Throughout my career covering the restaurant industry, I have fixated on the “price” part when discussing or learning about the price-value equation. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the ’90s, meaning two of my formative cultural touchpoints were “show me the money” and “Mo Money Mo Problems.” More likely it’s because I graduated college and started working in the pre-recession heyday of McDonald’s Dollar Menu and then the era of Subway’s $5 footlong and Applebee’s 2 for $20 offer.
So I was surprised to find that many of my fellow Millennials don’t necessarily follow the “show me the money” mindset when dining out. According to the Value & Pricing Consumer Trend Report, the amount customers are asked to pay matters, but it’s hardly the only consideration when it comes to value at a restaurant. More than half of consumers say about a dozen attributes completely unrelated to prices or discounts are important to creating value for a restaurant meal, including several facets of service, ambiance and social responsibility.
Younger consumers are especially interested in corporate social responsibility as a way for restaurants to engineer more value into the dining experience. Three-quarters of consumers age 18 to 34 say it is important or extremely important for a restaurant to “treat employees well” in order to create a good value. By contrast, 70% of people age 35 and older say the same thing, far more than the 52% of people overall who say restaurants can create value by “using sustainable foods” or the 51% who cite “environmentally friendly practices.” While those attributes don’t deal directly with how much the restaurant charges the customer, they nonetheless make people feel less guilty about spending their money at restaurants and feel good about where they choose to dine.
Consumers say restaurants can make them feel good about the dining experience, and thus create value, in other ways, some of which appeal more to older diners than to Millennials and Generation Z. For instance, when it comes to ambiance, more than half of consumers say they perceive a greater value when a restaurant has appropriate noise levels (66%), a relaxing atmosphere (62%), a variety of seating (60%) or a family-friendly atmosphere (55%). Interestingly, fewer than three in 10 consumers say free Wi-Fi makes a difference in value creation, though the 18-to-34-year-old crowd clamored for that amenity at more than twice the rate of consumers 35 and older.
To make consumers perceive more value at a restaurant, those brands need to make them feel valued. Rather than just show them the money, operators should focus on showing customers respect, attention and, above all, a good time.