Millennials and the Dining Experience


Find out what this influential demographic looks for when choosing a restaurant.

Menuing the flavours that your millennial guests crave is only part of a challenging equation. What else drives their dining out choices? Certainly, attracting this generation should list high on your priority list. Born between 1977 and 1992, this customer base makes up 20 percent of the Canadian population. Millennials boast a purchasing power of $17 billion. Apart from flavour preferences, understanding the other criteria important to millennials—ambiance, value perception, and menu engineering—is crucial in creating a craveable dining experience.

Make It My Way

An adventurous bunch, Datassential has tagged millennials as “thrill seekers” and “experientialists.” NPD Group describes them as “restaurant explorers.” Customization is king with this generation. They want flavour-forward options with the ability to customize their adventure, adding ingredients curated by their individual tastes.

Chipotle made customization a standard expectation, not only showcasing fresh-prepared food, but with numerous flavourful choices given to the customer. Independents have long encouraged customization with burgers, but they need to expand this idea in order to attract millennials. Instead of a Sunday brunch bloody Mary, make it a bloody Mary bar with a bevy of garnishing options beyond celery sticks. Look to include fun choices like beef jerky, pickled carrots, and even sliders. Tableside guacamole offers another customization opportunity, encouraging guests to add different chiles and fresh herbs to the basic build of avocado, lime juice, and garlic. Another idea sees customizable cupcakes, maybe assembled tableside, with guests choosing frosting flavours and toppings. Customization can also apply to menu choices, allowing guests to mix and match combinations of sides, shareables, and entrées to create a personalized dinner experience.

Make It Social, Make It Shareable

A huge part of the dining experience stems from how the menu is laid out. There’s been a revolution in menu design over the last five years, where the rigid three courses have morphed into a more fluid, communal layout. Millennials are the driving force behind these changes. They want a social, fun meal, where they get to enjoy a lot of different flavours and forms.

Appetizers have given way to bar bites and sharing plates. Family style has morphed into shareable dishes and flights. Entrées are now classified into half portions and larger portions. Sides are no longer an afterthought, but a profit-building menu of innovative, creative dishes. Even the bar menu has added a sharing vibe, where house punches are offered in throwback punch bowls, and batched cocktails make their way to the table in pitchers. All of these add up to a social dining experience that encourages flavour exploration and sociable community.

Share Your Story

With social media changing the way consumers interact with the restaurants and brands they love, relaying your narrative is an important part of the dining experience. Millennials look for restaurants that hold their values—authenticity, sustainability, local connections, to name a few. Make sure you share your efforts here. Use menu language that conveys your story so it can resonate with millennials. Menu cues like hand-crafted, artisan, organic, and local all hold sway with millennials. If they make an emotional connection with your restaurant, they will respond by sharing your compelling story. Help them be your evangelists by giving them a good story to share with their networks.

Apart from menu language, look to incorporating relevant, visual elements into overall messaging. Connect with your millennial consumers’ lifestyles in both online and offline forums.

Physical Touches

There are a few millennial-friendly touches you can make to your restaurant space. Without redesigning entirely, consider increasing the sense of community through seating configurations. Maybe it’s adding communal tables, either in the bar area or the main restaurant. Or replacing booths with more flexible seating. Millennials are social creatures, and the idea of rubbing elbows with fellow diners appeals to many of them.

A commitment to the environment is appreciated by this generation. Consider demonstrating that commitment by adding reclaimed wood through tables, chairs or counters, maybe salvaged from old railway lines or barns.


Millennials are digital natives, which means they are used to things moving fast and furious. Convenience is a birthright. One way to speak their language is by incorporating technology where appropriate. Pre-paying appeals to millennials more than any other generation. Also, nearly 60 percent of them say they would use call-ahead or online ordering for delivery or takeout, and 45 percent of them would like tools which let them see the progress of their order.

Millennials enjoy trying different foods, frequenting restaurants that feature exciting, flavour-forward combinations. Restaurants that succeed with this generation bolster adventurous menus with a holistic experience that reflects an energetic, social vibe, underpinning values this group holds close to their pocketbooks.

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