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The Artisan Generation. . .

How a Bunch of Navel-gazers with Peter Pan Syndrome Influence the Way We Eat.

A few nights ago, my brother and I found ourselves eating dinner at a local pizza joint. After the prerequisite name-calling and spirited insult hurling, we began talking in broad, philosophical terms about “our generation.”  We are both a part of what researchers call the millennial generation, and were discussing ways in which many of our peers have managed to translate their artistic passions into somewhat gainful careers. We know folks who make stationery, jewelry, tote bags, and pretty much anything else you could think of, selling their wares out of local gift shops, boutiques, and farmers markets.  We agreed that these friends of ours have totally hit the jackpot, managing to turn their hobbies into careers. Those of us who don’t have particularly marketable crafts tend to seek out locally produced items when we shop. . . and perhaps more importantly, when we eat and drink.

Millenials, also known as generation-y, roughly include individuals born between 1975 and 1990. We, by and large, deservingly get called a lot of dirty names: entitled, narcissistic, self-involved, navel-gazers with peter pan syndrome, etc.  And if you, yourself, are not a millennial, you might be wondering why it even matters what these so-called generation-y-ers think about restaurants, food, or anything else for that matter. Well it does, and here’s why: Millenials spend more of their income on food than any other age bracket. This group of semi-young-people currently makes up nearly a quarter of American diners. So, love us or hate us, you are going to want to take our (very strong) opinions very seriously.

We millenials grew up with parents who regularly reminded us how unique, special, and talented we were. And we actually believed them! We believed that our finger paintings were spectacular, our basement dance recitals transcendent, and our misshapen clay figurines ground breaking. With this kind of reinforcement, a generous handful of us began to take our hobbies seriously, turning them into our lives’ work. We became an entire generation of “artisans”. In fact, it is my theory that generation-y is single-handedly responsible for the overwhelming popularity of “artisan” any and everything in restaurants. Millenials think of themselves as artists, and so naturally they want to consume artistic food and drink. To the average millennial, “artistic” often translates into “local”. We like the idea of having a personal connection with the people who are growing our produce, baking our bread, and brewing our beer.

While we who work in the restaurant industry certainly shouldn’t focus exclusively on catering to the millennial generation (heaven forbid confirming our belief that the world actually revolves around us), we should keep these things in mind while revamping our menus, décor, and general ambiance in 2013. Sourcing local products will remain important to millenials in the years ahead, and this includes everything from produce, to craft beer, to artwork. If it is loathe to you to consider making changes to accommodate an entire generation of snobby, narcissistic “artisans” (with exceptionally good taste,) keep in mind that sourcing locally is also fantastic for the economy. With tax increases and budget cuts looming on the horizon, small (local) businesses are bound to suffer. By incorporating their work onto our menus we will help them while helping ourselves.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the influence of the millennial generation on our restaurants and menus. Have you made any changes to accommodate their expectations, or have you kept your modifications to a minimum? Feel free to leave a comment below!

P.S. I feel justified in making these generalizations about millenials because I am one myself! It is certainly not my intention to offend, and I certainly don’t believe that everyone born between 1975 and 1990 is a loathsome, self-centered bore. (Quite the opposite, actually). I have merely chosen to exaggerate these stereotypes for the comedic effect. Live a little!