Are Millennials Killing Restaurant Chains?

It’s sad, but true: Former hotspots like Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, and TGI Fridays have faced major sales slumps and dozens of closures as chains fall victim to the ever-changing restaurant landscape.

How are Millennials contributing to this?

For starters, they have more options than past generations: With the rise of food delivery apps like Grubhub and Seamless; grocery delivery services like Instacart; and the health-conscious food movement spurring meal prep delivery services like Blue Apron, millennials are free to define their dining style. Many are looking to consume food on-the-go or at home (in addition to cooking their own food and experimenting in their kitchens). When they do dine out, many Millennials turn to fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Five Guys, a sector that’s expected to balloon to nearly $67 billion by 2020.

A lingering frugality from the not-so-distant recession has also driven Millennials to be more money-conscious. As some still struggle to find jobs, they can't afford to dine out. 

Finally, travel and experiences have, in a way, replaced dining out as a status symbol or way to spend one’s time. When millennials DO dine out, they’re looking for a unique experience - and by and large, chains fail to deliver.  

So - what can current chains do to stay relevant?

Capitalize on Environmental Trends

For starters, chains could innovate by capitalizing on trends in the industry, such as creating a more social environment or open floor plan. Having a place to socialize is important, hence the sharp rise in ‘social’ restaurants.

Step Up Their Social Media Game

Millennials are a social generation. They’re more likely to make recommendations and share on social media than their generational counterparts - making them a key demographic for chains to go after. By posting to and engaging with Millennials on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, chains can form affinity between the consumer and restaurant, drive new business, and increase the number of return visitors through social media-led loyalty programs.

Expand their Selection

21% of millennials report being drawn to restaurants that offer the ability to customize a meal (this helps explain why many fast-casual restaurants are so popular among Millennials). Increasingly, Millennials define themselves as ‘foodies’ and want to try new, exciting, or unique foods. By expanding menu options, chains may be able to get new Millennials in the door.


Chains should take a tip from TGI Friday’s CEO, who is attempting to rebrand the chain as a trendy gastropub. By investing in new tech and debuting remodeled spaces, this will likely be a popular long-term chain strategy as an attempt to boost sales.

Offer Flexible Service Options

Adding delivery options is a great way to capitalize on the fast-casual trend without rebranding or changing a long-standing business model. Chains like Cheesecake Factory and Outback Steakhouse are partnering with third-party delivery services such as DoorDash; while other chains have chosen to be listed on Grubhub. One important thing to consider: Delivery is compelling, but costly. Pay for drivers, insurance costs, and other factors can quickly add up (not to mention food quality is sometimes slightly compromised in a delivery scenario). 


As a whole, Millennials are an important audience because they’re more likely than older generations as a whole to try new foods and places to eat. For chains to adapt, they’ll need to be open to pivoting strategies.