Comment: Win over the millennials

How F&B concepts can attract and retain new guests

Opinion, Columnists

Dubai’s vast selection of restaurants in differentiated neighbourhoods at numerous price points has resulted in a significant rise in cut-throat promotional activity, with each operator fighting to attract business. But what is next?

In the ever-changing food and beverage industry, the global landscape has evolved dramatically over the last few years. And it will change even more over the next five to eight years as the millennials’ spending habits are expected to peak.

Millennials have come of age during a time of technological change, globalisation and economic disruption. They show different attitudes to ownership, or what is now called a “sharing economy”.

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But what impact is this generation having on shaping this new economy? The millennials will be demanding big changes in the F&B industry but unfortunately, not many operators have actually taken this into consideration. They don’t yet see the full potential of this upcoming global market and have not studied their behavioural patterns or identified their F&B preferences.

So what is it that millennials want in a venue? They are actively seeking a casual, affordable restaurant or bar that gives guests the opportunity to meet new friends, socialise and have fun. This means more open spaces and an inviting atmosphere; the choice of large, community tables; flexible seating to help accommodate big parties, and a more modern lobby and bar area.

A quirky-yet-functional outlet design — warm, colourful and youthful — but with unique, funky elements and distinctive décor for a simpler, more home-like feel, will attract them in, while comfortable chairs and sofas will surely keep them in your outlet for longer.

Remember that it needs to be photogenic too. Millennials are taking and sharing photos constantly, so they want the setting to look good. And don’t forget that millennials love to be part of a crowd.

That’s not all. Millennials like free Wi-Fi in restaurants and bars, as well as ample electrical outlets and USB ports. Because everyone’s phone is running low on battery by the time the meal arrives, millennials want to plug in and recharge. The use of technological devices such as tablets instead of menus, and the option to order and pay with mobile phones, and even different games on tablets in the restaurant, all become very powerful tools for attracting restaurant guests.

When it comes to the menu offering, the millennials are actively seeking customisation. Food and beverages that suit their cravings, and a variety of appealing flavours, are among the most important factors. Sharing is also key. A small plate to share is not a movement or trend, it is reality.

This generation values authenticity more than anything. They want the genuine experience. A globally-inspired cuisine usually holds the most appeal. They also love an ethnic mash-up such as tamarind miso marinated onglet steak or grilled aubergine, chilli, ginger, yuzu and soy dressing. Crispy shallots and sugar-cured prawn omelette with smoked chilli sambal, or flavoured mascarpone on banana bread are just a few suggestions. Don’t be afraid to offer something with an unexpected or dramatic twist, or to put modern spins on established comfort foods, when seeking to satisfy their “snacking” lifestyle.

Food transparency and open kitchens are also highly valued by millennials. They want to know calorie counts, nutritional information, and provenance — make sure you have healthy options on your menu. And they want to be able to see into the kitchens, to confirm they’re getting what they asked for. Also very important are signature beverages such as beer and cider cocktails, flavoured whiskeys, or spiced rums and liqueurs.

Attracting millennials to your restaurant or bar is no easy feat, but the potential rewards are worth the effort when you consider their annual buying power.

Willi Elsener is the founder of ‘bespoke’, a boutique hospitality and food & beverage advisory firm based in Dubai, UAE. He has more than 40 years’ experience in different sectors of the hospitality industry around the globe. Contact him on

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