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The Hottest New Market for Your Restaurant? It’s Not Who You Think
Senior Couple Choosing From Menu In Restaurant

If you think Millennial consumers, fast-food-crazy teens or young, trendy couples are the best bets to target as customers for your restaurant, think again. A study by The NPD Group earlier this year says visits to restaurants by Baby Boomers and those age 65 and up have risen over the last five years, while restaurant visits by Millennials are on the decline.

NPD says Boomers and 65-plus consumers (who they dubbed “Mature Traditionalists”) are visiting restaurants more often than they did before the recession began in 2008. While in the past, those in their 50s and up were less likely to eat out than younger consumers, this long-time trend is reversing.

According to the study, older Boomers (aged 55 to 64) are the most frequent restaurant patrons, visiting restaurants an average of 220 times last year. They are followed closely by younger Boomers (aged 45 to 54), who ate restaurant meals or snacks an average of 215 times per year. While those aged 18 to 47 ate out an average of 211 times, Americans over 65 weren’t far behind, with an average of 195 restaurant visits annually.

In fact, one of today’s hottest dayparts—breakfast—may owe its growth to older Boomers, who are more frequent patrons of morning meals at restaurants than any other age group.

If you want to attract this newly hot—and profitable—market, what adjustments do you need to make to your restaurant? Provide:

  • Comfortable seating. Cushioned chairs sized for aging bodies encourage diners to linger and spend more money.
  • Well-lit space. Your lighting needs to be bright, but glare-free so aging eyes aren’t overwhelmed. Older eyes take longer to adjust to light or darkness, so create uniform lighting and avoid going from dark to light rapidly.
  • Readable menus. Dark type on a white or light background, simple fonts and type at least 14 points in size works best. In the evening, consider spot lighting above tables to make it easy for nearsighted diners to read.
  • Speak easy. Loud, echoey restaurants drive Boomers and seniors away—they can’t hear themselves talk. Lower ceilings and the use of textiles (carpets, tablecloths and seat cushions) can help absorb sound. Keep background music soft, not blaring.
  • Healthy options. Low-sodium, low-calorie or gluten-free menu items all appeal to Boomers and seniors who have health issues or are watching their weight.
  • More choices. Smaller portions, shareable items like tapas or appetizers, and mix-and-match options like the classic half-sandwich and salad all appeal to Boomers and seniors.
  • Flavorful fare. When people get older, their taste buds start to die and they respond better to stronger tastes. Spice things up with Latin or Asian flavors.
  • Breakfast. Boomers and seniors are flocking to breakfast, so consider opening earlier, expanding your breakfast menu, or adding breakfast items to lunch and dinner.

The good news is that most of the items above appeal not only to Boomers and seniors, but also to younger restaurant-goers, too.

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