Digital Natives: Understanding the iGeneration Employee


Born during or after 1981, the so-called iGeneration, Millennials as they are often called, are aged 18-34, and they're your hosts, your newest service staff and managers. These employees are approaching maturity with very different cognitive and behavioral skills, ways of learning, and expectations for the world around them. Training this new generation of employees presents a truly unique set of challenges — we, as a society, have never managed a generation who thinks, acts, and reacts the way these young adults do.

We’ve highlighted three common traits that characterize this unique population, explained how they express themselves in restaurant staff, and we offer ways to tap into them to produce positive results on the floor.

Constant Stimulation

The iGeneration grew up with technology strapped to their sides, and as a result, they've become accustomed to a constant stream of stimuli from cell phones and tablets, TV, and even animated video signage. Bouncing between streaming a video, listening to music, texting, coordinating an Instagram post or snapping on Snapchat … is no feat of extreme concentration; it's the norm. Studies suggest that they aren’t simply numbing themselves with lights, sounds, and colors from all their screens, they are truly able to process information across multiple platforms simultaneously. 

What this means for the restaurant: These employees are built for hospitality!

1.    When trained thoroughly, we should be able to harness this ability, leveraging their innate multitasker qualities. If they are confident in their skill sets, they will be agile problem solvers under the pressure of the rush.

2.    Keep them busy – boredom is their enemy. Be sure they can switch fluidly between skills, tasks, and departments and ensure there is room for growth or they’ll be onto the next job.

3.    You can’t use paper packets! The idea of a book or a packet is so foreign to the new crew, they wouldn’t even know what to do with it. Using a digital training platform like Restaurant Reason will ensure that they learn what they need to quickly and in their native environment. If you’re experiencing high-turnover or employees jumping ship quickly after starting with you, this could be why.

Highly Developed Sense of Individuality

The “i” in iGeneration can have two meanings: It makes reference to the internet, but it also speaks to a focus on individuality. Today, we can customize almost our entire way of living – we can control the media we watch and listen to, content suggestions on social media, and even the ads that are served to us by marketers. With the ability to customize, create, and control the flow of information and stimuli, this community has a very highly developed sense of their likes, dislikes, and the power of choice. Thus, the iGeneration may be more concerned with defining their place than finding their place.

What this means for the restaurant: Increase “Employee Engagement”

 1.    This academic term that was once only thrown around by HR professionals is now extremely important for operators to integrate into their business. More than ever before, we need to create an authentic sense of value for each employee and help them understand their role in the workplace. Doing so reduces turnover and can help maintain brand integrity because staff want to be promoted, not find a new job elsewhere (e.g. cut costs by the thousands of dollars).

2.    Understanding how the parts of your restaurant interrelate is NOT too lofty or too advanced for the iGeneration – in fact, you'll produce your best employees by helping them see how their individual strengths, skills, talents, and personalities fit into the big picture. Communicate with them often about what decisions you are making and why, and give them an opportunity to be heard.

3.    Take advantage of their “take charge of my destiny” attitude. Praise the uniqueness in their personalities and their performance, but hold them accountable; they want both. Again, making them part of their own process of growth and development is a must to retain the best employees.

They Expect Immediate and Actionable Information

There has never been a time in the iGeneration's memory that information was not freely and readily available. Having to look up a piece of information in an encyclopedia or using a card catalog at the library, is now a hazy (somewhat humorous) event in the distant past. Not that you won't find exceptions, but the those in the iGeneration are generally creatures that thrive on instant gratification. They are frustrated when presented with a lack of ability to find, discover, or get what they want. 

What this means for the restaurant: Be thoughtful about what they “need” to know

1.    When faced with a question, Millennials will often seek the answers independently using any number of internet options. When answers are not immediately available, they oftentimes don’t know how to proceed. One thing that an internet search cannot provide is hyper-relevant, restaurant-specific experience that you as a manager, head chef, or lead server have gained over years in the industry. Be there to pick up the slack and provide the answers that the search bar can’t.

2.    Sometimes managers and owners think that something is relevant because it’s important to the brand, or because it is status-quo, but the actual experience of staff and guests proves otherwise. You need to give them a reason “why” they need to know the things you want them to know.  Only hold your staff accountable for information that helps them create exceptional guest your guests and increase sales.

3.    Paint them a picture of where your restaurant is going, what potential the future holds, and how they fit into the picture; however, be honest and upfront about what you can and cannot offer. Not everything is going to be able to happen on a timetable that's fast enough for the iGeneration. This is where the age and experience of older generations can help: we provide the vision. Offer something that can’t be found with a few finger taps and 10 seconds of buffering.

The Take-Away
In any age, the next generation is often “picked on” by older generations. Today, they are perceived as socially awkward, glued to their screens, unimaginative and withdrawn. This is far from the truth: They are knowledgeable, they are motivated truth-seekers; they love to learn and explore, they just speak a slightly different “language” than the rest of us. If managers can work to understand the mindset of these young workers, we can capture the collective heart and  mind of a generation that might just be the perfect match for the complexities of the hospitality industry.

For more information on the concept of the iGeneration, see Dr. Larry D. Rosen's work on the subject in several publications:

For more information about this topic or if you have a specific question that you'd like to have answered, send me an email or leave a comment.