On Speedos, Segmentation and Summer

Kevin Higar, Author, Foodservice Marketing Consultant

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It’s officially summertime, and you know what that means: time to start mowing the lawn in my Speedo with matching flip-flops while vigorously waving at every car that surprisingly passes by the house only once. For others who have some sense of shame and are much younger, it also means the end of another torturous school year and the beginning of those carefree warmweather months. Translation: a lot of high school and college individuals getting foodservice jobs.

My daughter is no exception. This year she won’t be coming home from college. Instead, she has a job waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant near the university. As a proud father, I always wish success for her, so this is a great opportunity for me to impart some wisdom in her direction about how to maximize customer satisfaction and, subsequently, tips. Surprisingly, she wasn’t very interested in that daddy-daughter conversation, so how about I give you those words of wisdom instead? How lucky can you get?

Surveying Segments

Each day a wide variety of demographics visits your businesses. One of the tricks of satisfying their demands is recognizing that while they may all have a common goal of satisfying hunger, the voice and strategy a business uses to communicate its ability to meet this need may vary from person to person. Technomic research shows very different satisfaction need states among fundamental segmentations such as age. Let’s examine some ways you can create business strategies and messages to reach three different ones.

Millennials (1981-2000): The generation most likely to agree with this statement: “My daily responsibilities are overwhelming, so I tend to eat out or pick up food.” If you want their business, you must accommodate life on the fly, as Snap Kitchen in Houston does. Often located where busy millennials tend to work, play and live, the locations specialize in highquality grab-and-go items. What makes Snap Kitchen unique is how it packages food items for easy purchase. As customers enter the store, they are immediately met by bright orange, green and black food containers (see photo, above). Each color visually represents a different portion size. So when the typical millennial comes screaming inside, frantically looking for something to eat, he or she can quickly spot and grab the size and corresponding price point that’s right for that specific meal occasion. Sure, we’re talking about only a few seconds here, but in the timecrunched life of a twentysomething, that can be a stress-reducing tactic.

Gen Xers (1966-1980): Most likely to be raising children. As such, their basic demand is twofold. First, offer foods and beverages with a perceptual betterfor-you halo. Sure, the kids may opt for something that would make the Easter Bunny shudder, but as an adult, at least having a moderately better option available makes them feel better. Second, the very fact that high-energy kids are in the picture means these adults really crave a few moments to catch their breath. To the degree you can offer this, whether it’s through seating and ambiance or just a calm, engaging interaction with a staff member during the ordering process, it will often be much appreciated. And yes, those are their kids rearranging the beef jerky on Aisle 4.

Baby boomers (1946-1965): Most likely to disagree with the statement “I prefer to visit restaurants offering new or innovative flavors.” What they’re telling you is they like what they like (and probably grew up with), and they’ll reward concepts that have these items available. One mistake I see concepts often making today is writing off these customers and focusing all their attention on younger individuals. Many boomers have plenty of purchasing power. They truly appreciate genuine hospitality and traditional comfort foods and will reciprocate by giving you their loyalty and dollars.

As a father, I think it’s critical to practice what you preach. Tomorrow I’m headed to a large metropolitan area with a thriving subway system. I think I’ll take the demographic strategies discussed in this article and see how many different conversations I can successfully start up with total strangers on the train. I really think the typical urbanite would enjoy that, don’t you?

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