Living with credit, Rewards, Travel

Millennial dining trends eschew traditional ‘VIP’ card experiences

Brady Porche

Is dining out becoming less about the experience than about convenience? The American Express-Chase duel over elite cards and millennials holds some clues.

In late May, American Express released the results of its annual restaurant industry survey, which asked consumers about online ordering, tipping, food conservation and an array of other topics. No surprise that the demographic group whose answers stood out the most were those oh-so-fascinating millennials.

Millennials were more likely than Gen-Xers and baby boomers to order meals to-go via restaurant websites and mobile apps and third-party delivery services. They’re also more amenable to a recent shift by some restaurants to eschew tipping in favor of higher wages for their servers.

Meanwhile, 24 percent of restaurants said they use an online delivery platform such as GrubHub or Seamless, and another 31 percent said they were planning to do so or considering it. Twenty-four percent said they offer online ordering via their own websites or apps, and 41 percent said they’re either planning to do it or are thinking about it.

We’re getting more options to enjoy our favorite restaurants’ fare without actually going anywhere. And there’s evidence that younger consumers don’t value the kinds of exclusive, “VIP” experiences upon which American Express has long built its brand.

In April, the Wall Street Journal chronicled the company’s anxiety over recent aggressive moves by Chase to court young cardholders. A major source of heartburn: Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card was a hit with millennials because its major selling point is its rich rewards bonus, not customer service perks such as travel agents and concierges.

The Chase executive who created the Sapphire Reserve card, herself an American Express alum, notes in the piece how “travel” to a millennial might involve taking a ride-share to a hole-in-the-wall ethnic eatery. One imagines that a typical American Express Platinum user’s ideal night out might include getting valet parking at a fancy steakhouse that employs a roving sommelier.

Ambience may be going out of style with younger customers in the era of food trucks, pop-up shops and Favor. Additionally, America’s “foodie” trend underscores how the overall dining experience is often less of a priority than what’s being served. Evidence of food worship can be seen in American Express’s finding that 25 percent of diners post photos of their meals and drinks on social media.

American Express has already moved to lure more millennials to its Platinum card, now offering an annual $200 Uber credit and slightly more bonus rewards than the Sapphire Reserve, for a hefty $550 annual fee. Perhaps one or both of these elite cards will offer something along the lines of $200 in free Favor or Uber Eats deliveries in the future. Each one already offers extra points for spending at restaurants.

We’re not all going to become hermits just because ordering take-out is getting more convenient. Dining out is still a big part of the American cultural and social experience, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

But it’s not hard to imagine an oddball scenario in which our favorite restaurants get less crowded while business booms. That could mean faster and less expensive service for the take-out crowd, higher pay for restaurant servers and a more peaceful dining experience for those who still like to get out of the house every once in a while.

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