Most restaurateurs are scratching their heads trying to figure out the millennial puzzle. Do they prefer take out or dining in? Cheap and fast? Fast, but quality? Slow, but cheap? It's tricky because millennial preferences change on a daily basis.
However, studies show that, for restaurants, millennials are looking for these three things: convenience, overall experience, and food quality. But, with several types of restaurants, quick service, fast casual, mid scale, and casual dining, how can anyone hit all three targets? Thankfully, buried beneath the fickle fads and needs of millennials there is one common thread: social media.
That's why today's most popular restaurants are shifting how they market on social media. They can't just "have a presence" like everyone says they should, they must use it strategically to engage with their consumers, specifically millennials, inside and outside the restaurant.
So, how are they doing? In general, pretty good. We researched some of millennials' favorite restaurants to see what they are doing differently on social media and found that some are doing better than others.
The overwhelming evidence shows that there's no "one size fits all" strategy when it comes to reaching millennials on social. Each restaurant we looked at had it's own brand of success with different tactics and on different social channels.
Here's what we found.
Cheesecake Factory — Food Photography
Everybody likes cheesecake. Eating it and staring at it. Which is exactly what millennials prefer, to eat and then stare at food online. Food photography is single-handedly changing the restaurant industry, and Cheesecake Factory has it nailed down.
Wanda Pogue, chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi New York says in a recent Forbes article, "Never has there been a better time to highlight the quality, making or experience of food – whether it’s a unique combination that consumers have never tasted before....or a visual experience, these details aren't lost on these two groups, millennials and Gen Z. Quite the contrary, they revel in the details – they notice them, appreciate them and recount them. All helping to elevate a brand’s luxury value."
Over 11 million images are tagged with #foodphotography on Instagram. 100 million with #foodporn. And Cheesecake factory is taking advantage of the booming opportunity. Beautiful images of cheesecake and other menu items catch the eye of just about anyone, especially millennials who are looking for easy-to-share food experiences outside of the restaurant.
Take this post for example. 10,220 likes and 172 comments. Based on Cheesecake's 463,000+ followers, that's about a 2.2% engagement rate for a single post. Not bad.
They don't stop at just the professional quality images, they also spotlight user generated content. Sometimes, these get even higher engagement. This one received 14,439 likes.
By showcasing the best images of their best dishes, Cheesecake Factory is expanding the dining experience digitally. And millennials are eating it up.
Krispy Kreme — User Generated Content
Millennials love challenges. Especially when they can take a selfie. Krispy Kreme has got its foot in the door to millennial hearts by encouraging user generated content across all social channels. Talk Like a Pirate Day, Furry Friends of Krispy Kreme, 12 Ways to Eat a Donut, Halloween Costume Day, National Smile Day, Anniversary Celebrations, the list goes on.
One study predicts that the average millennial will spend about an hour a week to take up to 25,700 selfies in their lifetime. That's a lot of selfies, and shouldn't be ignored by the restaurant industry. Millennials post pictures of themselves and then take pictures of their food. What better way to engage them than through a combination of both?
Krispy Kreme showcases their user's on their Pinterest page. They have boards for each of their user-centric campaigns. Here are a few images from the 2016 Talk Like a Pirate Day where they handed out free donuts to anyone who dressed like a pirate and said "aaaarrrr."
It might seem overly simple. Millennials love simple. Couple it with food, selfies, and a challenge for free products, you've got yourself a solid engagement plan.
Chick-fil-A — Target Audience
Rather than spew out messages to all audiences, Chick-fil-A caters to millennials' need for personalization and recognition. They target not only millennials, but specifically millennial moms.
In years past, Chick-fil-A focused their marketing on "quality over speed" just like any quick service restaurant. But with the majority of their customers being moms, they noticed a need. No matter how good of quality or how fast, moms with a bunch of kids have a heck of a time ordering. Going a step further, young moms have a heck of a time doing a lot of things, like hosting the expected birthday parties. Who has time for that?
Picking up on this, Chick-fil-A launched a campaign targeted for millennial moms. In stores, they added the mom's valet. On social, they pushed the catering service. In their ads, they showcased the hectic lives of young moms. It was brilliant and it caught attention.
