Marketing to Millennials: Industry Experts Share Tricks of the Trade

Millennials. Food and wine industry darlings -- or demons? Perhaps a bit of both. Defined as those between ages 18-34, many food and wine venues invest heavily in marketing to this niche market. Is the return on investment worth it?

A recent Pew Research Center study shows that millennials share a less favorable view of their generation than other age groups. Statistics show that more than half of millennials, 59 percent, consider themselves "self-absorbed,” compared to 20 percent of baby boomers. However, another 40 percent list "environmentally conscious," with "idealistic" not far behind at 39 percent.

For wine and food industry professionals, traits like environmental consciousness and idealism dovetail well with sustainability, locavore, and farm-to-table movements nationwide.

Here, Foodable catches up with restaurateurs and wine folks nationwide to find out their tricks for marketing to millennials.


90 percent of Millennials pack a smartphone with them at all times, according to a 2014 Zogby Analytics study. Furthermore, the first thing 80 percent of Millennials do each morning is check their smartphone. Throughout the day, 78 percent spend over two hours on their smartphone texting, tweeting, talking, surfing, banking, and shopping.

Given this predilection for the smartphone, Seattle Millennials tend to favor virtual grub hub apps like Yelp, Eater, and Zomato, which consolidate consumer ratings, reviews, menus, and pricing, when surfing for food and wine options. Another favored marketing device, geo-tagging, provides electronic enticements or "special offers" instant messages from wineries and restaurants to consumers "checking in" on Facebook or Foursquare at similar, nearby establishments.

Established restaurants like Serafina use social media daily to market upcoming events, share random musings, and showcase its familial nature through photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Serafina manager Kika Westhof stresses how social media serves as a wonderful way to strengthen connections in a highly personal way, particularly multi-generational guests; many Millennial guests learned of the restaurant through family dinners and celebrations with their Baby Boomer parents.

Interestingly, Seattle’s unpredictable weather patterns often tailor messaging. Sunny, warm days feature more outdoor patio social media shots, whereas stormy winter days beg for hot toddy and live music enticements.

Sonoma Wine Country

Sonoma hot spot El Dorado Kitchen, part of the Moana Restaurant Group, appreciates Millennials’ sociability, and enjoys reposting guests’ shared content featuring visits to the venue on various social media platforms.

According to Tami von Isakovics, VP of Marketing and PR at Moana Restaurant Group, Millennials grew up on social media, so it’s second nature for them to want to share their food and wine experiences on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Millennials also eschew traditional "blanket" marketing, preferring instead personalization and making that extra effort engaging guests, so El Dorado Kitchen offers takeaways and incentives like recipes, coupons, discounts, and secret specials or deals. That said, von Isakovics believes that the basic tenants of hospitality apply, regardless of the medium, namely “treating people as guests...and working to make their experience the best it can be.”

Humor also looms large when engaging Millennials, so El Dorado Kitchen tries to keep things light with craft cocktail names like “The Hallucinogen” and “Cuke-a-Racha” or "improvisational" social media. Case in point: a random driver crashed into the front wall of El Dorado Hotel and Kitchen last February. That day, the bartender posted a sign on the damaged wall, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, advertising the classic “Harvey Wallbanger” as that day’s drink special. The posting turned a potentially stressful situation into a fun one.

El Dorado Kitchen also employs cross-promoting on Pinterest to attract brides by "pinning" photographers’ wedding photos from real weddings performed at their destination venue.

Barkeeps at trendy Healdsburg eatery Barndiva also find Pinterest most effective for keeping Millennial guests up to speed on rotating artisan beverage selections.

Paso Robles Wine Country

Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance finds that Millennials respond not only to social media, but to the social aspect of wineries in general. Tobin James Cellars excels in marketing to millennials with their emphasis on parties and social events. They also utilize social media prodigiously to post memes, etc. Other wineries such as edgy Chronic Cellars and eccentric “ZinBitch” Cypher Winery appeal to Millennials’ appreciation of the offbeat and unusual.

In 2014, sleepy, rural Paso Robles also unveiled a hip, urban warehouse winery district at Marquita Crossing, dubbed "Tin City." The name is a nod to the corrugated-tin clad buildings that house many wineries, including Aaron Wines, Clos Solene, Desperada, Field Recordings (which offers canned wine), First Crush, Giornata, MCV, Nicora, Powell Mountain Cellars, and Torrin. Disparate in styles and approach, they all share a desire to create small production, artisan wines representative of the region, but also of their unique personalities. This emphasis on individuality appeals to Millennials.

Finger Lakes Wine Region

Wine cupcakes...and Instagram. For New York’s Finger Lakes Wine Region, this proved the perfect marketing recipe for attracting Millennials to Corning’s historic Gaffer District during the recent 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. The Gaffer District, so named for the glass blowers for which the town is famous, hosted the opening Wine Blogger’s Conference Opening Reception, featuring local wineries and eateries in a picturesque outdoor setting.

An innovative touch included small, square cards scattered about guest tables as takeaways, which featured three different photos on the front of the card and the @gafferdistrict handle plus the #ExploreCorning hashtag on the back. Twitter also played a large role in engaging and keeping the conversation going before, during and after the conference.

Will marketing to Millennials pay off in the long run? Only time will tell. But these industry experts are taking a proactive approach in marketing their businesses to the demographic that may soon be the most influential segment.