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How the Shake Shack Is Capturing the Millennial Audience

The most talked-about IPO recently has been Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack (SHAK), opening at $21 a share before doubling. The offering has put one of New York’s most successful restaurateurs, until now best known for high-end brands such as Grammercy Tavern and Union Square Café, into the national spotlight at a time when well-known brands like McDonald’s seem uncertain.

Shake Shack launched in 2001 as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, near the restaurateur’s flagship grill. Created to capitalize on increased neighborhood foot traffic generated by a local art installation, the food truck quickly built a fan base and became a summer attraction on its own steam. Recognizing the concept’s wider potential, Meyer’s management team won a bid in 2004 to open a permanent kiosk in the park. From this location, Shake Shack “welcomed people from all over the city, country and world,” the company’s web site explained, with “fresh, simple high-quality versions” of American fast food made to order, served with dollops of humor, local sourcing and social awareness.

“He keeps his staff happy, and that keeps customers happy.”

Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, sees Shake Shack’s success as a triumph in the fast-growing category called quick-service/fast-casual. Restaurant sales in this category are projected to rise 4.3 percent his year, says the association, topping the 3.8 percent industry growth rate.

“Fast-casual restaurants often highlight build-your-own menus, using fresh ingredients,” she said. “Many customer groups, especially millennials, seek these as unique dining experiences.”

Steve Haweeli, a veteran restaurant promoter and founder of Restaurant Metro Marketing in New York, sees Meyer’s strengths as “great systems, great management skills and great people skills.” He adds: “He keeps his staff happy, and that keeps customers happy.”

Meyer expounded on his management philosophy and systems last year at a Chief Executive Network meeting, where his views impressed Chief Executive Group Chairman Wayne Cooper.

“Every morning, Danny would check the day’s reservations and he would write personal notes to repeat guests based on information in the company database. When people arrived for the meal, they would be handed a personal note from the CEO.”

Adds Cooper: “It’s simple but genius.  His personal touch creates loyal customers and employees.”


Key takeaways:

  1. The millennial demographic group is unlike any other before them. To best serve your millennial customers and have your brand stand out from the competitive pack, take time to get to know their wants and needs.
  2. There is no substitute for personal service.
  3. Train your staff well and keep them happy. Their happiness will be evident and passed on to customers.






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