American research establishes generational differences in restaurant preferences

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 26th August 2008

Foodservice consultants Technomic have discovered that age-based distinctions among consumers’ use of restaurants run deeper than originally expected.

The findings, published in the ‘Generational Consumer Trend Report’ reveal numerous and often-subtle factors that play an important role in shaping menu and restaurant trends, while also highlighting key opportunities to effectively market to these segments.

The report examines attitudes and behaviour relevant to restaurant services for three generational segments: the Baby Boomers (age 43 to 62); Generation X (age 32 to 42); and Generation Y (age 16 to 31). In addition, it looks at differences across and within each generation. For example, key findings are presented for younger versus older Gen Yers, including insights pertaining to ethnicity and gender, including topics such as internet ordering, brand preferences, and preferences by dining occasion.

Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President of Technomic Information Services, considers the importance of understanding consumers has never been more paramount with pressure mounting due to deteriorating economic conditions. “We’re in a highly competitive market, one in which many consumers are shifting what were formerly discretionary dollars toward the purchase of necessities. It’s more important than ever for restaurant operators to understand what their consumers are looking for in the dining experience and tailor their offering to it,” he noted. “To do that, operators and suppliers must have information that lets them get into the heads of the consumer both by generational segment and psychographic cluster.”

It was established that Generation Y are the largest users of natural and organic foods, whereas Baby Boomers are more likely to believe in balanced meals, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of fats. Boomers are also considerably more interested in limiting trans fat consumption than other generations. The majority of Boomers interviewed (51%) said they avoided trans fats on a regular basis, as opposed to 34% for Gen Y and 37% for Gen Xers.

Nearly half of all Gen Yers eat more meals away from home than at home, a larger proportion than among Gen X or Boomers. Only 40% of Gen Xers dine out more frequently than they eat at home, while Boomers tend to reserve dining out for special occasions.

All three generations rated freshly prepared food as a very important factor in choosing a restaurant but they differed in the importance of other factors. Nearly half of Gen Yers (45%) and Boomers (45%) said that the opportunity to increase or decrease portion size is important in choosing a restaurant for a dine-in meal, whereas availability of kid-friendly menus was a more important consideration to Gen X (47%).

Recent years has seen the emergence of online foodservice ordering and, as expected, Generation Y have embraced the technological advancements more than their Gen X and Boomer counterparts. Additionally, women are far more likely than men to place online orders for takeout (36% for females compared to 21% for males), with the difference increasing for delivery orders (48% for females, 30% for men).