After years of chasing the young and the hip, restaurants are realizing that young people aren't the ones keeping the industry afloat—their parents are. This is prompting companies to tweak everything from their sandwiches to their seats in a bid to woo baby boomers.
Pre-recession, young adults were the restaurant regulars. According to market research firm the NPD Group, adults under the age of 48 visited a restaurant, on average, 240 times in 2008.
Today, young adults struggle to move out of the house, let alone eat out nearly five times a week. "It's the economy. They've learned to do without; they're cooking at home," said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for the NPD Group.
Conversely, those 55 and older spent more time last year in a booth, on a bar stool or waiting at the drive-thru. Those between the ages of 55 to 64 visited restaurants on average 220 times last year, the highest of any age bracket.
"They're more accustomed to eating out and eating away from home than previous retirees," said Brian Todd, president of The Food Institute. "Certainly, convenience is another aspect of it. I think more retirees have part-time jobs," he said.
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Newly empty-nester boomers might be downsizing their homes and deciding that a home-cooked meal isn't the priority it was before, Riggs said.