“That’s the literal side of groups,” Howe says. “The wider definition is connection with the community. … Does the restaurant have any sign that it’s interested in the issues that are important to the community, or in groups that are important to the community? Does it belong to any community organizations? Does it offer special deals for community events?
“When you have a more community-oriented generation,” Howe says, “it’s very important the restaurant industry take advantage of that.”
One chain that has realized this is Burgerville, which has 39 locations in the Pacific Northwest. The company has a diverse community-outreach strategy, which includes the Nomad, a mobile kitchen that cruises the streets of Portland, Oregon, and a “Community of Champions” initiative that recognizes locals championing fresh foods.
Both tactics “give Burgerville a face,” says CEO Jeff Harvey. This is a must for restaurants looking to appeal to Millennials, a demographic driven by “a whole bunch of different motivations at the same time.”
“We’ve translated it as, we’d better be creative, we’d better bring a lot of different flavor profiles, we’d better be willing to rotate menu offerings on a regular basis, we’d better have robust stories to tell about how we’re making a difference” in the community, Harvey says.
Burgerville’s efforts to appeal to Millennials also extend to restaurant design. The company embraced a lounge atmosphere because its college-age customer base wants it that way, Harvey says.
“Companies in our line of work have to be ready to adapt and adapt quickly,” Harvey says.
Burgerville’s strategy says something crucial about what Millennial diners are looking for. Food and flavors still matter, especially since Generation Y is an ethnically diverse group hungry for more international menu items. But restaurants have to offer much more than good fare to be successful. In line with their own emphasis on achievement, Millennials want restaurants that excel in all aspects of their business, from food to service to design.
“It’s a matter of understanding the nonfood expectations as much as the food,” says Bob Goldin, an executive at Chicago-based consulting firm Technomic.
One of the most challenging expectations among Millennials is that corporations operate responsibly. For restaurants, this means establishing a safer, more humane, and, perhaps, more regulated supply chain. (Howe says Generation Y is open to “benevolent direction” from the government.) It also translates to an emphasis on sustainable business practices, with recycling being a bare minimum.