by Liz Wolfe
Calm down, Generation Xers –– millennials aren’t ruining casual dining, though Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith would love to differ. Smith made headlines last week as she wrote about the casual dining demise in a letter to shareholders. She blamed declining sales on changing tastes, saying millennials prefer cooking at home, ordering food for delivery or frequenting restaurants that provide quick service. Although she’s certainly correct about reasons why casual dining has experienced a popularity decline, blame shouldn’t be placed on millennials –– it should be placed on the restaurants that have failed to keep up with changing demand.
In 2016, Buffalo Wild Wings saw a decline in sales. The company that oversees Outback Steakhouses is shutting down dozens of locations, while Ruby Tuesday sells many of its locations during a search for new management. The message is clear: These restaurants just aren’t staying popular or reaching new customers. Although CEOs like Smith would love to absolve themselves of responsibility for these failures, lashing out at millennials doesn’t solve anything. Millennials, like all generations before, have distinct values and preferences that should be worked into business models if casual dining hopes to succeed in a changing world.
My generation’s tastes and habits are partially due to the fact that many of us live in urban areas. As we migrate away from small towns in mass exodus and concentrate our lives near city centers (or easily accessible suburbs), our habits change accordingly. With increased urbanization comes a different set of options: We’re able to choose between frequenting chains or local restaurants, sit-down establishments or quick-service alternatives.
Our food preferences look different, too: Food trucks have risen in popularity in the past few years, providing culinary variety at a low price. During a rushed lunch break, it’s no surprise that young professionals seek food trucks or that cash-strapped entrepreneurs entering the restaurant industry choose to get their feet wet with mobile ventures. The food truck industry is, as of 2017, about four times as big as it was in 2012, and it shows no signs of slowing down. What started as a quirky money-saving concept has become an important part of the way we eat.