The restaurant industry is increasingly competitive – and tapping into the next generation is crucial for chains’ survival.
Failing to capture millennials’ interest has led to slumping sales and restaurant closures at sit-down chains such as Applebee’s.
However, according to Piper Jaffray’s biannual survey of teen preferences, some casual-dining chains may be staging a comeback. Despite millennials’ adoration of quick-service chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chipotle, some full-service brands are winning over their hearts – and wallets.
With 22% of upper-income teens’ spending dedicated to restaurants, the Gen Z or millennial diner is a valuable customer.
Here are the top five restaurants among teens, according to Piper Jaffray’s survey.
5. Buffalo Wild Wings
- Buffalo Wild Wings on Facebook
Buffalo Wild Wings has had a difficult 2017.
In July, the chain had to swap a popular wings deal with a boneless wings promotion as chicken prices hit historic highs. In June, CEO Sally Smith announced she was leaving the company after an activist investor triumphed in a monthslong battle for the wings chain’s board.
More generally, the chain has struggled to grow sales as the casual-dining industry has entered a slump.
But, teen support for the chain could be crucial to turning things around. Teen customers spent an average of $18.14 at the chain – a higher check than any other brand in teens’ top five.
4. Olive Garden
- Olive Garden/Facebook
Olive Garden is bucking the anti-casual-dining trend among millennials.
The chain has made headlines recently with promotions such as the never-ending pasta pass. In September, Olive Garden sold all 22,000 never-ending pasta passes mere seconds after they went on sale on the chain’s website.
“Millennials still want to come to restaurants,” Gene Lee, Darden Restaurants’ CEO, said in a call with investors in June. “I know you all don’t think millennials go to casual dining restaurants, but 30% of all our guests are millennials.”
- Dennis Green
Teens continue to love the fast-food behemoth.
The chain is also exploring delivery, which is available at more than 7,800 restaurants in 47 countries. While the fast-food chain only started offering delivery in the US through an UberEats partnership in January, the service is now available at more than 25% of US locations.
- Business Insider/Hayley Peterson
Chick-fil-A has quietly become one of teens’ favorite fast-food chains in the country.
The chicken chain first reached “average-income” teens’ top-five list in fall 2014, reaching the fourth spot. Since then, it has slowly climbed the ranks, maintaining the No. 2 spot since fall 2016.
While Chick-fil-A’s straightforward menu is part of its charm, the chain has also recently attempted to attract new customers with menu items such as the Hash Brown Scramble.
Nothing can beat Starbucks when it comes to brands beloved by teens.
The coffee giant has taken the No. 1 spot on Piper Jaffray’s survey every fall and winter for the last six years.
If all goes according to executives’ plans, the chain’s tech investments, such as an updated mobile app, and a commitment to social missions can help keep it in the top spot for years to come.
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