Millennials are a hot topic these days -- they're either the worst or the best, depending on who you ask -- and the much-coveted 18-34 demographic's eating habits have been the examination of many think pieces as of late. Culintro has an interesting interview with Anne E. McBride, the director of something called the "Experimental Cuisine Collective" at New York University, on what today's young adults look for when they're eating out.
The term "millennial" refers to anyone born after 1980, and because of that, they're the "first generation in the US that has grown up eating a wide variety of cuisines on a daily basis --Thai one night, burgers the next, Mexican after that, sushi, regional Italian, Indian, the list goes on," says McBride.
Which makes sense. Looking around the multi-cultural dining world we live in today -- the world many of us grew up with -- it's hard to believe that something as ubiquitous as pizza or yogurt was once considered an outlier ethnic food.
(One of my favorite things is the 1939 newspaper story about pizza, cited in David Camp's excellent United States of Arugula, wherein a New York Herald Tribune editor not only had to explain how to pronounce the new food, but also lead with, "If someone suggests a 'pizza pie' after the theater, don't think it is going to be a slice of apple. It is going to be the surprise of your life.")
Other things millennials like in restaurants, according to McBride: transparency (in terms of ingredients and environmental sustainability), authenticity (ugh), exclusivity (supper clubs, pop-ups), regional specificity (like how Mission Chinese has a totally different vibe in N.Y.C. and S.F.), a casual atmosphere (" a space where diners don't feel like they have to whisper or show up in a suit to enjoy great food"), an overall narrative philosophy (chefs with an ethos that they can agree with), and good-tasting food (hopefully not just as an afterthought).
It all seems pretty accurate, if also in line with the biggest dining trends of the day, but one thing McBride said struck me as very off:
What seems very popular right now with that generation -- think of places like Mission Chinese Food, Pok Pok, Torrisi, or Roberta's, for example -- is to not look like you're trying too hard. The concepts and the food have to be pretty effortless and appear very unique, whether they are or not.
Not trying too hard was Gen-X's jam. I've eaten at three out of four of those restaurants McBride mentions, and I suspect that the reason they've resounded with so many millennials is not because the chef/owners don't seem to be trying, but because they seem to be trying really hard to get their unique point of view across. Earnesty is the new apathy. Which is maybe the most defining millennial trait of all.