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Talkin’ About Generational Marketing for Restaurants

As restaurants, we know it’s hard to reach so many different demographics at once. After all, a 50-something will react very differently to a Facebook ad than a 20-something will respond to an Instagram story.

Instead of throwing your marketing dollars into the wind and hoping you reach your target audience, it’s more cost-effective to know how each generation responds to different media and marketing tactics.

While there are more marketing channels available than ever before, if your campaigns do not reach your desired audience, you’re throwing your hard-earned advertising dollar in the trash. Developing an effective restaurant marketing strategy starts with establishing your customer profile and knowing your intended demographic.

Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, the boomer generation spans 2 decades, making this the only generation that encompasses two family generations in one. On one end of the boomer spectrum, there are those currently in their late 50s. They may still have kids in school, are at the peak of their careers, and might have older parents living with them. At the other end of the spectrum are those in their late 70s. They are empty nesters, retired, and have a lot more free time on their hands.

If you market to boomers as one group, you’re likely missing out on a large segment of the demographic. In fact, a baby boomer born in 1946 could be the parent of another boomer born in 1964.

This generation can be anywhere from 58 to 77, so don’t think of them all as “seniors” and certainly, don’t count them out! As a group, boomers enjoy dining out and those who are still working (½ of all baby boomers are still employed full-time) are willing to splurge on expensive lunches during their work day.

Research shows that a majority of adults aged 50-64 use social networking sites, with the vast majority engaging with Facebook to connect with old friends and family.

Still receptive to traditional marketing tactics and media, boomers are more likely to misunderstand social media marketing strategies like Facebook remarketing ads appearing on their Facebook newsfeeds.

But don’t discount this group as being out of touch with newer marketing tactics. Though older boomers might not fully grasp the way social media marketing works, this age group is still the highest-value consumer in the market today, spending the most money, having the most free time, and more likely to splurge on themselves and their families. So, while it might not be as fashionable to market to this group, if you’re not, you’re missing out on a huge segment of the consumer pie.

Tips for Marketing to Baby Boomers

Focus on Brand Loyalty

This group will likely return to your restaurant time and time again after they’ve experienced a great meal. They will bring their kids and grandchildren too, which leads to a “generational wealth” of loyal customers.

Go for the Up-Sell

A great way to capitalize on the extra cash boomers are willing to dish out is upselling. They like knowing the value of a product or service and how it will make their lives easier without feeling pushed. Try asking them if they’d like to add a high-priced dessert or a great bottle of a new wine you’ve just discovered. This group is also more likely to purchase memberships and subscriptions like an unlimited pizza club or bottomless beverages.

Use Cash-Back Incentives

Boomers spend money at businesses that offer cash-back programs more than the other generations. With 48% relying on credit cards, they don’t mind adding on an extra drink if they know it’ll mean more cash back on their next statement. And those additional $5.00 beverage purchases add up.

Less is More

This generation is more susceptible to traditional marketing, but tactics seen as intrusive in their personal lives are not welcomed.

They are the least likely to read a long-form blog post, so if you’re writing an article aimed at a boomer, make sure you get to the point in the first two paragraphs. Don’t hide the good stuff in the body or leave it to the end.

It may seem obvious, but older boomers (over 70) are the least likely to make a purchase on their smartphones, so it’s important to reevaluate your mobile checkout and make sure your grandparent could get through it seamlessly.

Skip the Discounts

The over-50 crowd accounts for 50% of all consumer expenditures, but marketers are only spending 10% of their marketing budgets on them. This leaves a huge opportunity to grab the extra dollars that boomers are dishing out! Most likely to splurge on themselves or their families, targeted ads for full-price menu items (think fancy cupcakes for little girls) or “top-shelf” wines or alcoholic beverages work well to grab the boomer buck.

Generation X

Known as the sandwich generation, caring for kids and aging parents simultaneously, Gen X is the smallest age group, born between 1965 and 1980. The bridge between Millennials and Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are juggling child care, homeownership, and careers. At one end, this is the 40-year-old who went to high school in the early 90s and likely has kids to contend with at the end of a long hard work day. At the other end, they’re the 55-year-old at the height of their career, with kids in college, and could be caring for an 85-year-old parent. Put it simply, this generation is BUSY!

