Millennials Are Refusing to Eat at Chain Restaurants: Here’s the 1 Surprising Reason Why

If a nice outing with family for you typically includes a sit-down dinner at a chain restaurant, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans every year grab a booth and order off the menu from places like Olive Garden, Arby’s, and Denny’s. But recent times prove the popularity of these restaurants is waning. And many believe the lack of millennial attendance is to blame.

So, why are millennials skipping out on traditional fare in favor of other dining options? We have the answers here, including the most surprising reason of all.

1. Applebee’s fails to attract millennials

Applebees sign.

Millennials aren’t interested in dining at Applebee’s. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Like so many other casual dining restaurants, Applebee’s attempted to reinvent itself. The New York Post notes Applebee’s left its traditional roots behind in favor of marketing itself as a modern bar and grill. And the chain also created special deals, like half-priced apps, and spent $40 million installing fire grills, to attract the younger crowd.

Unfortunately for Applebee’s, none of their efforts worked. They lost money instead, and alienated their typical demographic in the process.

Next: Here’s another chain that just can’t seem to grab millennials. 

2. TGI Fridays is also losing money due to the younger generation

TGI Friday's sign.

The popular chain isn’t seeing as many customers as it did before. | BreatheFitness/Getty Images

Another quick and casual place to eat, TGI Fridays has been steadily losing money over the years. And Business Insider reports it may be because of the location of these restaurants, as well as their dated appearance. Fridays’ CEO even told the publication opening more locations in the suburbs contributed to profit loss.

Location aside, there’s also the fact that millennials aren’t willing to spend their money on a place like Fridays when they could instead spend it on a cooler gastropub. Even with a different look, it’s hard to get away from the chain restaurant reputation.

Next: This restaurant blamed millennials in a letter for its falling numbers. 

3. Buffalo Wild Wings released a letter that blamed millennials

Buffalo Wild Wings sign.

Their accusation stirred up controversy. | Editorial RF/iStock/Getty Images

According to the Buffalo Wild Wings CEO, there’s no problem with their product — they’re just having issues with the changing industry. Business Insider reports CEO Sally Smith released a letter explaining casual-dining restaurants are being killed off thanks to the new millennial preferences.

Of course, with the push for healthier menu items, places like Buffalo Wild Wings fall flat. Their calorie-dense dinners and sports bar atmosphere works for other generations, but the 20-somethings are looking for a different experience.

Next: This chain struggled for a long time, but it’s making a comeback. 

4. Olive Garden brings in more millennials than other chains — but why?

The Olive Garden Sign is on the rock exterior of the building.

Olive Garden is still going strong. | ljhimages/iStock/Getty Images

Known for their piles of pasta and butter-laden breadsticks, it’s a surprise to many that Olive Garden is beating its competition. And Bloomberg notes around 30% of its customers are millennials.

So, what has the younger generation coming back? To-go orders, low price points, and food orders that are completely customizable are the edge Olive Garden has over others. The company’s focus on value is its biggest driving point.

Next: Here’s what millennials are looking for in a restaurant. 

5. Millennials are looking for healthier options

A group of friends having dinner together.

Healthy options are looking appetizing. | Shironosov/Getty Images

It’s not that millennials are rejecting going out to eat altogether. But they are swaying toward healthier fare, which is bad news for many chains that thrive off of all-you-can-eat offers and fried favorites. Forbes notes the Organic Trade Association finds over 50% of organic consumers are millennials. And the younger generation also eats 50% more veggies.

Certain restaurants that are jumping on the healthy bandwagon are likely to attract millennials more than others. Perhaps this is why places like Fridays and Applebee’s aren’t cutting it.

Next: Here’s how millennials feel about spending money on food. 

6. The younger generation will spend money on food — but only under the right circumstances

Female friends smiling and enjoying lunch together.

Millennials are interested in investing in good food. | Ibowdenimages/iStock/Getty Images

It’s true that millennials prefer to spend less on food than baby boomers when it comes to eating out. But Forbes notes they are willing to spend a few extra dollars if the meal is healthy. The publication also notes millennials are willing to go out of their way to find healthy fare if the only places within sight are chains lacking good-for-you options.

Also, millennials have less brand loyalty than boomers. While boomers may have the one chain restaurant they love to go back to again and again, millennials might be less likely to revisit the same place twice.

Next: Here’s a food trend millennials really love — and it’s hurting a lot of restaurants. 

7. Millennials love to order delivery

A group of friends having a meal at a table.

Eating at home can be much more relaxing than a crowded restaurant. | Milkos/Getty Images

Dunkin’ Donuts is another restaurant failing to attract millennials. And the CEO for the company tells Business Insider it’s because the younger crowd is after more delivery options than ever before. Now, the donut chain is partnering up with DoorDash to offer delivery and get some customers back.

“It’s going to be like a revolution,” the Dunkin’ CEO says about delivery. Seeing as many chain restaurants are losing their sales to places that will bring their food right to the customer’s doorstep, he’s surely on to something.

Next: Here’s why millennials love delivery so much more than baby boomers.

