The Not So Missing Millennial

By Paul Barron, Foodable Founder

The state of the millennial defection of the restaurant industry is greatly exaggerated by recent reports. The reality, at least the reality we tracked in the Restaurant Social Media Media Index, indicates a completely different landscape of Millennial Restaurant goers. While Millennials are in fact reducing their visits to top brands, they have increased their dining out habits with a new crop of local and independent restaurant brands.


Millennials have jumped as much as a 29% increase in dining occasions at fast casual restaurant brands, but not the usual suspects. We broke down 36 markets that showed a more interesting analysis of localized restaurant activities with Millennials leading the way.  In fact, they have become silently loyal to many of these brands and businesses.

What we are finding is the with exception of Chipotle, who has actually increased transactions with the Millennial crowd by 18% in the past two quarters, the top 25 Fast Casual brands have declined in Millennial location-based transactions by 27%. This is an alarming rate of departure for the fast casual industry, but at the same time a great opportunity to reclaim the roots to which the industry was built.

Brands with a Major Increase of Millennial Traffic

There is a new breed of brands that are excelling in local markets and blowing up in the millennial category with double digit location-based traffic for all the listed brands.

California Dreamin’

Mendocino Farms has seen a two quarter increase in Millennial traffic of 14% - a chef driven concept with a local feel and style has embraced a more upscale and almost casual element, that has attracted herds of new restaurant goers in the emerging earners.

Green is Gold

Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop is another chef driven concept, but one that has completely re-formatted the fast casual segment. The award-winning organic restaurant features upscale markets, wine and beer and menu that rivals some of the top restaurants in the casual sector – without the tip.  They are being awarded with a 13% lift in the past two quarters alone!

Pincho Pinching out the competition

Pincho Factory- A small and underserved concept in the heart of Miami, that is the rockstar performer of Millennials with a 21% increase in traffic. This new discriminating crowd loves their slant on burgers and the art of the Pincho.

Nando’s Nailing It

South African Brand, Nando's Peri-Peri is reveling in the power of the DC Millennials. This brand has crafted a new market, in which the value and offerings of Nando’s seem to attract the new category of future foodies.  Nando’s has seen 11% increase in the past two quarters.

BurgerFi Blasting the category

With all the burger flippers in the space, Burgerfi is on the rise with 12% increase in the past two quarters and shows signs of taking the top spot in growth of Millennial demographics for a brand. Upping the ante to 11% increase over the past two quarters, shows there may be a new burger category in town.

Some other double-digit performers were Roam Artisan Burgers and Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery in San Francisco, LA’s Lemonade, Spain-based 100 Montaditos, Pitfire Pizza also LA-Based, NYC’s Red Farm and Momofuku, Miami-based Offerdahl’s Grill, and Denver-based Mod Market.

The Future Buyer Power of Millennials 

When we broke down the demographic categories in fast casual, casual dining and QSR– the top 100 restaurant concepts were almost non-existent in millennial dining occasion growth. The growth in various new markets show that the millennials may be the next new brand drivers like the Gen Xer’s before them, who drove the fast casual segment growth in the mid 2000’s. The only difference is that there are six times as many of them.

Some key facts that new brands need to keep close in mind is that the more mature casual dining and QSR brands are vying for this new income powerhouse category. By incorporating the elements of local, high value and interesting flavors– this may be the secret weapon to use as the next catalyst for growth for emerging brands.