Millennials are defining new dining trends

A recent movie about successful restaurateur Ray Kroc and the closure of Mystique in the heart of downtown got me to wondering about the restaurant industry and why some restaurants thrive while others fail.

Ray Kroc, father of the fast-food drive-in industry, founded McDonald’s at the time when automobiles became part of almost every household. His impeccable timing kicked off the fast-food phenomenon, still prevalent today and loved by the Millennials.

Today, you must still drive to many of the McDonald’s type fast-food chains; however, some chains went a step further. “Just pick up the phone and we’ll come to you,” became the mantra for pizza chains and some sandwich shops. For busy folks, that sounded pretty darn good. Seeing a pizza or Jimmy John’s delivery car in neighborhoods has become commonplace.

Chinese restaurants were among the first to offer take-a-way food. Other eating establishments soon followed allowing the customer to call ahead, going so far as to assign special parking spots accommodating those on the dash. Today, some of the tried and true sit-down casual dining restaurants currently are testing the delivery waters, creating a billion-dollar industry.

Why this phenomenon? Studies show Millennials “just don’t think they have the time to cook and their responsibilities can be overwhelming, forcing them to eat out or pick up food,” writes Technomic, a blog “providing a 360-degree view of the food industry.” The Gen X’ers feel just about the same way. Boomers still like more leisurely dining in the home or in a restaurant – maybe because that’s how we grew up.

Millennials prefer specialty grocers like Whole Foods making it easy to pick up a healthy lunch or dinner “on the fly.” Local grocers do not yet have the fresh hot food option, but freshly prepared meals are available to pop in the micro.

When diners do go out, what is the preference? Depends on the age group. We still like our high-end, sit-down restaurants now and then when we have cause to celebrate, but prefer a noisy, pub atmosphere when we meet friends. Those restaurants are termed “fast fine dining.” We like those because we know we can afford them, don’t need reservations and the service will be good and the food consistent. Red’s Old 395 can be listed in that category. And, when haven’t you seen a crowd enjoying “fast fine Mexican dining” at San Marcos Grill or El Charro Avitia.

The “fast casual” is the preferred dining format for the Millennials and is represented by Chipotle – soon to be coming to the Carson Mall. The higher quality of fresh food determines the fast casual from the fast foods of the drive-through restaurants. Fresh and fast is what the Millennials crave. Talk to a local Millennial and they will tell you that Chipotle will become their “go to” restaurant.

Cheesecake Factory is officially the favorite casual dining restaurant in the U.S. as reported by Nation’s Restaurant News. Casual dining establishments such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster are loved by Millennials. Here you know what to expect and how much it will cost.

Expect a whole new dining experience as the Millennials continue to define how we live. They prefer communal tables and you’ll find those at Red’s Old 395. Note the more popular restaurants in Reno feature communal tables. Communal tables have replaced the counters still found in some of the chains like Denny’s. Counters/communal tables are great for those who don’t want to sit alone at a table.

Millennials love the funky fun of food trucks, fulfilling their preferences for fast food, deli food, and pizza as shown in the study conducted by the National Restaurant Association. They also have a passion for craft beers, hence the growth in breweries, particularly in Reno.

Ever heard the term “Mashups?” Millennials are “thrill-seeking foodies,” so states a study by Food Manufacturing. That means a menu that includes Cronuts, Ramen Burger, Nacho Lasagna and the like. The only restaurant we can think of locally that experiments somewhat to that degree is Sassafras off Hot Springs Road, still a popular spot for those seeking a somewhat unconventional menu and soon to be neighbor to a newly built craft brewery, thus providing the perfect Millennial experience.

You won’t see the demise of traditional fast food or fast casual restaurants any time soon, but you could see the demise of dining establishments that don’t keep up with emerging trends or come into our market without knowing the consumer taste. Carson City seems to like the more casual approach to dining. Make it good, fast, friendly and noisy.

Though some may not welcome yet another “fast food or casual dining” chain, that’s the preference of many and it’s the customer that is always right!

I think I’ll try some Nutella and Ravioli, please!


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