Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 10/3/17
When was the last time you walked into a chain restaurant?
How about the last time you called an eatery to voice your feedback?
Or the last time you ordered a standard dish like chicken fingers or meatloaf?
If you’re a millennial — someone roughly between the ages of 20 and 40 — there’s a good chance you won’t be able to answer any of these questions. That’s because today’s typical millennial foodie doesn’t have a lot in common with older generations.
“Millennials are different because they’ve grown up accustomed to expecting better,” said Erika Desimone, director of marketing at Capital Craft in Green Brook, a modern gastropub with an ever-evolving menu. “They are not a generation of kids who grew up on chicken fingers and fries; they have long been familiar with locally grown produce, organic meats and dairy, and they aren’t afraid to try exotic flavors and cooking styles.”
These days, millennials are keeping Central Jersey restaurants and food purveyors on their toes due to their use of digital media, love for adventurous flavors, demand of organic and healthy items and need for convenience.
Barca City Café and Bar in New Brunswick is a a Barcelona-influenced tapas restaurant with a customer base that is 50 percent millennial. Located at 47 Easton Ave., it is smack in the middle of a city full of millennials.
“We have a slight advantage over other geographical areas since we are in the middle of the Rutgers University campus, but regardless, we continue to evolve with every trend, we employ millennials and we use Instagram, Snapchat and other social media outlets to engage millennials,” said Gus Sleiman, Barca City Café and Bar owner.
Concerns about pleasing this group aren’t confined to restaurants.
At the Whitehouse Station-based QuickChek, which has 150 locations throughout New Jersey and New York, computer touch-screen ordering has been in place since 2006 and the stores also utilize self-checkout options and fountain equipment advances which allow for customers to customize their drink orders on a digital screen.
Plus, Quickchek stores, which were rated as the number one convenience store by Generation Z in a 2017 Technomic national survey, have laptop and charging stations as well as free Wi-Fi to serve visitors, including the 35 percent of millennial customers that frequent QuickChek.
Mike Enea, owner of Simply Delicious Dinners, a Central Jersey meal delivery service, sees how millennials, who make up about 35 percent of his customer base, have a huge impact on food businesses.
“[Millennials are different from my other customers due to] the speed and efficiency with which they conduct their reviews and post their comments,” Enea said. “Digitally driven expectations can make or break a business. The behaviors and expectations of the millennial group tend to help shape and influence the thinking of others.”
Also unlike typical members of older generations, millennials aren’t willing to only eat dishes they’re familiar with — this generation wants to expand their palate with what’s new and exciting.
“We are very aware of the shifts in eating occasions and continue to develop new food and beverage offers to attract not only the millennial customer, but people looking for a great snack or meal while they are on-the-go,” said Jennifer Vespole, QuickChek’s director of food service. “Millennials, in particular, are more adventurous and will explore various flavor profiles. They want innovation, variety and demand flexibility.”
Barca City Café and Bar, which serves more than 50 bocadillos (mini sandwiches), 18 different tapas and seven different salads, knows that it’s variety that brings in millennials. Sleiman said that his electic menu aims to please expanded palate of millennial customers since many have traveled the world, participated in student exchange programs and studied abroad, leading them to develop a taste for the exotic early in life.
Capital Craft, which has a customer base that is 30 percent millennial, uses its daily specials to experiment and bring in new dishes that could be attractive to a millennial customer. In these dishes, Capital Craft also ensures that ingredients are as clean, locally sourced and as high-quality as possible.
“More than ever before, people want to know what’s in their food,” said Capital Craft executive chef Ryan Chatfield. “The younger generation is no longer interested in eating what’s fast and convenient — they care about what’s cleaner, fresher and better for them. As a chef I strive to deliver that, and I can because the owners here are strongly committed to bring in only the very best quality meats, seafood, produce and breads you can find.”
Recently, Capital Craft featured an all-natural bison chipotle burger from Fossil Farms in Boonton. The burger sold out quickly and Desimone said that the restaurant received “amazing” feedback.
QuickChek, which unveiled a new prototype store in Monroe on Aug. 29 which will be the new design for future stores, also features fresh baked goods made in-store as well as a stand-alone soup station offering a daily rotation of freshly prepared, never-frozen QuickChek soups.
However, fresh and local food doesn’t come without convenience for millennials – that’s why Simply Delicious Dinners chose not to be subscription-based like other meal delivery services, so that its customers can order a meal whenever they want.
“If you communicate your business properly, millennials, like all of our customers, are smart and realize that a business like ours will save them time and money,” said Enea. “Doing the meal preparation work we do and providing the service we do gives them back valuable time to pursue their personal interests and things that are important to them.”
Although it’s not easy to keep a busy millennial base satisfied with food purveyors and restaurants due to this generation’s unpredictable, fast-paced and trendy nature, Central Jersey food businesses know that bringing in millennials isn’t an option – it’s a necessity to sustain their business.
“We know that the millennial base is important because they keep us on our toes and they hold us to a higher standard,” Desimone said. “They’re going to be with us a long time, and as they begin to raise families, we want to be a place they can trust. We know they are looking to be impressed, and from what we serve at the bar to what comes out of the kitchen, we’re continually striving to meet those demands, which in turn creates a better experience for all our customers.”
Staff Writer Jenna Intersimone: 908-303-8390, JIntersimone@MyCentralJersey.com
Where: 171 U.S. Route 22 E., Green Brook
Contact: 732-968-5700, capitalcraftnj.com
Barca City Cafe and Bar
Where: 47 Easton Ave, New Brunswick
Contact: 732-640-1155, barcacity.com
Simply Delicious Dinners
Service region: Somerset, Mercer, Morris, Union, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Warren, Essex and Hudson counties, and some parts of Sussex County
Contact: 908-300-2087, simplydeliciousdinners.com
Contact: 908-534-2200, quickchek.com