Forever in the shadow of Boomers and Millennials, Gen Xers can now take center stage as an important customer base for restaurants, finds The NPD Group, Chicago. That’s because Generation X, ages 36-52, now represents 23% of all restaurant visits, not a significant difference from Boomers and Millennials, who represent 26% and 25% of visits respectively, according to “What Matters Most To Key Generational Groups.”

“Boomers and Millennials still make the most visits to restaurants and foodservice outlets, but Gen Xers aren’t far behind,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst. “Many Gen Xers are looking to the convenience and experience restaurants offer because their kids are older and more independent.”

With restaurant traffic growth stalled for the last few years, restaurant operators are looking to increase their traffic share wherever they can, and a focus on Generation X, who represent 20% of the U.S. population, could be among the answers. The study is based on the company’s Checkout Tracking service, which analyzes real receipts from actual consumers and follows the same consumer’s purchasing behavior over time. The study also points out that Gen Xers enjoy dining out, and because they are more likely to have dual income, have the money to do it. They place high importance on food quality, the ability to customize and craving satisfaction.

“In a competitive environment, it’s important for restaurant operators to understand how to gain the attention of important consumer groups,” says Riggs. “With a better understanding of what matters most to key generational groups, marketers can address the unique needs/behaviors of these consumers and create strategies to enhance engagement and increase sales by building loyalty among those groups most important to their business.”