Saturday, April 19, 2014

I Have Seen The Future... At Chili's

I went to a Chili's recently for lunch, for the first time in a long time.  As soon as I sat down, I knew something was very different. There was some sort of tablet-like digital device at every table. I opened the menu and the first appetizer I saw was not, say, nachos, but rather fresh tableside guacamole.  And then was also an entire page of specially-priced Lunch Combos, featuring lighter options like salads and grilled chicken sandwiches.  The whole place was lighter, too, and less cave-like than I'd remembered.  It was like seeing an ex-girlfriend after a few years, and being surprised that she'd lost 30 lbs. and bought some new clothes.

Clearly, something was up.  I was conscious that I was experiencing some sort of  carefully calibrated, grander corporate wizardry, probably the result of painstaking quantitative analysis of lots of expensive consumer research. But what did this all mean?

I couldn't puzzle it out until I read THIS article in Forbes this morning, about how so-called Millennials are now critical drivers of the fast food and 'fast casual' restaurant businesses.  In an instant, I got the vision.  I had glimpsed the future at Chilis.

"For all the endless discussion over how terrible Millennials are.. this over-generalized generation represents a quarter of the U.S. population, [and] holds $1.3 trillion in spending power... Roughly defined as young adults ages 18 to 33, Millennials have... cut back annual restaurant visits by 21% over the last seven years... Ultimately, Palmer concludes, if Millennials’ current choices — higher-quality ingredients, better-value food, entertaining casual restaurants and a preference for digital engagement — are indicative of future consumption behavior, 'it will be critical for restaurant chains to assess their competitive position and adapt to these new realities.'”

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