Incredible Breakfast Trends

Millennials: Taking Over

Millennials will soon inherit the Baby Boomers’ crown as the most important customer group for the foodservice industry. Roughly defined as those aged 18 to 34, the Millennial population is 80 million strong and expected to exceed Boomers in purchasing power by 2018.

Impressive numbers to be sure, but the following data are even more important to foodservice operators:

  • Currently accounting for 22 to 24 percent of restaurant spending, Millennials will represent 40 percent of restaurant purchases by 2020. (National Restaurant Association)
  • In the past seven years, Millennials have cut back annual restaurant visits by 21 percent. (RBC Capital Markets)

The first point is astounding and should be more than a little unsettling to operators. The second one is downright frightening, as the implications relating to the first one are dire.

So who are these people and what do they want from us?

First, this age group appreciates and enjoys food, and sees dining out as an opportunity to socialize with friends and family. 2013 Sterling Rice Group research found Millennials have other very specific attitudes when eating out:

  • They prefer whole foods over processed food.
  • 80 percent want to know more about how their food is grown.
  • Food is seen as an opportunity for exploration ‒ 40 percent order different things every time they visit a restaurant.
  • Customizing food options is seen as a need, not a luxury.
  • They feel that where they eat is a reflection of who they are.

Millennials are still value driven, but their definition of value includes factors other than just cost. They want to know they are getting a quality experience for their investment. According to a recent Nielsen study, Chipotle and Panera are the top two restaurant brands for Millennials. The upscale components, innovative menuing, and commitment to fresh ingredients and sustainability are hallmarks of fast casual operations and fit well with this group’s sense of identity. Items like Panera’s Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl With Roasted Turkey from the chain’s “hidden menu” has roasted all-natural, antibiotic-free turkey, egg whites, warm baby spinach, roasted peppers, and basil pesto, and are made for a Millennial’s sensibility.

Communal tables are also attractive, as are small plates, because they both encourage socializing and sharing. One independent that does it right is Rustico in Arlington, VA. The brunch menu includes small plates of Deep Fried Deviled Eggs; Buttermilk Biscuit Sliders of Italian sausage, eggs and Cheddar; and Sweet Potato Skins stuffed with goat cheese, bacon, eggs and scallions. All are priced by the piece to satisfy one diner or a throng of friends. And if that isn’t enough to get an impromptu party going, the Breakfast Poutine topped with eggs, bacon gravy and cheese curds is a fun way to share with friends or to get to know new ones.

But perhaps stronger than any other single trait is the attitude about the what/when/how of a meal occasion. Millennial meals are not tied to traditional meal times or foods, their preference being to eat whatever, whenever. Midscale operations have served that desire for decades, offering entire menus 24/7. But a growing number of QSR chains are joining in by adding late-night dining offering a blended menu of breakfast and dinner items. Daypart-bending programs like these appeal to this crowd:

  • “McDonald’s After Midnight” makes breakfast items available for 10+ hours each day.
  • Jack-in-the Box’s “Late Night” shareable multi-item meals include the egg-topped Brunch.
  • Steak ‘n Shake’s “Late Night Menu” includes the Steakburger™ Slinger Skillet topped with two fried eggs.

Keeping the day “clockless” can mean having breakfast at 10:00 p.m. or enjoying wake-up burgers. Burger King has added some of its lunch/dinner items to the breakfast menu and there are many examples of egg-topped burgers available throughout the day, including Steak ‘n Shake’s Royale Steakburger® and Red Robin’s Royal Red Robin Burger. There are also many independent operators recognizing an afternoon “breakfast burger’s” attraction to this set. And this doesn’t even begin to cover the restaurants offering eggs as all-day burger toppings, like Fuddrucker’s and Denny’s. All allow indulging a desire for breakfast at night or a burger in the morning ‒ the perfect solution for a hungry Millennial.

Bottom line, Millennial attitudes represent a significant change in the way operators should look at and serve guests. Their priorities of natural food raised in a sustainable way, untied from dayparts and offered in social-friendly settings are reflected in the newest crop of restaurateurs. Twenty-nine year old Jonathan Neman, a founder of Sweetgreen, a 27-unit chain on the mid-Atlantic seaboard says, “It’s a really fun industry in that you get to work with people and you get to work with food, two incredible things. I think you’re going to see more and more educated, young people coming into this industry.”

Both front and back of house, Millennials are the future of your business.


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