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The M Word: Engaging the Next Generation



We really dislike the M word (and so do they). In fact, the term Millennials is used as a catch-all phrase for the generational cohorts born from 1980 onward. Regardless of how we might compartmentalize them, your restaurant may or may not be targeting them as customers, but you’re almost certainly looking to appeal to them as employees.

What drives this cohort? Connecting, values, respect, sharing, technology, immediacy, disruptive innovation, and just labour laws. Here’s looking at everything related to the M word as a workforce, as consumers and as the next generation of Canadian restaurateurs.


There’s a generation gap when it comes to what customers like: what is attractive to one group may turn off another. It’s important to understand the demographic of your current customers, and of the customers you want to target, if they aren’t the same. There are clear differences in the way various age groups shop the foodservice industry.

According to Geoff Wilson of fsSTRATEGY, when catering to younger eaters, think about:


  • The type of food they’re looking for (organic, local, with the origin noted)
  • When they eat (often later; during off-peak hours)
  • How they eat (often delivered/picked up to eat elsewhere)
  • The kind of experience they’re looking for (dining as a social event; customized food)
  • What they do with the experience (make connections, employ technology)

The last point is particularly important. Younger consumers are highly connected, and they value communication in the moment. Are you annoyed by customers who take and post Instagram photos? Think of it as free—and instantaneous—advertising. Understand who your target market is, and design ambience, menus, and service around them.



You shouldn’t try. If you’re trying to please everyone, you’ll probably please no one. Establish your brand and who you’re targeting, and make sure your decisions are consistent with that. Don’t offer a menu item just because it’s “in” right now. Popular entree choices (think kale salad, pulled pork, or poke) add nothing to your menu unless you make it your own. What is your point of difference?


Understand your customers, and how much they want to spend: You can get there through trial and error, but why not learn by talking to your customers? People love to share their opinions of food. They may underestimate how much they want to spend, but you’ll get the gist of what they’re looking for.

Provide a menu with an array of unique options: Regardless of whether you offer shared plates or individual entrees, ensure there are more than enough appealing and differentiated options. Customers should leave wanting to come back to try something else.

Provide outstanding quality and service: This says it all. Customers will come back, and they will pay it forward through word of mouth marketing.



How do we encourage younger generations to build careers in foodservice?

The industry has been asking this question for years. “People don’t perceive foodservice to be a career industry,” says Wilson, “and that is a systemic problem.” We’re making progress. Chains and independents have begun to recognize the importance of employee retention, and the creation of employee career paths, often in collaboration with post-secondary institutions in Canada.

One of the biggest costs facing owners is employee turnover. “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave bosses,” says Wilson. Management teams should be trained in building relationships with employees. And it goes without saying that the employees themselves need proper training. If they don’t know what they’re doing, it won’t just result in poor service—it will impact how they feel about the job.

How to create a workplace culture that works for all generations

  • Train new hires properly
  • Train managers to build relationships with employees
  • Create a culture where employees want to work
  • Pay competitively

How to create a workplace culture that will attract young people

  • Provide feedback
  • Provide opportunities to engage in dialogue with management
  • Let them feel like they’re part of a team
  • Encourage their contributions
  • Listen to them when they talk

Geoff Wilson, President fsSTRATEGY. fsSTRATEGY provides business strategy consulting to the foodservice industry.

For more on labour issues in Canada and how Restaurants Canada is working with federal and provincial governments, see our article on Labour Laments.

For advice on succession planning in your business, see this post.

And don’t miss what young people in foodservice have to say about working in restaurants.


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