NPD Group and other industry analysts say eateries may be scrambling in the coming years to make up for slower sales to baby boomers, a huge demographic that, if it follows historical patterns, is likely to cut back on dining out as they age. Of course, boomers have been redefining what it means to be their age for six decades now, which may mean a trend that seems negative on the surface could be turned into a positive for savvy establishments that cater to the aging trend setters.
Former restaurateur and almost-60-year-old baby boomer Jeff Bradford founded Colorado-based Menu Monocle last year, and this week his company launched its namesake product, a modified version of the clear table-top frames that hold restaurants’ dessert, drink and dinner specials that has a magnifying glass at the top for reading fine print on menus and checks.
I talked with Bradford on Tuesday about how he came up with the idea and about how restaurants can win greater loyalty and more frequent visits from baby boomer patrons.
How did you come up with the idea for the Menu Monocle?
The thought first came to me about a decade ago, and it had been rolling around in my head for a long time. Then about eight months ago, my wife and I were having dinner with some friends, and a friend we were with had forgotten her glasses in the car. And I had forgotten my reading glasses, which nine times out of 10 I do forget. At another table I saw a large group of senior motorcyclists, and the men had the menus out as far as they could stretch their arms and were passing around one of the women’s reading glasses. I looked down and saw the display and told one of my friends that I had always had this idea of combining a magnifying glass with the menu specials, and he said, “That’s a great idea; it’s time to do it.”
It’s not designed to read “War and Peace” with, it’s designed to spot-check a menu. Often you’ll see in big bold type the Chicken Marsala, but the ingredients are in the fine print and you can’t read it. Also, at the end of the meal, I can never read the little numbers on the checks and so I can’t tell how much to tip. I doubt anyone has ever walked out of a restaurant because of this, but in the restaurant business, when you offer any additional kind of service, there’s a cost. With this, when you increase customer service you increase your profits at the same time because they’re literally holding a list of your high-profit items in their hands.
What are some other issues that make dining out difficult for boomers and how can restaurants address them?
Well, I’m almost 60 years old and it’s getting to the point where any time we go into a restaurant, we almost want to ask if they have a senior section or quiet section in the back. Restaurants have a tendency to be loud, and that becomes annoying and hard to deal with when you’re older. We don’t want to sit in a section right next to the bar anymore because we can’t hear. Most seniors have grandchildren, and they love them, but they don’t necessarily want to be around children at restaurants because the noise makes it really hard to hear. When you’re seated in a place where other seniors are, it’s a little quieter. Also, lighting could be a little bit brighter in most places.
Also, maybe next time you’re ordering new chairs, many you could think about how low they are and may make them a little higher. It’s the little things like this that make for a more pleasant dining experience.
Do you plan to come out with more products along the same line?
We have a couple more ideas that are being put on paper right now, and they’re all based on assisting seniors to go through their golden years with a little bit more ease and comfort and at the same time help small businesses increase profits — it is possible to do both if you look at it in a common-sense way.
Another thing we’re looking at is an individual source of lighting for the table that can go up and down as needed for seniors who need more light, so it doesn’t bother the rest of the room. We looked at adding and LED light on the Menu Monocle, but the expense was too great, and they have batteries that go dead so in six months some lights would work and some wouldn’t.
Is your restaurant finding creative ways to cater to the changing needs of older patrons? Tell us about it in the comments.