Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Busting some myths about youngsters' preferences

If you don’t have the time or money to conduct a focus group of tomorrow’s prime restaurant customers, take a look at our new issue. We decided to slip into the minds of the Next Generation by paying young consumers from age 4 to 27 to keep a journal of what they ate for a week. With the littlest participants, parents were invited to pitch in, not only recording what their kids ate but what impressions and assessments the tykes voiced along the way.

Sure enough, the project yielded some surprises, which we mined for a series of stories on where consumer preferences are heading. Who would’ve thought, for instance, that a 13-year-old boy would eat so much yogurt, as we saw very clearly in the diary of Ben Whitcher (son of our content editor, Joann Whitcher)? Or that Whole Foods would have the same cachet for youngsters as Chipotle or Panera?

Stoked by those and other counter-indications to prevailing wisdom, we decided to re-examine other articles of faith on the matter of kids’ dining.  Here are some of the myths that should be busted:

The toys in kids’ meals are what land the business.  Despite the experiences of diarist Wren Smith, who said she urges RB editor and dad Sam Smith to hit the Golden Arches because of the kids-meal premiums, giveaways may be losing their allure for youngsters. Or maybe Mom’s just less of a softie these days. In any case, NPD CREST found a 6 percent decline (2011 vs. 2010) in the number of restaurant visits where kids get a free toy, even though the traffic of pint-sizers held steady.

It’s all about the food. Not according to research presented exclusively at the Restaurant Leadership Conference by C3, a family-marketing specialist, and Technomic. They reported that service is more important, accounting for 32 percent of a family’s reason for visiting a particular restaurant. Atmosphere was next, at 30 percent, followed by food at 25 percent. Entertainment accounted for a mere 13 percent.

Young adults want nothing to do with their parents’ choices. Nostalgia apparently isn’t wasted on the young, contrary to conventional thinking. The favorite restaurant chains of Millennials don’t sound much different from their parents’ picks, according to Technomic. What places do they regard as having the best food? Try Jimmy John’s in fast casual, Cracker Barrel in family dining, and Red Lobster in full-service. 

No comments: