Catering & Events: What Millennials Really Want From Events

May 19, 2016


Millennials are the largest generation in North America and world history, overtaking Boomers, and make up the greatest share of the workforce. They are on the cusp of commanding the largest wallet power as well. Contrary to clichés about this group being lazy, narcissistic and underemployed, they are a key demographic to truly understand and engage. You will undoubtedly see their presence grow and influence your clients’ parties and events—and they’re the next generation of your customers.

Marketing strategists are still trying to pin down exactly what motivates millennials as consumers, when they are less interested in purchasing and accumulating, and more concerned about life purpose and fulfillment. How do you attract this group’s time and attention? Here are the three key points to understanding the millennial mindset, so you can educate and help your client deliver a memorable experience.

1. Make it Relevant

Whether it’s an engagement party or public relations launch for a hair product line, does the event offer something that resonates with millennials? If they’re going to take the time to attend, what will they get of it and what will they experience there? They are protective of their time and attention, and don’t give it easily. Work the so-called selfishness of millennials to your clients’ advantage: You have to lure them with something they’re interested in, such as a good band or DJ, a cool venue, a social game or competition. They like to be challenged, solve problems and be rewarded. Communicate that they are going to get something fantastic out of the event, so they can’t miss it!

Understand, too, that food and drink definitely matter to this group, including where it comes from and how it’s made. They’re interested in local food and microbrews, for example. They’re not impressed by lavish and expensive consumables and décor, but they do connect with quality, local and hand-crafted. And they want adventure. When they eat out, they are often in search of something exotic, memorable, even risky. They will travel far for an artisanal cupcake, knowing that the bakery famously sells out every day before noon. They have turned food-truck following into its own culture. They gravitate to the pop-up restaurant or food stand.



Can you package some of this relevancy in your event? Millennials are visual, so start with an image and keep that image consistent in your event branding. You want to grab their attention and get them excited to talk about it online and IRL (in real life). This group is highly social. You want them to get interested in the e-vite on their smartphone (which four out of five sleep with or sleep next to) and start sharing and talking about it.

Research from Barkley, an independent advertising agency, says that more than two-thirds of millennials don’t make a decision until they have discussed it with a few people they trust, compared to around half of all non-millennials, and 70 per cent of millennials are more excited about a decision they’ve made when their friends agree with them, compared to 48 per cent of non-millennials. Offline, millennials like to do things in groups, so creating a virtual buzz about your client’s party is where it all begins.

2. Promote Social Responsibility

Add a “giving” component to the event and make them feel an integral part of that component. Millennials like to self-identify as caring about the environment, politics, culture and building community. Are partial proceeds from the event going to a charity? Are there ways they can make a contribution to something bigger and more meaningful than the event itself? Can they actively participate in doing something for their community right then and there? That kind of thinking will win millennial approval and support.

According to Barkley research, more millennials than non-millennials integrate their beliefs and causes into their choice of companies to support, their purchases and their day-to-day interactions. Link your event to a relevant cause, and millennials will be far more likely to show support and connect.

This is also the group that responds to greening, sustainable themes. Are you serving tap water instead of bottled? Is recycling a visible part of the event? Again, these are part of the millennial understanding of responsible social action. Keep this in mind, too, regarding sponsors or swag. Great events must have great swag, but keep it real and relevant, so that it won’t detract from the perceived value of the experience. Millennials care about what’s genuine and authentic. This interest falls somewhere between a purely aesthetic preference and a search for honesty and for truth.

3. Maximize Technology

People tend to think of millennials as tech-savvy, but they are actually technology-dependent. There is no “before the internet” for them. They grew up with technology and expect it to be at the centre of everything they do, be seamless, easy to access, always on, always available.

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Whether this is a corporate event or social party, make technology a part of the experience. Make sure it works! Offer Wi-Fi with an appropriate bandwidth to handle the load, multiple recharging stations, digital wayfinding services, social media walls. Can you have a social activity where guests use technology to create something, whether it’s a top 10 list of their favourite things to do on a Saturday afternoon or a video montage of best footwear in the room. If your client has a photo booth at the party, encourage guests to Photoshop their images and add captions. Always be thinking quick, fun and visual.

Create a custom app for your event, build in sharing opportunities into the app, develop an intriguing Q&A or trivia points that relate to the theme. With virtual platforms, the millennials at your event are not the only ones to experience it. While they thrive on face-to-face connections with others at the party in the moment, they also want to share what they’re doing while they’re there. They have an incredible appetite and eagerness for connection, and celebrating that with electronic alerts to friends and followers. that show off where they are, where they’re coming from and where they’re headed. These online alerts reflect and affect behaviour in the physical world.

In other words, they don’t eat, drink or party in silence. They review, blog and Tumblr, Snapchat and post YouTube and Instagram videos. These posts are often about their consumption activities, interests and aspirations. You want your client to tap into the millennial hyper-connectivity and highlight the event experience, food, drink, special guests, etc., in a memorable way.

For millennials, the event starts to take shape and make an impact long before the date. As the catering and events professional, understanding the mindset and expectations of this group will help you customize the experience from the invite to long after last call at the bar.


about the author

Freelance Contributor Karen Hawthorne worked for six years as a digital editor for the National Post, contributing articles on business, food, culture and travel for affiliated newspapers across Canada. She now writes from her home office in Toronto as a freelancer, and takes breaks to bounce with her son on the backyard trampoline. Connect with her on LinkedIn.