Gen X and the Dining Experience

They’re a small generation, but they have a lot of influence and love a relaxed atmosphere.
Middle aged women eating food

This generation doesn’t get as much attention as others. Sandwiched between the millennials and the boomers, Gen X is sometimes overlooked because it’s a smaller group. But there’s interesting data that points to why you should try to attract these diners. Born between 1966 and 1976, they only make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, but they boast a spending power of $125 billion. And, surveys show, they generally spend more of their disposable income on dining out than other generations. According to The Hartman Group, 43 percent of Gen Xers eat out at least once a week, which puts them on par with millennials.

According to research by the American Public University System’s Department of Hospitality Management School of Business, Gen X looks for a memorable experience both when dining out and traveling. They look for a social atmosphere, like the one offered at Starbucks. 

Social Gen Xers

Perhaps driven by busy lifestyles and a quest for balance between work and family, one of the key drivers for Gen Xers is a fun, relaxed atmosphere. They generally care less about the scene than younger cohorts, but look for a relaxed, sociable backdrop for enjoying a restaurant experience. 

Tied into that socializing: These 41- to 51-year-olds enjoy adult beverages more than any other generation, according to Technomic Inc., so make sure your cocktail, beer, and wine lists are on trend. Add a few trending beverages that might help entice Gen Xers. A few that are gaining traction on beverage menus include cider cocktails, house punches, micheladas and craft beers. 

Shareable foods also support a lively, social dining experience. Look to the latest trends in bar bites, small plates, and sharing plates. Today, those menu items are typically designed to be a little more adventurous than standard fare, maybe pulling in global mash-ups in fan favorites like tacos, sliders, wings, and meatballs. These sociable offerings also provide a great platform for a new overarching trend called the veg-centric movement, where produce is given the spotlight in delicious, craveable presentations. Decidedly not vegetarian, examples here include Brussels Sprouts a la Plancha with house-smoked bacon, found at Chalk Point Kitchen in New York. Pulling from these flavor trends and building them into social, shareable menus is a smart strategy when trying to appeal to Gen X diners. 

Family time

Trendologist Nancy Kruse points out that Gen X looks for two distinct dining experiences: a family-friendly environment when they’re out with their children, and a grown-up experience when they’re not. The face of what makes a restaurant appealing to families has changed over recent years. Gen Xers’ children—now with their own demographic tag, Gen Z—are more sophisticated than previous cohorts. Chicken nuggets and fries might not cut it anymore. Julie Casey, aka the Restaurant Mom, urges restaurant operators to make kids’ menus a priority. Gen Z parents will put your place on the short list if they can feel good about what’s on the menu for their children, she says. Flavorful, wholesome choices are welcome here. Casey also points out that if the kids are having a good time, the parents are more likely to relax and order an alcoholic beverage. 

Do you deliver?

According to Technomic, Gen X is more likely to order restaurant delivery than any other generation. Although Gen Xers love the social aspect of the restaurant experience, they’re juggling families and long work hours. They often seek out swift speed of service and convenience. A good takeout/delivery program can relieve day-to-day pressure and make your establishment a Gen X favorite. 

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