Why Gen Y Loves Restaurants – And Restaurants Love Them Even More

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We’ve all heard that young people in America today are very likely to have loads of student loan debt, relatively little cash to spend, and roommates they know as “Mom” and “Dad.” Interestingly, despite their strapped financial situations, millennials are also more likely than other generations to dine out at upscale restaurants on a regular basis.

According to a new report from the research firm Technomic, 42% of millennials say they visit “upscale casual-dining restaurants” at least once a month. That’s a higher percentage than Gen X (33%) and Baby Boomers (24%) who go to such restaurants once or more monthly, despite the fact that older generations earn more than Gen Y, by and large. Then again, members of Gen Y probably don’t have as many expenses as their older counterparts, who are more likely to have mortgages, multiple car payments, young children, and perhaps older children who have moved back in with them after college or a layoff. Older people have also obviously had more time (and reason) in life to learn how to cook.

The data gibes with the eye-opening New York magazine’s feature published earlier this year about the rise of foodie culture among the young, in particularly among the hipster youth in Brooklyn. The story’s headline – “When Did Young People Start Spending 25% of Their Paychecks on Pickled Lamb’s Tongues?” – pretty much says it all.

(MORE: Sad But True? Shopping Promoted As a Way to ‘Fill the Void’)

Previous studies have shown that millennials are more likely to make impulse buys on little splurges for themselves, and going out to eat at a nice restaurant would seem to fit in the category. Nonetheless, millennials aren’t necessarily spendthrifts when it comes to dining out. As a group, Gen Y is the most likely to be drawn to deals, with 43% saying they are influenced by coupons and discounts when choosing where to eat. They also seem to prefer combo meals more than older groups.

Of course, if saving money was truly the main concern among millennials, they’d be better off staying home and learning to cook. (Having one’s own kitchen would help.) The preference for combo meals is noteworthy too, for their popularity is waning as customers realize fast-food dollar menus are better deals.

It seems as if part of the reason Gen Y is so comfortable heading out to restaurants regularly is that they’re more optimistic than most about their finances. Half of millennials expect their personal financial situation to get better in the coming year, compared to just 38% overall. Perhaps, though, Gen Y’s “optimism” is rooted in the idea that, considering how bad things have been for them in terms of the jobs market and the economy overall, they’re bound to get better.

(MORE: Will Millennials Change How Cars Are Bought and Sold?)

In any event, if you’re confident your finances will improve in the near future, that’s something worth celebrating—perhaps over a meal at a nice restaurant with friends?

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

16 comments
TribalStyleMarketing
TribalStyleMarketing

I used to eat Ramen, but I never put the whole packet of flavoring in, way too salty!  Now, I make my own stuff or eat out once in a while.

Ruth Raynor
Ruth Raynor

I'm a member of Gen Y, and I don't eat out a lot but I would if I had more money. Why? Well for starters, I move house every year, often in part by public transport. Do you have any idea how difficult it is moving a well equipped kitchen in a suitcase? It's also hard to have a good range of equipment when you live somewhere with very little storage space. If you're in a shared house you might be put off cooking by messy housemates leaving the kitchen in a state, or crappy equipment. Sometimes the only places we can afford to live have kitchens that are far from ideal (mine has a broken extractor fan and 1 hob ring out of action)

A lot of us Gen Y folk have busy schedules- I work 2 jobs and have full time university- and the food we want to eat takes a long time to prepare (e.g sushi, slow cooked meat) OR we're tired and we don't want to cook. We might not have freezer space for leftovers or a microwave to reheat them in, so cooking means cooking from scratch each time. Eating out can be a great way to socialise if you don't have space to have friends over. I can't have more than 2 people over for dinner because I don't have a big enough table, enough chairs, or even enough plates!

zaglossus
zaglossus

When they get older and start raising families they'll stop the foodie indulgences assuming they are unselfish enough to want children.

Talendria
Talendria

I think Gen Y defines luxuries and necessities differently than older generations.  Gen Y is probably also more likely to own a smart phone, any number of Apple products, multiple gaming consoles, and other seemingly non-essential items that older generations wouldn't buy unless they were flush with cash.  Ultimately I think it's a bad omen for that generation's ability to own a home and finance their children's education.  Self-deprivation isn't their strong suit.

