June 16, 2016

4 Tips for Engaging Baby Boomers in Your Restaurant

In a recent post, we spoke about the importance of engaging your millennial customers. This group of people is known for their pronounced interest in all things culinary, and they spend more on eating out each month than other groups (per Eater). Engaging them means taking steps like harnessing social network platforms and emphasizing sustainability.

“Boomers have increased the number of times they go out to eat.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can forget about other diners’ needs, and other populations are just as committed to their local culinary arts scene. Baby Boomers – those between the ages of 55 and 64 – actually increased the number of times they went out to eat per year, according to a survey from the NPD Group. That rate increased from 2008 to 2012, which is especially noteworthy given that it occurred after the recession.

Boomers are different from millennials in several ways, and it takes a different approach to get them into the door.  Here are four handy tips:

1. Make it worth the cost
People love saving money, especially when they go out to eat, and that goes double for Baby Boomers. According to a survey by Gordon Food Services, 32 percent of Boomers will become regular patrons if a restaurant offers various deals and coupons. Depending upon the restaurant you’re running, you may want to consider some kind of dining club or membership program, where guests can be rewarded based on frequent visits. Even something like tracking guests’ birthdays and offering a free dessert can be enough to win over your average Boomer. Savings are a big deal for Boomers, and they want to know that their money is going toward an enjoyable experience.

2. Rework your menu
As it turns out, getting older can impact the way you eat and enjoy food. Speaking with NBC News, Kim Holman of the flavoring company Wixon Inc. noted that people’s taste buds will erode as they get older. That’s why menu restaurants and national chains have turned to serving dishes with more heat, which helps kick-start those dulled taste buds. The most popular such flavor infusions include pan-Asian and Latin American spices. Even if you don’t want to change what you cook, Bonnie Riggs, an analyst with NPD Group, said that restructuring the menu can help. For instance, boomers enjoy choice, and letting them create mix-and-match meals will satisfy this craving.

3. Create a sense of ambiance
Cindy Heilman is the author of the book “Hospitality for Boomers: How to Attract Residents, Retain Staff, and Maximize Profitability.” In an interview with Food and Nutrition, she explained that perhaps more than anything else, Boomers desire connectivity with a restaurant and its staff. Fortunately, there are several ways to make these guests feel right at home. Have the hostess desk in a quiet spot, which encourages more conversation and fewer distractions. A quiet, well-lit dining area will achieve the same goal. You also need to make sure wait staff have memorized the menu, as Boomers tend to have plenty of questions about specials and main dishes.

“Boomers enjoy nostalgia during their dining experience.”

4. Build on their nostalgia
If there is any one true defining factory of Baby Boomers, it’s a sense of nostalgia. This group collectively longs for the days of old, to simpler times in their lives. As a restaurant owner or chef, you can help satisfy these nostalgic longings with a few simple gestures. It could mean serving up dishes that are more familiar to these individuals, like a simple macaroni and cheese or hamburgers, albeit with gourmet twists. The decor can also have an impact, and something simple like comfortable chairs can be conducive to conversation and walks down memory lane. As an extension, consider extending your hours to give diners more time to sit around and converse.