Millennials comprise one of the largest generation groups in history. It comes as no surprise that their collective coming of age is having a formidable impact on how we do business and interact socially. As a group, their priorities and approach to life are much different than that of their parents. They value experiences over money and material things and possess a highly developed social consciousness that impacts how they buy and what they do.
Just how do Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z impact the restaurant industry? What are they looking for, both as employees and customers? Most importantly, how should restaurant owners respond?
We went to two industry experts for the answers.
Ed Anderson is the CEO and president of Wen-GAP, LLC, an organization that owns and runs 20 Wendy’s franchise operations in the U.S. Ed has been part of the Wendy’s family for 37 years, starting as a manager trainee, then purchasing his first franchise in 1990. He serves on Wendy’s Franchise Advisory Council (“FAC”).
His son, Eddie Anderson, grew up in the business, officially joining the company as COO for Wen-GAP in 2012. Eddie serves on the FAC’s Next Generation Subcommittee, made up of 12 Millennial franchisees. Their goal is to help shape the future for the next generation of Wendy’s operators, and ensure the company stays relevant to this new group of consumers.
Both believe how a company “acts,” and what it stands for, has become much more important to Millennial consumers, and to prospective employees alike.
“It’s always been extremely important to the Wendy’s brand to be a good corporate citizen. One part of that is shown with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which is a big, very visible way we give back. We’re also very focused on sustainability—being good stewards of the environment,” Ed Anderson said. “While it has always been important to us as a company to do the right thing, it’s becoming increasingly important to our employees and our customers. They want to feel good about who they’re working for and buying from.”
Instead of only considering “What do I do?” and “How much do I make?”, this new wave of next generation employees are digging much deeper before they accept a job.
Eddie Anderson explained, “Being a Millennial myself, and being so closely connected to the younger employees and managers working in our restaurants, I can tell you that this group wants to work for a company with a social consciousness. It’s growing more and more important to educate our employees on what we’re doing, who our partners are, and how we’re contributing to a more sustainable world, so they can not only feel good about where they’re working, but deliver those messages back to our customers.”
With more than three decades in the restaurant business, Ed Anderson has seen a lot of changes, particularly when it comes to used cooking oil.
“We feel better about what we’re doing because we know our grease is being used for something—that it has a secondary purpose—and that’s a good thing,” he said. “With the new used oil collection system DAR PRO has developed, we are much better prepared to make sure that the grease ends up in the container and not in our water supply. There’s no dripping, and there’s no having to rinse things out, like we had to do in the old days. And fewer slips and injuries. This creates a better work environment, which contributes to our sustainable business practices as well."
No question, Millennials buy with a different mindset than their parents. The Andersons see this as an opportunity.
“They want to know more about their food and how it is prepared. That actually is a benefit for us. Our beef is fresh, never frozen, and our salads are made fresh every day. We are finding we need to talk about those facts more,” Ed Anderson said. “The same is true with what we’re doing as a corporate citizen, both with the Dave Thomas Foundation and with sustainability. The Advisory Council and Next Gen groups are looking at ways we can communicate this during the onboarding process, as well as being more effective in getting the message out to our customers.”
While it’s true that a great menu and quality food is still critical to customer loyalty, today’s younger consumers want something more. They want to buy from companies that share their values, that support the community and that operate in an environmentally friendly way. Restaurants that can tell that story are the ones that will connect with this important buying segment in a very authentic way.
Know that what you do with your used cooking oil, and what you do in your community, matters—perhaps more now than ever before. It should be part of your narrative, and a way to help your brand resonate with an emerging consumer base.