I read some article/blog/something post recently that said millennials were killing the chain casual dining restaurant. I find this kind of hilarious since it’s the large majority of restaurants available in my town other than fast food and a tiny handful of local joints. It doesn’t really matter which of these chain places you’re in, what their gimmick is, or how the food tastes. They’re all the same. I can tell you exactly why they’re not popular with millennials.
First, TVs. There are literally dozens of screens in these places, all playing something different. It’s never anything worth watching, either. Recently, I was eating lunch in one of the many CDCRs (Casual Dining Chain Restaurants) in my area, and there were no less than 5 huge TV screens pointed at my table from various angles. One was even a huge projection style on the wall and was unavoidable to say the least. It was dark in there, so that you could see the screens, with dimmed lights over the tables. If you have anxiety, panic disorders, epilepsy, ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, or any one of the possibly hundreds of mental or physical conditions that would be deeply affected by this kind of atmosphere it’s extremely overwhelming. Top off these silent flashing screens with loud music playing over hidden speakers, loud conversations from other tables surrounding you, and the walls being absolutely crammed full of thousands of pieces of useless crap, and you’re being bombarded with a million unwanted things at once. This is the stuff of nightmares for a lot of people I know. I was seated in this nightmare after having asked for a quiet table, so before anybody says “why don’t you just ask” I did.
Let’s talk about the food. It’s usually mediocre at best. Mass produced plates of insane amounts of calories and sodium. The only differentiation in flavors is how spicy something is or how much sauce it’s drowned in. Even fresh food looks like it’s been dumped out of a package. The main staples of the menu are what ever meat they’re serving in a world more and more populated with people trying to cut back on meat consumption. Overpriced mediocre mass produced food dripping in sodium laden sauce and covered in meat is not what environmentally and health conscious millennials are interested in eating. It’s just not. Even if they do eat meat, they want to know that it’s ethically sourced or in the very least a healthier option.
Finally, I draw your attention to the service. My most recent visit was pretty ok. The waitress was prompt and friendly. This isn’t always the case, though. More often than not I’m either waiting for what seems like an eternity for a drink refill from non-existent wait staff, or they’re borderline rude. I get it. It’s a shit job where you make nothing an hour, have to split your tips, and the customers are dickheads. As far as jobs go, these are usually the worst. It seems even more horrible at CDCRs, because there’s no reason to treat the staff like they’re people. From corporate on down to the shift manager, there’s an atmosphere of “you’re expendable” and “this is temporary.” And it’s not just the restaurants themselves who are cheap, customers don’t want to tip any more than they have to for a meal they’ve only barely enjoyed in an atmosphere that’s triggered them into a near panic.
If these places want to draw in more millennial business, take my advice; get rid of the majority of TV screens or just put them in one area, create some quieter spaces with less crap on the walls, have more vegetarian and vegan options, stop covering everything in sodium laden sauces, pay and train your wait staff better, and take some damn pride in your food.