Are restaurant marketers missing the big spenders?

Feb. 23, 2012 | by Barry Klein

Not much for paying attention to statistics, I was stopped cold when the following caught my eye: There is a demographic group that ...

  • Holds 70 percent of U.S. wealth;
  • Buys 62 percent of new cars;
  • Spends 80 percent of the leisure travel dollars;
  • Is responsible for 94 percent of consumer package goods sales.

Who are these people? Believe it or not, BOOMERS (age 48 to 66), according to Media Post (2/21), women make 80 percent of the boomer household decisions, spending 2.5 times the amount of money as the average person in the rest of the population.

When we consider restaurant marketing, can we think of a brand that specifically targets this demographic segment? Denny's did at one time, but not so much these days.

Restaurants are not the only marketers that neglect Boomers. The entire package goods category only spends 5 percent of its dollars on this demographic, even though it accounts for 94 percent of package goods sales.

Automobile brands devote more of their dollars to Boomer audiences, but not nearly in proportion to the sales they represent. The most valuable, highest-priced broadcast media announcements are still purchased to reach the coveted 18 to 49 age group. What is wrong with the so-called marketing mavens and their clients?

Here are some opinions (somewhat biased and a bit sarcastic, I'll admit) about why restaurant marketing people seem to avoid communicating with Boomers:

  1. They think that a dining room filled with gray heads might be a negative to younger customers.
  2. Thirty-year-old copywriters and art directors can hardly relate to boomers (even their parents), much less create compelling advertising for them.
  3. Media specialists don't even look at vehicles with higher numbers of Boomer audiences than the younger demographics.
  4. There is a prevailing opinion that Boomers represent a very small percentage of a high-volume chain's sales.
  5. Management is told that Boomers will see and respond to advertising directed at the younger audiences.
  6. Boomers are only looking for deals on meals, and they take too long to eat.
  7. Electronic communications are too high-tech and Boomers don't use them.

With such prevailing opinions and attitudes, it's a wonder that restaurants get ANY Boomer business. But despite what I like to call the "Passover Syndrome" ("Let the messages pass over them. If they come to dine, fine. If not it's no great loss."), Boomers are dining out and buying restaurant food to take home more than ever before.

People in this age group are working, spending more time outside the home, and definitely cooking fewer meals. They have more disposable income, and spend it on themselves. Restaurant occasions are integral to their lifestyle, no longer unusual or special. Most of them get excited about new restaurants opening in the neighborhood, and are willing to try new tastes offered by their favorite places.

The opinion here is that if we could analyze the patronage of restaurant brands whose sales have been increasing recently, we'd find that much of the improvement comes from additional visits by Boomers. Examples could include Panera, Starbucks, Chipotle, even McDonald's, with the addition of McCafe and other drinks.

Conversely, we are aware of negative sales for casual dining chains that chased the younger demographics and literally abandoned the Boomers, and for some QSR chains like Burger King who have recently changed their strategy.

Those of us who are responsible for marketing or provide marketing counsel for restaurants need to stop and take a hard look at our target audiences. We should be digging into the right media and creating the messages that can reach and influence Boomers. It's not a simple assignment. Boomers are incredibly diverse and have the most varied interests of all age groups. The efficiencies will not be very compelling, and developing the right communications will be tricky. But the marketers who succeed in bringing this eclectic group to their restaurants will reap the benefits in increased sales and profits for some time.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Customer Service / Experience , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management , Trends / Statistics

Barry Klein / Barry Klein is best known for creating the Ronald McDonald character and led the "You Deserve A Break Today" advertising campaign for McDonald's. In his current occupation as a marketing consultant, Klein has developed business-building concepts, new products and more for Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Cadillac, Ruby Tuesday, Friendly’s, Perkins, Pay Less Shoes and others. He has been a key contributor to such projects as Stuffed Crust Pizza for Pizza Hut, Prime Rib Subs and Torpedoes for Quizno

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