Understanding Loyalty Differences by Generation to Improve Restaurant Marketing

By Allen Graves, Bloom Intelligence

Not all restaurant guests are created equal.

Most restaurant marketers are tasked with the unenviable and ongoing mission of segmenting and marketing to many different customer segments based on things like age, gender, visit times and behavior/buying patterns. The combinations seem endless.

In this post, we’ll examine the four main generations visiting restaurants today along with some key similarities and differences between them.

If you look at your guests in terms of which generation they belong to, certain patterns can begin to emerge that can help restaurant marketing professionals in their efforts to fill more seats.

First let’s define the four generations, as it is important to understand where the generations are divided. While some debate continues on this issue (and always will), generally the main four generations break down as follows.

This information comes from the Pew Research Center.

  • Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). The massive generation born after World War II. These loyal customers are currently entering their retirement years.
  • Generation X (1964-1980). The more cynical and smaller generation that followed, Generation Xers were the generation of New Wave and punk music, as well as the teenagers of the 1980s captured in every John Hughes film.
  • Millennials (1982 to 1998). The children of the Baby Boomers, Millennials’ childhood and teen years were influenced by an emerging World Wide Web, 9/11 and the Great Recession. They are often more frugal than other generations.
  • Generation Z. These are all the kids who were born since the late-1990s. The oldest among them are just now reaching adulthood.

So how are these generations different in terms of loyalty? This depends on several different factors, such as how they prefer to consume content, how they behave, and what their motivations are.

Of course, no two people are exactly alike, so it is impossible to give “perfect” advice as to how to market to each generation. However, we’ve broken down some of the main trends and patterns that are typically seen in each generation in hopes that it may spark your creativity for future marketing campaign ideas.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are extremely brand loyal and have disposable income to spare

The youngest Baby Boomers are now in their 50s and most are in their 60s. As with previous generations, older guests are often the most loyal and respond very well to traditional advertising.

But don’t let their age fool you. These customers are Internet and mobile savvy. Baby Boomers have an average of 4.6 social media accounts, and they are taking to Facebook and LinkedIn as their main social media channels, according to a study by Statista, an online statistics portal. About 60% of Boomers are spending time online reading blogs, news and articles.

Boomers are also the most affluent of today’s generations. According to U.S. News & World Report, Baby Boomers are sitting on 70% of the disposable income in the United States.

Generation X

Gen X diners are loyal but cautious. 

Generation Xers are different than the other generations when it comes to technology. They grew up in a time before the Internet and smartphones. In some cases, they grew up in houses without computers. But they have adapted extremely well to technology, and more than 80% of them are now involved in social media.

They are also among the most loyal of generations. They’ll stick with a brand they like. However, they are often more cynical than members of other generations. That makes them resistant to big advertising pushes and more open to traditional forms of advertising as well as offers they can research.

Remember that a lot of people in this generation are concerned with saving for retirement, so coupons and promotions could always be an option. Also, according to a study for the IIABA, 68% of Gen X retail direct mail readers have used coupons received by good old-fashioned direct mail.


Millennial diners lack brand loyalty and are frugal from loaded student debt.

Frugality is key with Millennials, many of whom graduated from college loaded with debt. That means their loyalty to one brand can prove a bit shaky if cost savings are considered. A recent survey found that 80% of Millennials are willing to change their brand loyalty if it will save them money. They are also very savvy with technology and completely open to digital marketing.

Millennials tend to be less responsive to traditional marketing and lean heavily on social media, mobile apps, review sites, and word-of-mouth to make purchasing decisions. They are also keen on using rewards and loyalty programs.

They are very loyal to companies using environmentally-friendly products and that practice environmentally-conscious operations. If that’s you, let the Millennials know it!

Generation Z

Gen Z diners don't like to wait for service.

The generation that grew up with technology. This generation is typically open to one-on-one marketing via most digital channels and are extremely mobile. They also process information quickly. They are used to a digital world full of instant-access information and instant customer to business engagement.

For the restaurant industry that means they don’t like to wait.

Many restaurants do best with this generation by engaging them on digital channels where they typically congregate, and through email and WiFi marketing. They make their online accounts the center of their lives, checking them from wherever and whenever is convenient for them. So, it might be best to take an omni-channel approach to marketing to Gen Z customers.

Hopefully this gives you some insight into generational marketing to help you create and test your restaurant marketing campaigns. Again, not every person will fit perfectly into one of these generational categories based on their date of birth alone. However, this may give you the ingredients to create some great new ideas and marketing tactics to execute and test.

While there are differences with each generation, there’s one tactic that will work with all of them. It involves offering free guest Wi-Fi, not just as a guest perk, but to passively collect customer profile and behavior data. Then utilizing the data to develop personalized, engaging email marketing tactics targeting each generation with the information above.

If your messaging appeals to their unique sensibilities, you may just find yourself a gold mine.

Allen Graves

About the Author
Allen Graves has been on the front lines of digital marketing for over 15 years. Previously a bartender and server, Allen has recently steered his career toward working with Bloom Intelligence and brick-and-mortar fast casuals and QSRs, utilizing WiFi marketing to help them increase customer acquisition, spend, frequency and satisfaction.