Don’t Forget the Baby Boomers

Don’t Forget the Baby Boomers

By Paul Schlienz

The hospitality industry is abuzz with talk about Millennials – and for good reason. Millennials, born roughly between 1982 and 2000, make up the largest age cohort in the U.S. Naturally, restaurants and hotels will want to cater to their interests, tastes and expectations. They are, after all, the future. But businesses ignore the still formidable Baby Boom generation at their own peril.

Sixty-two percent of all quick service/drive-in restaurant visits during the coming 10 years will be from guests in the 50 or older range, according to research from MRI Research. This translates into an additional 1.4 billion visits by 50-plus consumers in comparison to an increase of merely 875 million among the 18-49 age group.

These people are mostly empty-nesters with disposable income – exactly the kind of consumers with the means and the freedom to dine out and travel.  AARP research on travel trends reports that virtually all Baby Boomers—or 99 percent—will travel in 2017, taking an average of five or more trips throughout the year.

“Yet, this is a group of people who feel neglected,” said Bonnie Riggs, an NPD industry analyst who authored a study on Baby Boomers and their impact on the restaurant industry. “Restaurant operators have not paid enough attention to their wants and needs.”

According to Patricia Lippe Davis, mass media and advertising expert, Boomers really do want quick service to be quick.

“People over 50 are reinventing life’s ‘golden years’ as a time of possibility,” said Davis. “They stay active, exercise, volunteer and travel, all of which lead to needing quick meals that fit into their busy lives.”

Increasingly, the Boomers are demanding healthy eating choices in addition to prioritizing time with their grandchildren.

“Who likes to stop off for lunch more than a kid?” asks Davis. “If the food options are there for Boomers along with Happy Meals, everyone wins. Marketers who can win over grandparents will gain their families, too.”

Riggs’ study for NPD offers many insights into Boomers’ expectations for restaurants. One of the Boomers’ biggest pet peeves is noisy restaurants where they must strain to hear dinner conversation. This is easily remedied by turning down background music and utilizing designs and materials that bring down the ambient noise.

Other ways to win points with Boomers include making menus readable with larger fonts and better lighting, providing comfortable seating and offering frequent diner and discount programs.

And don’t forget to smile when you serve them. “Boomers really want the people serving them to be polite and friendly,” said Riggs.

There is a tendency to overlook Boomers because Millennials and the even younger Generation Z are much more attuned to the most recent hot trends in flavor and food. In contrast, Boomers are no longer early adapters. Neither are they generally as adventurous as the younger age groups. Nevertheless, they are a massive presence in American life with more purchasing power than any other generation. They eat out and travel more than any other demographic. They also tend to choose full-service restaurants more than anyone else.

In other words, the generation that shook the world, in the 1960s, still matters.

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