I was having a discussion with a colleague during a recent trip to Tampa. He was discussing how Millennials are changing the workforce. I commented that they’ve changed a lot more than just work. Sardonically, I added, work hasn’t really been a focus or point of honor for Millennials, either.
I have a Millennial son, and I’ve done everything I can to make sure he stands out from this group. I did a fair job until he started dating and had a lot more intimate contact with other Millennials. He’s still great for his age and definitely compared to his age group. But there’s something askew with parents where we want the best for our children, even if it’s not what they want. Back to Tampa.
Millennials to blame?
We passed an Applebee’s and one of us thought out loud, “I thought they went out of business.” My colleague started back on the Millennial camp by saying that Applebee’s has almost gone out of business and that they were blaming the reason on Millennials not eating out as much as other age groups. I was skeptical and said so. I’m no Millennial apologist by any stretch, but to blame going out of business on the group doesn’t strike me as a solid explanation. My bullshit filter goes up. I did admit that I’ve only eaten in an Applebee’s once or twice in my life. When I think about it, they haven’t done anything to differentiate themselves to me.
Later in the day, after our meetings, and with more “goddamn Millennial” jokes between us, we decided to help Applebee’s out by going to dinner. I was astonished by the blandness of the place. I was reminded of Fahrenheit 451, and a place that was designed “not to offend anyone” and in so doing lacked any real character. Remember, it’s the sharp edges that do the cutting. The food was unmemorable. But what I do remember was that I was trying to substitute vegetables for something else – french fries or some potato or the other, and the waitress was dumbfounded. She first told me it couldn’t be done. Then she told me, “It would be extra.” As I’m on an expense account, and the cost would be negligible, I told her to make the change, please. I then commented to my colleague, “That’s why they’re going out of business, they haven’t adapted.”
Amazon has affected all of us
Brick and mortar companies have had to face this rapid change in customer wants and needs. It’s called the “Amazon Effect.” We’ve gotten so used to doing things the way we want, and getting an immediate response, that we expect that all companies can do the same. And as is the way with economics, we vote with our wallets. Let me be clear about Applebee’s. The food wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t memorable at all. I can’t even remember what I ate. Like the decor of the restaurant – there was nothing memorable in the experience at all, except that the server was unable and unwilling to adjust.
The next night, we went by a place called Poke Bowl. We both wanted something light. I had checked out the reviews on Google (such a Millennial thing to do, I know) and it got really good reviews. So we went in. Unlike a traditional restaurant, however, Poke Bowl was set up for you to grab a menu while waiting in line and literally “design” your food. You could choose your protein, your grain, and up to five toppings. For a non-Millennial, it was a little overwhelming trying to make all these decisions while waiting in line. Fortunately, the line was long, so we had enough time to figure it out. My colleague immediately went into grumpy old man mode – “I don’t want to design my own food, I just want to order something simple.” I explained it to him, and as often does, my explaining helped me understand as well. We were committed to trying it because there really wasn’t anything else in the neighborhood. So with resignation in our hearts, we waited. As we waited, I looked around. We were the oldest people in the restaurant by about 20 years. We were surrounded by the phone-staring masses. Every single person in line was focused on their phone. Clearly, Poke Bowl had figured Millennials out in a way that Applebee’s had not. I mentioned it to my curmudgeonly coworker. He looked around and quickly snapped out of his mood, “You’re right.”
These things are not the same
When we got to the counter, the uber-Millennial cashier took our order, helped us understand, asked what we wanted to drink (which was just as diverse as the food choices) and read back our order perfectly. I was amazed, actually. I ended up with a rice bowl with Ahi Tuna, jalapeños, green onions, garlic, and two toppings of fried onions (to make out the five toppings). The fact that I remember this combo should speak volumes. I didn’t take a single note in the restaurant. We were handed a little number flag and went to a table. Drinks were cafeteria-style, and I had bottled water, always trying to control my empty calorie intake on the road. We looked around in awe at the differences of the Millenial experience. Granted, this was a college town on top of everything else, but it highlighted the changes this generation expects.
But beyond everything else – let me focus on the food. It was excellent. This was the best poke bowl I’ve ever had. Partially because I was able to put on it EXACTLY what I wanted, but also because the ingredients were fresh and good. It was at this point that I had the epiphany about companies trying to “figure out” Millennials. It’s no different than what I deal with in my professional life. This generation gravitates towards the options that give them the most choice. They are used to an ala carte world where they can pick and choose options. To go and sit down in a traditional restaurant where they have to order the specifics on the menu doesn’t appeal to them. When I think about it, it doesn’t appeal to me, either. Which would you rather, have a meal where you get hassled over any changes or customizations, or one where you get to choose everything – getting just what you want out of the deal?
It’s not easy to adapt
The difference is, at the end of the day, I really don’t want to make more decisions. Millennials don’t seem to have decision burnout like I do. Is that because they’ve been raised in this custom-designed world? For the first time, I realized that Millennials will make our lives better. We’re going to have more options, without sacrificing quality. That’s a good thing. In the business world, they bring this same attitude, where they expect a quick ramp-up, pay for only what you use, scale up and scale down capabilities in all their products with current user interfaces, good solid design and an option (app) for mobile. It’s who they are.
Now, if I can just get them to show up to a meeting on time and pick up the phone, we’ll have made some real progress.
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