technology to respond, their proverbial red pen comes out and your business is likely to receive a failing grade.  Because Millennials hyper communicate, their peers will know that your business is not making the grade.

Dine-In vs. Take-Out or Delivery

For as much as Millennials love to eat out, eating at home has a noticeable appeal.  Millennials will swing by to grab take-out food on their way home or they will opt for delivery, either from restaurants that offers delivery or through third-party delivery services.  The keys to success in the take-out/delivery segment are CONVENIENCE and SPEED!  “We want good meals that we don’t have to prepare ourselves” which again speaks to discerning palates.  When a Millennial stops to pick up take-out food, they want the food to be ready fast.  For restaurants that partner with third-party delivery services, speed is also important because barely warm food will incite the red pen grading system.

Franchise or Chain vs. Independent

It seems to be common knowledge that Millennials value small, local establishments and are willing to pay a premium price.  “$12 for a specialty drink at an upscale place is okay because it was specially made vs. pre-prepared or basic,” is a pointed comment that was shared.  However, I noticed an interesting dichotomy when it comes to dining dollars.  Millennials often say that “90% of the time, a hole in the wall place is better” and “we would rather get quality and prefer to go somewhere ‘different’ versus the tried and true”.  In Denver, Millennials prefer Stella’s coffee shop “because it’s a one-off.  The drinks are amazing and unique versus just like every other place.”

While small, local restaurants may, in theory, be Millennials’ preference, they continue to cast dining dollar votes with franchised concepts – but even then, they are selective.  Fast service and deals are appealing to Millennials, yet they value being different and “don’t want to feel like high schoolers by going to Noodles all the time.”  The reality is that if Millennials go cheap on some occasions, it allows them to splurge more often on the upscale places they prefer. 

Loyalty Programs

Whether your business is an independent or a franchise, loyalty programs can increase your business – but only if they are done the right way.  Millennials agree that loyalty programs are hugely important, yet they will bypass or even jump ship if it’s too complicated or too much of a hassle.

“Qdoba used to be easy but now it’s too much work,” said one Millennial.  Said another, “At Starbucks, your 11th drink is free but only if you use a prepaid debit card.  I don’t want to be forced to replenish a Starbucks debit card so I don’t go to Starbucks as often as I used to.”

Millennials admit they are lazy.  “If we have to give our email address or carry around a card, we’re less likely to do that vs. just having an app on our phone.”  It seems there is a happy medium here:  “I’ll do it if it’s just points and all I have to do is give my phone number but if it’s more complicated than that, I won’t do it”.

As one of the Millennials mentioned earlier in this article, being the owner of a restaurant that serves Millennials is no easy feat.  On the very positive side, there are a LOT of Millennials and they really enjoy eating out – and eating in, as the case may be.  On the flip side, their preferences have nothing to do with a restaurant’s profitability so in their eyes, the sky is the limit in terms of their wants and expectations.  In reality, iron sharpens iron and necessity is often the mother of invention so what was once impossible (a menu that caters to every dietary need) or even highly unlikely (high quality AND reasonably priced) can actually end up creating the next new ‘norm’.  Do you want your restaurant to stay on Millennials’ preferred-dining list?  I’m sure a few complimentary food items and drinks could lead to the best impromptu focus group session you’ve had in a long time!

Stay tuned for future articles in this series

  • Part 3 – Marketing to Millennials
  • Part 4 – Millennials as Employees
  • Part 5 – Millennials as Business Owners