Millennials Want Tech to Complement, Not Overwhelm, Dining Experience

(Bloomberg) -- Instagram-savy millennials are already infamous for snapping photos of their food when dining out, but new research shows that they want smart technology to complement, not overwhelm, their dining experience.

The generation (made up of those between 18 and 34) is more likely than their predecessors to welcome artificial intelligence, voice-powered assistance and, yes, even robot waiters, into their dining experience. But they still value personal interactions most, according to a report released Monday by SevenRooms, a restaurant guest management platform. The poll was conducted by YouGov, which surveyed a national sample of 1,108 people in April. 

Millennials are five times more likely to use smart capabilities to book a reservation at a particular restaurant than those who are over 55, and three times as likely to place a reservation through social media. They’re also three times more likely to favor card-less payments like Apple Pay and Venmo when dining out. 

Millennials Want Tech to Complement, Not Overwhelm, Dining Experience

Still, millennials value personal relationships more than futuristic technology. Almost half want their waitstaff to remember them from a previous visit, and 21 percent want the ability to request a waiter who knows their dining preferences, the study shows. 

“Millennials are a lot more embracing of new technology, but overall, its clear that the general population is still in the early, early stages of the changing dining experience,” said Joel Montaniel, the chief executive officer and founder of SevenRooms. “People still want that human connection.”

The digital-first generation will soon surpass baby boomers as the largest demographic in the country, and restaurateurs are beginning to cater to their tastes. While Millennials tend to spend more of their disposable income eating out than on groceries, they skimp on tipping more than any other generation. 

“The restaurant industry will have no choice but to embrace these technological trends,” Montaniel said. “Guests are walking into restaurants with higher expectations that ever before.”

It’s difficult to balance these competing desires. The study also found that 38 percent of Americans, including almost one in four millennials, believe too much technology can ruin the restaurant experience. The criticism has led some restaurants to ban cellphone use all together.Perhaps some will make a technological exception for robot waiters. 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.