Baby boomer boast the largest spending power of any generation and make up a whopping 26 percent of the U.S. population. Born between 1946 and 1965, they hold a jaw-dropping purchasing power of $2.1 trillion. According to Restaurant Hospitality magazine, boomers buy an average of 193 restaurant meals a year. Attracting this diner makes dollars and sense. Tracking their flavor preferences and offering menu items that boomers crave can help you stand out from the competition.
One key element in cracking the flavor code with boomers is understanding the psychographics behind this generation. They’re aging, some of them are empty nesters or becoming empty nesters, and many are developing health concerns. NPD Group points out that these factors play a significant role in the way boomers approach food and beverage consumption.
More than any other generation, boomers are most likely to visit restaurants for dine-in service, says Technomic Inc. They’re also more likely to frequent full-service restaurants (FSR). Although markers such as “premium” and “homemade” resonate with them, boomers are not likely to pay more for those attributes, Technomic reports.
The megatrend in feel-good, better-for-you food is propelled mainly by two groups of diners—millennials, that huge demographic born between 1977 and 1992, and boomers. Millennials approach feel-good food as just that—food that makes them feel good about their food choices. For boomers, this trend speaks to their awareness of getting older. They’re now mindful about the fuel that nourishes their minds and bodies and are actively seeking restaurants that provide healthful food choices.
The NPD Group calls out healthful foods that boomers are gravitating toward on menus, such as items that are high in whole grains, protein, and calcium, or low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. But be careful. Boomers are part of the consumer trend that won’t sacrifice flavor for better nutrition. They look for restaurants that create the menu magic of combining better-for-you foods with craveable flavors. Look to ingredients like citrus as a replacement for sodium, and look to umami-rich flavors like those found in mushrooms and soy sauce to help deliver big flavor without the added salt and fat.
The bowl build presents an opportunity that appeals to boomers. Technomic reports that this generation places value on freshness more than any other generation. Bowls, those modern constructions that see layers of fresh ingredients, are a perfect fit. Chipotle paved the way here with its wildly successful burrito bowl, while other restaurants emphasize healthfulness in the build, maybe starting with quinoa or brown rice and layering on fresh vegetables, herbs, a small portion of lean protein (grilled for extra flavor) and a drizzle of pesto or chimichurri.
Healthy eating extends naturally into the snacking category, and this is a category that matches boomers’ desire for smaller portions. Technomic suggests that operators can appeal to boomer demand for mindful snacking with fresh, nutritionally balanced appetizers and small plates.
Breakfast Breaks Out
According to Technomic, restaurant operators trying to attract boomers should pay particular attention to breakfast. This generation spends more away-from-home dollars on breakfast than any other generation. In fact, industrywide, breakfast is the only daypart that shows growth, a recent Datassential report reveals.
Flavor preferences at breakfast here reflect boomers’ taste overall—they look for both better-for-you fare and robust dishes with twists on tried-and-true favorites, Technomic says. They are not adventurous diners, but they do like creative classics.
For healthful breakfast dishes, look to oatmeal with fresh fruit mix-ins and lighter style egg dishes with fresh vegetables served as inclusions or sides. Or consider the breakfast bowl, maybe built on a base of potatoes with a poached egg, sautéed spinach and roasted red pepper. Be mindful of portion sizes here, appealing to boomers’ desire for smaller sizes.
When trying to entice with familiar-but-signature dishes, look to today’s best breakfast trends for ideas. Eggs Benedict are getting modern flavor upgrades, with twists on hollandaise like roasted poblano, avocado and harissa. Waffles are delivering that comfort-food base with signature batter add-ins like bacon or fresh herbs.
Boomers are sometimes overlooked because diner demographics like millennials and the up-and-coming Generation Z respond more to today’s hottest flavor trends. Boomers are not early adapters, nor are they adventurous. But three things should compel you to drive them into your restaurant: they hold the largest purchasing power, they eat out more than any other demographic, and they choose full-service restaurants more than any other generation.