Talendria
Talendria

I'm not judging your lifestyle.  If you can afford it, do what you like.  But I just want to point out that during the four years I was in college I survived on spaghetti (cooked in the nasty shared kitchen of my dormitory), canned tomato soup with rice mixed in (cooked in the nasty shared kitchen of my off campus townhouse), and 35-cent bagels from the student-run grocery store.  The only time I ate in a restaurant was when my co-workers took pity on me and bought me dinner.  If Gen Y is having trouble paying off their student loans, maybe they need to cut back on the nonessentials, like sushi.  LMAO

opensets
opensets

Explain to me, exactly, how it is selfish to not want children? When they are such a drain on resources, when the world is exploding in population, when there are so many other children in need.

RafaelSilva
RafaelSilva

Ruth explained I'm in shock that people able to profit $9842 in one month on the network. have you seen this (Click on menu Home)

christine2010
christine2010

 Seriously?  You think people who pop out children every few years no matter what it means for the planet aren't selfish?  If I choose not to have kids it doesn't affect you at all.

Cynthia R. Brown
Cynthia R. Brown

We might not have freezer space for leftovers or a microwave to reheat them in, so cooking means cooking from scratch each time. Eating out can be a great way to socialise if you don't have space to have friends over. http://Millionaire4Project.blo...

Ruth Raynor
Ruth Raynor

I make my own maki rolls and they're pretty cheap. Go to Chinatown, and you can get a pack of nori sheets, a box of sushi rice, and some fillings like cucumber for very little money. It just takes a long time to do, and if you're working a lot or are tired then you might not have time.

I don't want to "survive" on tasteless carbs plain spaghetti or tinned soup full of salt. Right now we're seeing the older generation falling apart before our eyes, having heart attacks and other ailments due to poor diet. Once you get into poor diet habits, it's hard to get out of them.Like I said in my original post, I don't eat out very often at all- it's generally if my mother is in the city (so maybe once every 2 months?) she'll treat me to dinner. Other than that it's home cooked food all the way- lentils, frozen vegetables, small portions of rice, home cooked curries. There are loads of foods that a cheap to prepare but still flavourful. But I like cooking. A lot of people I know don't (and this applies to all generations not just mine)

Natasha Pulman
Natasha Pulman

I think Gen Y is much more conscious of diet and nutrition so living off spagetti is not that acceptable and with the rise in prices (and disproportionately so to income rises) buying fruit and vege and meat and rice similar ingredients to what is in sushi would cost much more than the $6-12 that it costs to just buy it and it take no time at all, plus is made by professionals not me and my limited array of cooking equipment. Plus today much more people go to universities to gain higher qualifications to go on to much higher paying jobs than our parents could have had, therefore we constantly live in state of where we WANT/WILL be not where we are.

Raymond Chuang
Raymond Chuang

Bingo. In fact, go out to eat may become the new form of socializing just like pubs are to England.

Talendria
Talendria

I'm glad you can cook, since that seems to be a dying art, but the article wasn't really about cooking or eating.  It's about Gen Y's fiscal responsibility (or lack thereof).  There's been a lot of discussion lately about students wasting their financial aid on nonessentials http://healthland.time.com/201... then graduating with mind blowing debt http://moneyland.time.com/2012... that they wish to discharge through bankruptcy http://moneyland.time.com/2012....  Gen Y may think the economy can't get any worse because they didn't grow up with Depression-era grandparents or read The Grapes of Wrath.  But trust me.  It can get a LOT worse, and it will if people refuse to take responsibility for making sound financial choices.

Talendria
Talendria

I'm glad you know how to cook because that truly is a dying art.  However, the article isn't about cooking or even food insomuch as it characterizes the capricious lifestyle of Gen Y, which is relevant to the current debates about misappropriation of educational aid (http://healthland.time.com/201... and the ability to discharge student loans through bankruptcy (http://moneyland.time.com/2012....  I think there's some legitimate concern that Gen Y doesn't appreciate the gravity of the current financial crisis or have the financial discipline to build equity.