8. They’re all about convenience rather than experience

Overhead view of a group of friends having a meal at home.

Sometimes you just want to eat on your couch. | DGLimages/Getty Images

It’s no secret millennials love to try out the latest trends. But above all things, it seems they covet convenience over anything else. As the Dunkin’ Donuts CEO tells Business Insider, “I think the millennial generation is much more demanding than prior generations.” They love speedy service and would rather get their food as fast as possible than spend the money to wait for it at a casual chain restaurant. Waiting to order, to receive the food, and then get the check is proving to be too time consuming for the busy millennial.

Next: This one reason millennials aren’t eating at chain restaurants really shocked us. 

9. The 1 reason: Millennials like to cook at home more than older generations

Chef prepares hotpot in the stew pan.

Millennials often opt for cooking homemade meals. | RazoomGames/iStock/Getty Images

You may not think of millennials as the cooking type, but sure enough, they are. The Spoon conducted a survey of over 1,000 households, and they concluded 95% of those between ages 18 and 29 cooked weekly at home. And when they’re not standing over their stovetop, they’re choosing to order delivery or try out meal kit services.

The publication found 9% of those used meal kit services weekly, while those over 60 only tried them out 3% of the time. And while millennials like simple meals that only involve a few ingredients, they prefer to cook over eating microwavable options.

Next: This trend is totally beating out chain restaurants. 

10. Delivery meal kits are winning against chain restaurants

Woman chopping food on a counter.

Meal kits are winning over millennials. | Anchiy/iStock/Getty Images

Meal kits check all the boxes for what millennials value. They’re quick to make, affordable, convenient, and typically pretty healthy. It’s no wonder they’re winning with the younger crowd over chains.

USA Today explains meal kits are a $2.2 billion dollar business, and they’re expected to keep growing. And they appeal to those who have dietary restrictions as well, so vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free eaters don’t have to worry about the limited options offered at restaurants.

Next: You’ve seen these around cities, but they’re also putting chain restaurants out of business. 

11. Food trucks are also winning big

A woman taking a food order from a food truck.

Food trucks provide amazing food at affordable prices. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to a survey by Technomic, 88% of millennials value trying different types of food, says The Washington Examiner. This is one of the many reasons why food trucks are gaining traction with the younger crowd.

As of 2017, the food truck industry grew four times as big as it was in 2012. And it offers the perfect mix of fresh cuisine and affordability, while also supporting local business. Food trucks specialize in anything from smoothie bowls to Korean food — an appealing offer over Applebee’s fare.

Next: This chain has millennials coming back again and again.

12. Chains like Chipotle are gaining traction with the younger crowd

A restaurant worker fills an order at a Chipotle restaurant.

Hungry customers are still heading to Chipotle. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Traditional chain restaurants may not be thriving, but fast-casual chains are certainly gaining steam. Chipotle evidently offers exactly what millennials want. As analyst Colin Radke tells Business Insider, “The healthiness and the speed of service — that’s been taking market shares from casual dining.”

Chipotle also touts sustainable practices — something the younger generation is particularly passionate about. They don’t spend much on their meal, and they can feel good about whom they’ve chosen to purchase from.

Next: Here’s another millennial favorite. 

13. Panera is another favorite

Panera Bread restaurant.

Panera Bread is still a winner. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Forbes notes millennials also love Panera Bread. Its fast and cheap food wins big with the millennials, and the company also has a focus on sustainability and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. Since millennials are less focused on calories and more into meals containing plenty of nutrients, Panera’s quinoa, kale, and fruit offerings check these boxes.

Panera also wins the hearts of millennials by having no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives in its menu items. And the company also offers “natural” and “organic” options, which the young folks love.

Next: This coffee giant wins big over Dunkin’. 

14. Starbucks is more popular over its coffee competitors

Patrons at Starbucks sitting inside.

Millennials are constantly craving Starbucks coffee. | Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The drinks and pastries are filled with calories, but Starbucks still knows how to appeal to their millennial audience. This coffee giant is all about sustainable practices — and the corporation even donated a $500 million bond for sustainability projects in 2016, says Fortune. This puts it in good standing with the younger generation.

Starbucks knows its target audience, too, which is why they’ll continue to push their sustainability angle. Adults between the ages of 18 to 24 account for 40% of the company’s sales — so they’re surely doing something right.

Next: These eateries are still holding strong with millennials, which may surprise you.

15. Some traditional fast food spots are still doing well, too

McDonald's Big Mac.

Millennials are still enjoying Big Macs and chicken nuggets. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Since places like Applebee’s and Fridays are going down, then it makes sense to assume fast food joints like McDonald’s are also seeing a sales slump, right? Surprisingly, McDonald’s is still in solid standing with millennials, Forbes notes. While millennials want better food quality and healthier meals, it seems convenience might trump everything else.

In 2017, McDonald’s stock hit an all-time high. And Domino’s is also doing surprisingly well. Both fast food sellers started offering mobile-ordering service, where you can preorder your food for pick-up. And that, coupled with low cost, is enough to drive sales.

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