Not only are they working a lot but they’re also online all the time. More than 80% of this generation reports that they are on Facebook, and Twitter on a daily basis.

Gen Xers tend to be the most dedicated to routines, but also make the most unplanned purchases, making this group loyal customers once you’ve reeled them in and the most easily upsold. This generation is a true hybrid when it comes to marketing. They grew up without online dining, so they still enjoy eating out when they have the time, but have fully embraced online ordering and are more tech-savvy like their boomer counterparts. Gen X likes convenience and anything that makes life easier. For restaurants, this generation could be the largest segment of online diners.

Tips for Marketing to Generation X

Use Coupons

Gen Xers are saving up for college, home ownership, starting a business, and retirement, so they like a good deal when they see it. Meal delivery services like Blue Apron appeal to Gen Xers’ because they like anything that makes their lives easier. Restaurants with loyalty programs and meal kit delivery do well marketing to this demographic as well.

Email works

Though email marketing might not work for younger generations, it is still the best way to communicate with Generation X. This generation is already plugged into email constantly for work and updates about their kids’ schools so it's natural that they would react positively to restaurant emails. They are checking email at work and at home several times a day, which presents a golden opportunity to promote your dinner delivery specials. Nothing eases a working parent’s mind more than knowing the evening meal will be there waiting for them when they get home.

Market to Their Eco- and People Consciousness

Organic, ethically produced products are in high demand with Gen X. Less prone to move with the latest trends, this group is more likely to buy from a brand that benefits the environment or the community.

Give Them a Break

This group of busy parents, new moms, pet lovers, and adult children could use a break every once in a while. Targeted email programs that celebrate birthdays and anniversaries are great for this demographic because they establish and build customer loyalty. Letting customers know you’re paying attention to their life events and recognizing their need to find ways to make their days easier works great for this group.

Try Direct Mail

With this group, the days of using paper take-out menus and newspaper coupons are not over. This generation still brings in the mail every day and is likely to use restaurant coupons they receive in the mail. A direct mail marketing campaign that promotes weekly specials or includes coupons still works well for this demographic.


The generation that is slowly taking over the workforce and out-numbering baby boomers, millennials are those consumers born between 1981 and 1999. This age group came of age during the early 2000s, began entering the workforce during the recession, and are the largest generation of entrepreneurs. They are notoriously soft-hearted and value social issues ahead of economics. A study conducted by the Brookings Institute found that 64% of millennials would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they hate.

An economic force with $200B in annual buying power, savvy marketers are finding unique ways to target this generation. The least frequent in-store shoppers, this generation is the most responsive to online shopping and dining opportunities, recommendations from friends and family, and is motivated by shopping ease.

Marketing to Millennials

Tell Your Story

Millennials care about backstories. They like knowing what it takes to make something and why a brand decided to create a product in the first place. For restaurants, a great About Us page that tells the story of how your business came to be works well with millennials. They also care about the story behind their food. Do you use ingredients from local farms? Are your recipes handed down from previous generations? Do you buy your seafood from sustainable farms? Millennials want to know that a business is not just out to make a buck, but that they care about the planet, humanity, and the community.

Create a Connection

Sharing your story and the reason behind your brand helps to create an emotional connection with your brand, as does consistent interaction and responsiveness. Make sure that you are consistently providing opportunities for this group to interact with your restaurant on social media to create this emotional connection with your brand beyond the food.

Use Reviews

Millennials are reshaping the way that goods and services are being marketed by staying unresponsive to traditional marketing tactics. A great way to market to this generation indirectly is to make sure your online reviews and customer experiences are up to par!

This generation decides where to eat based on Instagram pictures, has their groceries delivered to their door, and won’t make a major decision until they have discussed it with people they trust. They rely on apps like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Rotten Tomatoes. Heavily influenced by their peers, this group always checks restaurant reviews, so make sure yours are always up-to-date and all of your comments are responded to, as they have an affinity for transparent businesses.

Offer Social Media Incentives

Harness the power of social media by adding incentives to your marketing plan. According to Yahoo, 63% of millennials would be more likely to “check in” to a business on social channels if it meant they’d receive a coupon or discount. Even 20% off is enough of an incentive to prompt 50% of respondents to visit a retail location. Add gateway opportunities that offer additional discounts for sharing with friends.

