If you’re a baby boomer, chances are that you grew up crazy about fast food restaurants. McDonald’s… Kentucky Fried Chicken… White Castle… anybody remember Wetson’s? We were the first generation to be raised with fast food. As we’ve aged and changed, so has the quick-service industry.
Seventy-six million strong, boomers are now the most powerful consumer demographic in American history. We spend an average $2,600 a year eating out, compared with an average $2,100 for all households, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Between work and caring for their elderly parents as well as their grandchildren, many boomers are members of what’s also being called—excuse the pun—the “sandwich generation.” These folks characterize themselves as being health-conscious. They pay close attention to how food is cooked, the freshness of ingredients, and the variety of healthy selections on a menu.
A December 2014 study conducted by New York-based brand and customer loyalty and engagement consultancy, Brand Keys (brandkeys.com) has shown that when it comes to fast food, baby boomers want better service, healthier choices—and they’re willing to pay for it.
Forbes magazine recently reported on a survey, which differentiated between fast food “chains”, and what they referred to as “fast-casual restaurants.”
But what determined whether you’re eating at a fast food chain or fast-casual restaurant? As 58 year-old Dan Morrison put it in an interview, “To me, a fast-food place has a drive-thru and a fast-casual restaurant is somewhere you go in. It doesn’t take very long, but you sit inside and eat. Fast-casual restaurants also have more variety and healthier choices.”
Baby Boomers (along with Millennials) indicated that interior design was a critical difference between fast food and fast-casual dining. Among the national brands examined, Baby Boomers’ top-3 carte du jour were Panera, Au Bon Pain, and Applebee’s.
Baby Boomers reported an 18% decrease in fast food restaurant visitation. Not surprisingly, this group placed extraordinarily high values on health, but also living well. They can afford, what nearly a third of the sample (32%) called, “quality food,” something that they attribute more to the fast-casual dining restaurants like Panera and Chipotle than they do to the traditional fast food brands like McDonald’s, KFC or Wendy’s.
The survey showed that Baby Boomers also expect better service, something the traditional fast food chains have fallen down on in recent years; not being as fast as they used to be. Expectations about food choice, quality and speedy services are very high among boomers. This group reported a 20% increase in visitation to fast-casual restaurants, with 65% indicating high expectations of “excellent service” and 58% indicating that their expectations were met by the fast-casual brands.
by Donna Giachetti