Are restaurants ignoring a key demographic?

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Walking around London, it’s easy to get swept up in the latest food trends. Bars and restaurants are practically screaming at millennials to try their charcoal iced coffee, matcha cocktail and organic vegan menus. And while it’s inspiring to see the food industry embracing change and focusing on healthier options, are restaurants ignoring a key demographic?

A recent study suggests that millennials are slowing down when it comes to dining out, and that businesses are on track to lose a significant amount of money if predictions materialise. Meanwhile, the over 50s are muscling in on the market. However, as the restaurant industry is ever-evolving (largely thanks to open-minded millennials) can businesses work towards appeasing both demographics?

A shift in dining habits

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The NPD Group has predicted that ‘eat-out’, or ‘out-of-home’ visits among 25 to 34-year olds in Britain’s foodservice industry will decrease from 20% to 18% of total visits by 2022, equivalent to 155 million fewer annual visits and a potential loss in annual spend of £800m, according to Casual Dining Magazine.

The solution to the problem? NPD Group says restaurants should be targeting the over 50s. As the fastest-growing demographic, the over 50s will account for more than 70% of growth in the UK’s population between now and 2022. According to the organisation, many over 50s are wealthier, more active and more experimental when eating out than previous generations, and the total out-of-home visits among those over 50s could increase by more than 4% by 2022 – some 130 million visits.

“Foodservice operators seeking growth in the next five years should be aware that business coming from the 25 to 34 age band, which includes many ‘millennials’, is likely to drop,” said Cyril Lavenant, Foodservice Director UK at the NPD Group. “The 25 to 34s are also facing higher living costs than ever, especially in housing and childcare, and this is promoting them to cut back on foodservice purchases. Operators and suppliers will have to work hard to determine what could bring the 25s to 34s back to the market.

“But now is also the right time to think more about the needs of the over 50s. There are huge differences in levels of fitness, mobility and prosperity as people move beyond 50 and into their 60s and 70s. But this is still a big opportunity for the foodservice industry.”

It is worth remembering, however, that it won’t be long until the over 50s carry millennial trends into the next demographic. The term ‘millennial’ is applied to anyone born between 1981 and 2000, meaning some millennials are already approaching their 40s. As the demographic shifts, many qualities attributed to millennials, such as experimenting with new foods and embracing trends, will be carried over into consumers’ later years.

Big spenders

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The report shows that over 50s have more disposable income. This age group tends to spend more at restaurants and, due to the approaching crossover from millennial to middle age, today’s over 50s are likely to be more open minded when it comes to trying something new. NPD Group predicts that not only will the over 50s account for more visits to restaurants, they are already the biggest spenders. The 50 to 64 age group has the highest average bill at full-service restaurants, followed closely by the over 65s. The company also predicts that the over 50s will drive more than half of the expected 14% rise in weekend dining by 2022, and eventually account for 29% of weekend visits.

Catering to the over 50s

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NPD Group’s research shows that the restaurant industry really cannot afford to ignore the older demographic. With a dramatic shift in dining and spending habits, how can businesses adapt to cater to the over 50s?

It’s safe to say that in a world where charcoal is appearing in just about everything we eat, from burger buns and ice creams to cocktails and salad dressing, perhaps the over 50s might not be so interested in bizarre food trends. But there are some millennial trends the older generation are almost guaranteed to get on board with, particularly as today’s millennials approach their middle years. The shift from processed foods to farm-to-table takes dining back to simpler times, when food was more natural and healthy. The current focus on ethically-sourced food and shopping locally isn’t just a millennial fad, it’s a universally-welcomed trend. Restaurants can absolutely capitalise on this.

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Fast casual dining, while a prominent food industry trend, may need to back off slightly. Over 50s tend to prefer a longer dining experience, according to an article by Big Hospitality. The research, conducted by Santa Maria Foodservice, revealed that baby boomers (50-64) are also more likely to use coffee shops and the pub sector, where traditional British dishes are often staples. However the report revealed few fascinating insights:

·         80% of 50-64 year olds said they enjoyed spicy foods, placing Indian food among their top three favourite cuisines

·         47% of millennials are put off trying new dishes by the price and fear of wasting money

·         Seafood was more popular among the older generations, while younger people prefer burgers, Italian food and Mexican food

·         60% of over 65s said the menu description was the most important factor to encourage them to try new dishes

The findings show that there are clear trends among the older generation which restaurants and other food industry businesses can take on board. However as present-day millennials transition into the over 50s demographic, trends will also shift. While it’s difficult to imagine over 50s finding new restaurants and food inspiration on Instagram, this may well be a common occurrence in the not too distant future. Technology and trends are constantly evolving and with that, there will be an inevitable change in dining habits. This can only be an extremely exciting time for the food industry.