Diving Into Demographics in the Bar & Restaurant Industry

The 2024 Vibe Conference was held at Town & Country San Diego from February 26-28 this past month. The conference was one of the largest to date, and there was plenty of sampling, learning, and networking across the three days.

Demographics were a major topic at this year’s Vibe Conference, with writer, researcher, and Founder of Inlay Insights Kim Lear keynoting the conference with a session that dove into the different characteristics of each generation, starting with boomers.

Many other speakers touched on the topic as well, offering suggestions and dispelling myths around selling to and serving different age groups.

Let's dive in to what attendees learned at the Vibe Conference.

Don’t Discount Boomers


Bars and restaurants should ignore the boomer demographic at their own risk. According to Technomic, by 2030, one-fifth of the population will be 65-plus and will control nearly half of the spending.

Lear says rather than chasing comfort and complacency, this group is looking for reinvention and innovation thanks to accelerated retirement during the pandemic; an increase in dating due to a tripling in the divorce rate amongst those aged 55+; and a desire to live in areas with access to food, art, and culture. Restaurants are a part of their lifestyle, and instead of going down, alcohol occasions seem to be holding steady for this group.


You Need Gen X’s Trust


A generation raised on ubiquitous advertising with questionable tactics, Lear said gen X has incredible brand loyalty as well as a heavy dose of skepticism and distrust. Lie to them and lose them as a customer. This is a generation that is also caught between caring for aging parents and raising young children. Lear says one of the most valuable assets for them is time.

When serving this demographic, restaurants and bars would be smart to create experiences that are worth their time, and to even point out well-known or premium brands in cocktails, when applicable.

Gen X is also an independent generation defined by divorce, latchkey kids, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Choice and control are huge with this group, so menus that allow for customizations or build-your-own plates may do well with this group.


Millennials Mix It Up


As gen Xers grew up in a world with limited advertising oversight, millennials found themselves engrossed in the early days of social media, where data protection and privacy were not yet major considerations.

Lear says this group went from learning how to capture the physical world and share it on digital, to learning how to change the physical world for digital consumption with Instagrammable moments, selfie stations, etc. When bars and restaurants are marketing to this demographic, they should remember the importance of image—Instagrammable cocktails, immersive design, etc. will work well with millennials.

Lear said that bars/restaurants shouldn’t buy into the “broke millennial” myth either, as this group has seen a rise in dual-income households, which means more discretionary income.

The dayparts this group is attracted to are also important to pay attention to. According to Technomic, 72% of millennials frequent brunch, and it also has the highest share of people ordering alcohol across all other dayparts.

As millennials come to dominate the working world, they will make up the majority of business travelers, so hotel F&B should watch this generation closely. Technomic says the second-most important consideration for business travelers in choosing a hotel is high-quality, fresh food.

Speaking of decision-making, the bar continues to play a big role for millennials, with 61% prioritizing the bar in their destination decision when dining out, according to Technomic. And yet, the non-alc movement and the decision not to drink on certain occasions is also being driven by millennials along with gen Z.

The two groups are also driving the shift of category share to cannabis, which is currently legal for recreational use in 24 states and Washington, D.C. The good news is not all share is being taken away from alcohol as those who use cannabis also tend to be alcohol drinkers (32% of millennials use both cannabis and alcohol, according to Technomic).


Gen Z Changes the Industry


Restaurants and bars face a challenge with gen Z as they are one of the most discerning generations. Technomic reported that this group considers a whopping 12 overall attributes when deciding where to dine out, like food quality, unique offerings, sustainability, and more.

Flavor is also a huge driver for this generation over other attributes like brands. This puts bartenders in the spotlight, who can make suggestions to this impressionable group and offer up knowledge.

This demographic is also shifting many aspects of the bar/restaurant scene. Dayparts like brunch and happy hours are dominating, eroding dinner’s share of the pie. Gen Z is also drinking less alcohol (and pulling their gen X parents along with them) as they opt for non-alc options or cannabis. 44% of gen Zers consume cannabis only, with 27% consuming both cannabis and alcohol, according to Technomic.

With gen Z fully moving into legal drinking age in 2025 and reaching peak age (30s) for restaurant use in 2030, these are all things bars and restaurants need to start considering for the future.


Overall, this year’s Vibe Conference drove home a valuable takeaway—know who you’re communicating to and how to package your information and products.


To learn more about Vibe Conference, visit: https://www.vibeconference.com. Stay connected with Vibe Conference and industry news at https://www.barandrestaurant.com/chains

Contact us now to secure your program for 2025:

Donna Bruns, Sales & Sponsorships, (for companies A-L), Email: [email protected] Phone: 936-522-6932

Fadi Alsayegh, Sales & Sponsorships, (for companies M-Z), Email: [email protected] Phone: 440-454-0239

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