TDn2K, one of the most reliable sources of restaurant industry analytical data and insight, reported that in the first three quarters of last year restaurants saw a decline of 3% in customer traffic. TDn2K also found that only 34% of restaurant operators they surveyed had a positive outlook about their businesses.
Some industry analysts attribute the drop in chain restaurant sales to the changing tastes of millennials, who favor local restaurant concepts that offer dishes with more sophisticated taste profiles.
To compete in today's changing restaurant business, you have to do a better job of catering to millennials, who eat out a lot, but have different expectations for the restaurants they frequent than other age groups.
You've already heard that to attract this demographic, you will need to offer taste profiles that appeal to their more sophisticated taste palettes. But that's not where you have the best chance of winning, because independent restaurants will usually win on interesting tastes. But there are some areas where your chain restaurant can compete and win.
For instance, millennials aren't willing to wait for their food to be served, so chain restaurants make sense for them. Millennials also don't have as much disposable income to spend at restaurants, so they are looking for healthy food at a good price point. Cater to them by reserving a section of your menu for GFC meals (Good, Fast and Cheap). They also like foods they can eat with their hands, so make sure you've got recipes they don't require a knife and fork to eat.
Another way you can make their experience with your chain restaurant more convenient is to offer a mobile app. Chick-fil-A introduced a mobile app recently, and within three days of launching it, it became the number one app in the Apple App Store, partly because millennials are looking for easier ways to order.
Starbucks has a very successful mobile app that is popular with millennials because it combines a loyalty program, mobile ordering, mobile payments and even sending gifts to others. Last year they reported that a quarter of all their in-store sales were made through their mobile app.
Social media is another platform that chain restaurants can use to appeal to millennials. The size and effectiveness of your social media footprint can increase or decrease your restaurant sales to this demographic. Cheesecake Factory has over a half million followers on Instagram, and is constantly uploading new pictures and videos. When Taco Bell sent handwritten notes and wedding rings to their most loyal social media followers, it got them serious attention in the press, and helped drive more sales at their restaurants. Despite its controversial ending, Starbucks also received a lot of mentions, and increased sales, on social media with its “They Way I See It” campaign.
Last but not least, the use of technology can be a game changer with millennials. Touchscreen food ordering, and using tablets to seat your guests quicker are just two examples of how chain restaurants are using technology to appeal to younger guests.