Go Old-School

If you think radio advertising is an old-school marketing trick, think again. 93% of millennials listen to the radio for an average of 11 hours per week. In fact, more millennials listen to the radio than Gen X or boomers.

Gen Z

Marketing to younger customers might require a bit of finessing, but doing so isn’t reserved only for the hip brands on social media. Restaurants have a unique advantage when marketing to the younger generation because, well, everybody eats. To compete with the crowded restaurant marketing noise, speaking the language of Gen Z is really all it takes.

This includes using more visual content, being truly authentic, and incorporating more back-and-forth conversations with customers. By taking the time to learn about Gen Z’s preferences and what makes them unique, brands stand to build valuable relationships.

This generational group, also known as “digital natives,” is progressive, racially and ethnically diverse, and on track to be the most highly educated generation of all. This generation avoids labeling themselves, is radically inclusive, and takes time to evaluate all of their options before committing to a purchase.

Understanding what makes this younger generation tick is a must for brands to take advantage of Gen Z’s massive spending power.

Marketing to Gen Z

Marketing to younger customers can be tricky, not only because demographic data can be difficult to track, but because marketing trends come and go. But keep in mind, Gen Zers want to be treated as individuals. So, just like boomers, treating all “zoomers” alike can be a big mistake. That said, the chronically online Gen Zers make learning their buying behavior much less of a guessing game.

Use eye-catching, visual content

Video and stylized visual content should be a top priority for catching the eyes of younger customers. In the wake of so many new apps, social features, and creative filters, anything that’s considered static or boring won’t stand a chance with this group. When it comes to social media, 81% of Gen Z say Instagram and YouTube are their preferred social networks of choice.

Given Gen Z’s appetite for short-form video content, incorporating visual platforms into your strategies and developing bite-sized content is a must. TikTok’s massive Gen Z audience is evidence of this. With over 680 million users worldwide and 25% of users between the ages of 10-19, TikTok is a vital component of any Z marketing strategy.

Experiment with interactive content

The younger customer wants to always be doing something—tap, swipe, click—when they land on your posts. To capture Gen Z’s attention, anything you can do to encourage interaction or conversation on social is a plus. Consider using interactive features like polls that do double duty of learning about customers and winning their attention, for example.

Instagram features like polls, stickers and sliders can provide additional interactive pizzazz to your Stories and in-feed posts.

Tap in their FOMO

When marketing to Gen Z, consider tapping into their fear of missing out. Instagram Stories allow brands to drive time-sensitive engagement and become a constant fixture in their followers’ feeds through notifications. In addition to Stories, Instagram released a new feature called Drops, which helps brands create buzz for upcoming specials and deals that are available only for a limited time only.

Leverage tags

Tagging plays an important role in marketing to Gen Z. Brands with a physical location can capitalize on Gen Z’s desire to be seen. This speaks to the importance of not only having a hashtag for followers to promote but something on-site worthy of snapshotting.

Showcase your brand’s sense of humor

Gen Zers like to support brands they see as fun, which is why humor and meme-centric social content are so popular among this crowd. The challenge is to keep up with the speed of the internet. Posting a 3 month-old meme poses the risk of seeming off as out of touch.

One of the best ways to be authentically funny can be to just showcase your brand’s human side, not being afraid of being flawed, organic, and unpredictable. Posting blooper reels can be a lot more appealing than trying too hard to be perfect with this group.

Amplify your core beliefs

Gen Z consumers value diversity and brands that raise awareness for social issues. And in 2023, brands taking bold stances will become more of a rule than an exception. This boldness correlates with Gen Z’s desire to be heard and express their beliefs.

Let others do your work for you

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to say nothing and let your customers do your bidding for you. Incorporating customer testimonials into your social strategy can help build your brand’s online reputation, educate potential new customers, and strengthen credibility through social proof.

Use Social Commerce

Social commerce, a new frontier in social media marketing in the US, is the buying and selling of goods or services directly within a social media platform. This model encourages users to complete the entire ordering process without leaving their preferred apps.

Removing a step in the buying process, social commerce is the ideal marketing tool for restaurants because it lets brands meet customers where they live.

By Eileen Strauss


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