5 Ways Millennials Are Transforming The Big City Restaurant Scene


One year ago, I became an official member of the Big City Movement.

The Big City Movement is when fresh graduates, career changers or life adventurers pack their bags, leave their hometowns and move to a big city in order to satisfy their need for change.

This need revolves around personal lives, as well as the world.

The quintessential leaders of the big city committee are Millennials, although the majority of us don’t even use that term to identify ourselves.

Contrary to ignorant belief, Millennials are not self-entitled, lazy #socialmediaaddicts who add nothing to the human race.

In fact, we’re the reason so many businesses are transforming today, with the most prominent transformations being in the food industry.

Marking the evolution of eats, 2015 kick-started a ban on partially hydrogenated oils, strict dietary guidelines, national policies on GMOs and greater transparency within restaurants because Millennials, the biggest food consumers and information sharers of today, are astoundingly more health savvy than the previous Baby Boomer generation.

Health is one restaurant detail we look for, but we also expect to know the backstory behind food: where it comes from, how it’s made and what ingredients make up the meal.

We also want aesthetically pleasing, comforting, community-based and authentic restaurants.

“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” might just be our generation’s theme song.

Catering to Millennial needs are restauranteurs in big cities such as New York City, Chicago and Miami. Naturally, the places most impacted by food industry changes are in big cities.

This is simply because there are more people to please.

With all that said, here are the five ways Millennials are transforming big city restaurants:

1. Millennials want fresh foods with new, healthy options.

“After researching Millennial activity in our stores, we found that the majority of Millennials are only putting healthy toppings on their fro-yo,” 16 Handles CEO Solomon Choi shared.

16 Handles launched in NYC and innovated its way across 39 other locations.

It calls itself a lifestyle brand, and if you step into one of its locations, you know why.

The décor is eye-catching, and at night, there is club-like atmosphere playing the latest and greatest songs from the Millennial catalog. Choi added,

“Because this age group is more health conscious and appreciates new takes on food, we added menu items like SuperFood Smoothies, artisan drinks and health bars. Overall, Millennials turned us into the lifestyle brand that we are today. They make us want to innovate more, be more creative and they definitely influence some of our decisions. We were the first fast casual restaurant on Snapchat and we know it’s the younger generation using apps like that.”

2. Millennials appreciate transparency and local products.

There’s nothing more transparent than having a whole pig displayed at your dinner table.

Meet your meat at Chicago’s carnivore sanctuary, Frontier. According to Frontier owner Mark Domitrovich,

“We are truly ‘wild to table’ with all locally sourced meats from whole pigs, wild boar, salmon and lamb. It’s our meat transparency and social media presence that keeps Millennials coming back. Oh, how we love Instagram!”

Influenced by the sharing nature of Millennials, Domitrovich constantly amps up Frontier’s Instagram and Facebook to highlight how its whole animal service works and to shed light on other menu items and community efforts.

Domitrovich continued,

“Millennials want a unique environment and an experience you can’t get anywhere else. And if they get that, they’ll spread the word to their friends about the restaurant and share what they ate and experienced.”

Frontier, 1072 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL, is a part of the Pioneer Tavern Group, with other restaurants that include Lotties Pub and The Pony Inn.

3. Millennials value self-actualized restaurants.

An impressive and alluring humanly feat is self-actualization, but the feat can also be achieved within businesses.

You might have heard this term in a past psychology or communications course as a part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

According to Maslow, self-actualization is the top, most difficult need to meet.

Millennials are all in search of reaching self-actualization. It is a feeling they crave and value.

If a restaurant can achieve a self-actualized brand, it becomes well-rounded and desirable to Millennials.

“Who are we? We’re vegan pioneers,” NYC’s Blossom Du Jour owner Pamela Elizabeth said. “We believe in spreading awareness about veganism and in serving non-animal foods that are nutritious, flavorful and locally sourced. We don’t pretend to be anything else.”

According to Elizabeth, Blossom Du Jour stands out to Millennials because of its fast, shrewd service and vegan comfort food offerings, such as its Seitan Philly Cheesesteak and Beet Burger.

Elizabeth says, “For years, people were turning a blind eye to where their food came from, not anymore. Millennials want to know that the way they eat is making a difference for the planet.”

Blossom Du Jour, with four NYC locations, is just one of Elizabeth’s NYC vegan restaurants that carry the Blossom name. Her other vegan restaurants include: Blossom on Columbus, Blossom in Chelsea, Blossom on Carmine, V-Note and Blossom Bakery.

4. Millennials like stories, surprises and community involvement.

Every restaurant experience needs a new spice added here and there. Offering noteworthy elements of surprise to customers is Chicago’s Rockit Bar & Grill.

“We’re close to Millennials because we feature a lot of short, story-telling videos and art from the community. We even have our own art staff,” said Rockit Bar & Grill owner Billy Dec.

“One time, we had drones flying into the windows to captivate Millennials.

We even have Negroni cocktails, like the ‘Perfect Day’ that come in a syringe, which introduces a classic in a different way.”

As surprising as its menu is, with Lamb Nachos and Not Your Mamma’s Tot Casserole, Rockit Burger & Grill’s entertainment is mixed with community involvement.

“We were packed for the Black Hawks game; everyone was freaking out and there were thousands of people outside,” Dec said.

“Millennials pay for memorable experiences, so from the night of the game, we took different iPhones clips and made videos from everyone’s perspective to tell a story.”

According to Dec, it's not only about catering to Millennials. It’s all about passion, community, success and happiness.

Rockit Bar & Grill, 22 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL, is under Rockit Ranch Productions. Other Rockit Ranch restaurants and venues include Rockit Burger Bar, Sunda New Asian, The Duck Inn, Bottlefork and The Underground.

5. Millennials crave restaurants that look and feel authentic.

With a color warehouse exterior that gives Miami's underground spots visual flavor is Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, owned by Keith Menin.

“We found a space that was an old glassmaking warehouse and used our creative minds to design a small cantina restaurant in the front with a 1960’s airstream trailer, low-rise bicycles and local graffiti art,” Menin said. “Behind the cantina, we created an unnamed area that has a 40-foot bar made of butcher bloack and outhouse designed bathrooms covered in distressed barn wood from the 1940’s.”

According to Menin, it’s Bodega’s food items such as the Queso Frito con Salsa Ranchera and the Ceviche Verde de Pescado that keeps Millennials craving for more, but it’s the restaurant's look and energy that hooks this crowd with something extra special.

“The other day, a friend came up to me and said he'd been ‘Bodega’d!’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ He said, ‘It’s only Thursday, and I’ve been over there three times this week!’”

This goes back to creating a show and giving Millennials something authentic, Menin says.

On top of Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, 1220 16th Street, Miami Beach, FL, Menin owns four other Miami restaurants including Pizza Bar, Radio Bar and upcoming Red Ginger (June 2015) and BakerHouse (Fall 2015).