Their Instagram is plastered with images of what mom's table could look like with Chick-Fil-A's help.
Chick-fil-A changed the experience in their stores and carried it over into the home. Their social media highlights their excellent service and dining experience.
Smashburger — Food Quality
Convenience and experience can go a long way for millennials, but food quality is priceless to them (well, maybe not priceless). If the food isn't local, organic, fresh, and delicious, then forget about it. Business Insider claimed Smashburger as Best in Show: "In terms of quality, the burgers are as close to a nice dining experience as you can get in a fast-casual setting."
Smashburger's "better burger" campaign certainly won over the population, but it was in 2014 that Smashburger really hit the target on millennials when they launched their social media campaign #smashroadtrip. Not only did they pinpoint the wanderlust of the millennial mind, but they honed in on their "local" obsession.
Nearly 80,000 people participated in the Instagram campaign and posts generated over 2 million impressions for the brand. All you had to do was visit a Smashburger in a specific city, post a photo and tag it with #smashroadtrip. Since their burger ingredients change based on geographical region, the "road trip" was designed to take consumers on a tour of local ingredients.
Not only did the campaign put Smashburger "on the map" it boosted their "food quality" score in the millennial world. Now Smashburger is one of millennial's top favorite fast casual restaurants.
A surprising addition to the list of millennial favorites is Cracker Barrel. And part of their successful strategy, even more surprisingly, involves Snapchat.
“We have made a concerted effort to attract a younger generation," says Laura Daily, Cracker Barrel’s senior vice president of retail. It's a smart move "now that Millennial generation is solidly in their 20s and 30s and they’ve started their families and we’re a name they’ve trusted."
It's not just about the dine-in experience. It's about the fleeting presence on Snapchat, where 300 million users look for ease in communication and creative expression. Cracker Barrel is just playing along with branded content. It's a hit.
For example, this valentines' day Cracker Barrel snapped a series of witty valentines cards.
Apparently, their attention on Snapchat has not gone unnoticed, either.
What's amazing about this strategy is that Cracker Barrel has shifted their perception of being an "older people" restaurant to being popular among all ages. Their foot traffic in 2016 increased 2.1% and sales increased 5.1%. Coincidence? Probably not.
Jamba Juice — Influencer Marketing
One of the best ways to win the millennial heart is through the people they look up to. AKA, influencers. Jamba Juice caught on to this trend back in 2015 when they launched their influencer marketing campaign with NFL player Vernon Davis and tennis star Venus Williams. They created the slogan "Blending in the Good" and had both influencers post photos and videos on their personal social networks.
Here, Venus Williams worked with ABC to share her favorite Jamba Juice recipe:
It worked so well that now Jamba Juice uses influencer marketing is a key piece to their strategy. But they don't just focus on the celebrities. Now, they are focused on influencers in the fitness and health and wellness world.
For example, here's an Instagram post about their partner Kelsey Wells, who has more followers than even Jamba Juice.
By partnering with major influencers in the millennial world, Jamba Juice is spreading their brand through personal referrals. Referrals, even from distant heros goes a long way with millennials. If Venus Williams drinks Jamba Juice, why shouldn't I?
Is Social Media Enough for Millennials?
Everything points to social media as being a key factor in attracting and engaging millennials. But is that all it takes? Yes and no.
First, you have to appeal to millennials' tangible needs by providing an excellent and memorable (this is vital) experience as well as delicious food that isn't too pricey. It's a high order! Think about it this way, you want to create an atmosphere and dish that makes millennials want to share photos of it on their personal social media. You want their referral. The only way to do that is to "wow" them.
Second, you have to extend that excellent experience and delicious food to social networks. That's the first place millennials (and anyone) will look to inquire about your restaurant and it's the last place they will look to remember their experience there.
Make sure you remind them why your restaurant was their favorite. This is a must. Unfortunately, since young people these days rely on social for just about everything, you might pay a penalty for not utilizing the space.
Get on social, stay on social, and spread your culinary charm on social.