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Boomers’ itemized list of seven non-negotiable restaurant dining demands

A compendium of food, dining and beverage trend information from the U.S. and the world

Reported in the March issue of Yellow Scene Magazine by John Lehndorff:

Whenever there’s a societal problem in the U.S. it’s popular to blame the baby boomers. We’re one big, easy target. Google “blame the baby boomers” and you’ll see more than 406,000 results. Now we’re being labeled as the major culprits in the decade-long dinner decline at American restaurants, according to a new study by the reputable market research firm NPD.

This is a big problem for bistros, cafes and trattorias in Colorado and across the nation because supper has always been their largest income source. We all tend to spend more in the evening than we do at breakfast, lunch and brunch.

While the Great Recession is acknowledged as a major culprit by NDP, the bulk of the blame seems directed at “mature adults.” My aging generation is dining out at night less than in the past in part because they’ve rediscovered the joy (and the cheapness) of cooking at home. What baby boomers giveth, baby boomers taketh away.

It wouldn’t be hard for us to eat out less than we had. We were the first generation that started dining out every day; in particular, Monday to Friday nights. Now the restaurant industry has its collective apron in a knot trying to figure out how to lure us back.

As a bona fide BabyBoomer, allow me to explain how restaurateurs might regain some of our supper dollars.

1. Cut back the second-hand sound pollution. How important is it? Noise was the No. 2-ranked major irritation for diners recently surveyed by Zagat, edged out only by bad service and ahead of poor food. We listened to a lot of very loud music for too long. Many of us are getting a little deaf (See Pete Townshend’s hearing aids.) We won’t patronize otherwise fine eateries that are intentionally designed to be so “lively” we can’t have a conversation at the table without shouting.

2. We’re getting creaky, despite all the joint replacements, and, frankly, a bit wider. If your bistro has only narrow, un-cushioned chairs that don’t slide or roll, and tiny tables, we’ll be uncomfortable. Achy people do not stay for dessert or drinks…or come back. Some of us are going to be more comfortable at a table than a booth because the latter is harder to get out of.

3. Great food still matters to baby boomers, the most well-traveled and culinarily savvy generation in the history of the world, but good service matters just as much. Want to keep our business? Don’t call us “you guys.” Welcome us and use eye contact. If we’re regulars, remember our names. (This is especially useful if we’ve forgotten them.) Please do not make the place so frickin’ dark that we can’t read the menu—or provide reading glasses and LED penlights with every menu.

4. We were spendthrifts but now we have money worries, especially knowing that some of us will live to be 100. Many lost their retirement nest egg as the market tanked, and we’re going to keep working longer. Frugality rules. Offer us affordable options including prix fixe deals. (Do NOT call them “sunset dinners” or start serving them at 4:30pm. We’re not THAT old.)

5. We misplaced our metabolisms a decade ago and simply can’t feast as in days of yore. Some of us are drinking less alcohol. So offer us small plates, tapas, mini desserts—good food in smaller portions, and half glasses of wine. The fact that many of us have dietary restrictions—low-salt, no gluten—should be viewed as an opportunity to make the customer happy, not a burden.

6. However, that doesn’t mean we now suddenly want mushy, boring, old fart fare. We’re the push-the-envelope generation that made sushi, diverse ethnic cuisines, good coffee, craft beer, exotic salts and more commonplace in the United States.

7. We still love going out for dinner so treat us well or we’ll launch a protest. If you thought we were cranky as teenagers, just wait until you get a load of us as demanding, rebellious and very active elders. I can’t say for sure, but I doubt we’ll go gently into that good night without demanding our senior discount.

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Listen to Radio Nibbles, a weekly food conversation, commentary,  at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU – 885 FM, 1390 AM, www.KGNU.org

Comments: lehndorffj@aol.com

Visit: www.johnlehndorff.com

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