Remember that bratty kid from years ago who tossed his mac-and-cheese on the floor and threw a fit until his parents caved and ordered him a steak? Well, he’s all grown up now, and he’s bringing about 80 million of his friends to the marketplace as eager consumers. You’re likely used to members of this generation as employees, but have you thought about what they bring to the table as guests? You should.

Millennials are estimated to be the largest generation in U.S. and world history, and their buying power is dramatically increasing as they move into adulthood. Research suggests that this generation will be spending $200 billion in the U.S. annually by 2017 and $10 trillion over their lifetimes as consumers. Within only a few years, their buying power will exceed that of their parents’ generation.

Millennials as Restaurant Customers

As millennials change the makeup of your customer base, you’ll need to change your approach to marketing, sales, and service. The need to stay on top of technology is a no-brainer when targeting millennials, but there’s more to it than that. Take a look:

“Word-of-mouth” has a whole new meaning. This generation has grown up in a time where it’s alarmingly easy to share opinions about their buying experiences. Not only do they quickly spread the word about their own likes and dislikes, they also actively seek out the opinions of others. Make sure you’re giving them something good to post, tweet, pin, and review.

The generational gap is changing shape. One of the most interesting insights into millennials as they grow up is their attitudes toward their parents. While members of a younger generation have historically tried to distance themselves from their parents, this is not as true of millennials. Not only are your millennial guests influencing their own generation’s buying habits, but their parents’ as well.

Values matter. You may have heard a lot about the entitlement thinking of this generation, but not all of it is carrying through to their adult lives. As millennials mature, they’re becoming civic-minded, compassionate, and cause-driven consumers. A recent Barkley poll revealed that more than 50% of millennials make an effort to buy from companies that support the causes they care about.

Millennials really are winers. Perhaps driven by the need to shed their image as lazy kids, millennials are drawn to menu trends previously reserved for the older generation, such as wine and craft beer. Even though many aren’t yet 21, one study showed that millennials above the legal drinking age drank 25.7% of wine by volume in the U.S. in 2012.

Need ideas to help your staff adapt to technology in your restaurant? Our “52 Ways” series of books has ideas for every week in the year. Check them out!