Eating Patterns in Canada

Why millennial families are important

By Laura Zaplatynsky-Bell

Although millennials are among the hottest topics in the media today, a universal definition of who they are can be hard to nail down. Depending on the source, anyone born from 1977 to 1995, or from 1982 to 2004 could be considered a millennial; however, the generally agreed-upon range is anyone born from the early 1980s through to the late 1990s. In Canada, this generation, with over 9 million citizens, now makes up almost 25% of the population (Abacus Data, 2014).

While marketers strategize about how to capture the attention of members of a generation notorious for being young, selfie-taking digital natives, many of them have quietly grown up and started families of their own. According to BabyCenter’s 2014 Millennial Mom Report, 77 per cent of babies born in Canada that year were to Millennial Moms.

Why millennials are important

As Canadians start to emerge from the haze of recession, understanding the changing consumer dynamics and how those dynamics impact restaurant sales is paramount. Bringing families back to the table will be critical to success. According to The NPD Group, parties with kids accounted for 1.9 billion heads through the doors of restaurants in Canada (year ending August 2013). This is down by 97 million visits from 1998 levels, with the loss split fairly evenly between quick- and full-service establishments.

Attracting these new and growing families – now dining under entirely different circumstances than in previous years – requires understanding the parents’ needs, both as millennials and as moms and dads.

How do restaurants bring millennials back?

While millennials are found to be more optimistic about their financial outlook (BMO Canada, 2014), they are also an extremely pragmatic group – so they may need to be convinced to return to dining at previous levels, especially as they’re now faced with a higher total cheque cost in addition to other determining factors, such as their child’s behaviour or food preferences.

As reinforced by 2014 NPD/Crest report Parties with Kids: Motivating More Visits, there are several ways to attract these young families and to build their trust in, and their loyalty to, your brand:

  1. Family-friendly environment: 84 per ent of parents surveyed, particularly those with younger children, said they would be more likely to visit a restaurant with a family-friendly environment. Heading out to a restaurant with children can be stressful, so ensuring that staff are trained to greet younger guests with a warm welcome and offering tools to make the family visit easier on the parents can go a long way to encourage return visits. These tools can include everything from clean booster seats or high chairs to activity packs, games and crayons for kids.
  2. Wide variety of appropriately priced menu items: One of the primary differences between millennial parents and the generations before them is a more intense focus on being a “good parent”. This can mean different things to different people; however, one consistent theme now is a focus on healthy and balanced eating. Offering variety beyond the standard chicken fingers, fries and veggie sticks, as well as including a cross-section of size options and flavours, will appeal to both parent and child. This could include offering modified dishes from the regular menu, providing different portion sizes for varying ages, or offering vegetarian, gluten-free or international flavours suitable for kids. Catering to the pragmatic side of the parents by offering various price points and good value will also encourage repeat visits.
  3. Mobile engagement: Smartphones are central to the millennial media experience, particularly to that of the millennial mom. Mobile-supported websites, social media outreach and promotional opportunities are key to helping these parents make decisions for their family, including which restaurants to frequent. Encouraging social sharing and interactivity among patrons will also feed their individual (versus their parental) desire to engage with their networks, and will provide a broader reach for your message. Mobile can also be used as an additional tool in engaging the whole family, by leveraging both brand loyalty and gaming with a digital app.

Where millennials don’t differ from their predecessors is in their desire to do what is best for their children, and to make their children happy. This is reinforced by NPD/Crest’s study indicating that 70 per cent of family dining decisions are influenced by children under 18. Working to earn the loyalty of both parents and children and fostering positive impressions from a young age will create generations of happy customers.

About the Author

Laura Zaplatynsky-Bell is Director of Marketing Communications and Account Services at Kidzsmart, a kids and family marketing firm based in Vancouver, BC. Their focus is on increasing family market ROI for their clients by developing revenue driving, and loyalty inducing kids and family experiences. Through the use of children’s illustrations, storytelling, character development and fun participation games, Kidzsmart develops brand relationships that last.

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