Are millennials killing casual dining chains?

Millennials are more likely to cook at home, order delivery, and eat quickly in fast casual or quick serve restaurants like Chick-fil-A or Panera.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The term "millennial" seems to often come with a negative connotation. A simple online search shows countless articles blaming them for ruining the world as we know it; killing all the precious traditions of the past.

For example, Business Insider published an article saying that millennials have killed casual dining chains. THV11 did the research to find out if this was really the case. First, we spoke with millennials in the central Arkansas community.

Jessica Mauthe said that she couldn’t even remember the last time she went to a chain restaurant like Chilis or TGI Fridays. Byron Burrell said that he does eat at casual dining chains on occasion, like Applebee’s and Chilis, but he says it’s only when he is having dinner with family. Joe French said places like Applebee’s don’t really hit the spot for him. He said they are just places his grandma, mom or dad took him after church on Sundays.

The seeming disinterest of millennials when it comes to casual dining chains is reflected in company sales numbers

There have been numerous chain restaurant closings and multiple bankruptcy cases filed in 2017 alone.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill announced this month that they were also filing for bankruptcy.

This is a trend that has been all too common over the last 10 years and it is a problem that Buffalo Wild Wing’s CEO, Sally Smith, says is caused by millennial consumers.

She says millennials are more likely to cook at home, order delivery, and eat quickly in fast casual or quick serve restaurants. The numbers seem to back her claims. Fast casual restaurants are growing and growing as casual chain dining drops.

Greg Henderson, food expert and owner of Rock City Eats, says that it's not just the lure of fast or to-go services drawing away customers; it's a lack of connection.

“The faceless corporate brand that prevailed in the 80s and 90s and early 2000s, doesn’t really connect with people anymore. Millennials want a story and something they can connect with.”

He said that for casual dining chains to succeed, they are going to have to continue to find ways to connect with the average consumer rather than relying on their notable brand name.

Henderson also said that while millennials may be killing classic chains, they aren't killing all sit-down places. Local restaurants like Three Fold Noodle and Dumpling Co. in Little Rock are challenging casual dining chains by delivering the best of casual dining and fast casual combined. They aim to offer fast service, authentic food, and quick, sidewalk carryout.

“By the time you're paying for your meal, your food is almost ready to come out,” said Henderson. “It is a very quick service but they manage to be fresh at the same time.”

Rebecca Yan, Operations Director for Three Fold, says their service style is urban and fast paced.

“You come, order, sit down and we bring the food for you, but it still has the fast-casual pace and service style.”

She said they've kept their food as authentic as possible and focus on sharing their personal story behind the food. They have also been successful at connecting with millennials on social media.

“We try to work with stop motion videos on Instagram where you can see how a noodle bowl is being built in a 20 second video and I think that is quite an attraction to the younger generation,” said Yan.

So, while millennials may be challenging the chains, they are also offering a new breath of life to local restaurants. They are giving companies a chance to change and evolve and win the younger generation over.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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