Skip navigation
What the millennials are drinking

What the millennials are drinking

Want to attract a younger crowd to your bar, but aren’t sure exactly what alcoholic beverages they prefer? Researchers at survey giant Nielsen quizzed 7,500 millennials (ages 21-34) to find out what they want and if their needs differ from those of their Gen-X predecessors. They do; we distill the findings below.

Ask any beverage pro: customers ages 21-34—currently known as the millennial demographic—are what pump life and profits into a restaurant’s bar scene. Relative to other age groups, this demographic has plenty of free time, likes to stay out late and possesses enough disposable income to buy a lot of drinks.

While it’s true that many factors play into a bar’s success—everything from the room’s design and lighting to its choice of music—offering the wrong drinks can kill it. Nielsen didn’t quiz its online respondents about exactly which particular drinks they prefer, but its survey results still give restaurant operators guidelines about how a beverage program can best attract millennials.

Here are the top-line results from the study.

  • Compared to the general population, millennials are more likely to trade back up to more expensive alcohol beverage brands as the economy improves.
  • Millennial consumers are more likely to equate product cost with quality.
  • Millennials are more likely to explore new and different alcohol beverage products and will be even more likely to buy a locally made or produced product knowing it may help the local economy.
  • An added boost for marketers employing social or traditional media to influence behavior, millennials are slightly more likely to plan their purchases versus buy on impulse in today’s down economy.
  • Millennials’ tendency to experiment and try new things will keep them versatile, skipping among a variety of alcoholic beverages. While the majority of millennials still prefer beer, they purchase relatively more wine and spirits than older generations did at a comparable age. Nielsen’s research shows that as consumers age, their lifestyle transitions typically result in a relative shift from beer to wine and spirits. Given that current millennial preferences among beer, wine and spirits diverge from prior generations, future consumption preferences also become less predictable.
  • By 2036, the majority of consumers age 21 and over will be multicultural. Hispanics, in particular, are swelling the ranks of these newer legal drinking age consumers and their tastes are influenced both by cultural factors, such as their degree of acculturation, as well as attitudes that include a willingness to try new things and openness to be influenced by other consumers’ suggestions.

One quick takeaway relates to drink specials. The Nielsen findings seem to be saying that restaurants should offer a list of beer, wine and spirits specials, not limit themselves to featuring just one kind of alcoholic beverage. Also, local products should be strong sellers, and millennial customers will pay up to drink them if the quality is there. And if you’re thinking about stocking your bar with some of the many new varieties of beer, wine and spirits coming onto the market, go ahead. Millennials will give them a try.

It all adds up to what should be a hot market, because as Nielsen points out, millennials will make up 40 percent of Americans 21 and older over the next 10 years. It’s the demographic you want, so adjust accordingly.