Thanks to ‘Selfie Culture’ Millennials Are Eating with Their Eyes – Here’s How Canadian Restaurants Can Respond 

When millennials go out to eat, they’re hungry for more than just great food. In fact, I like to think that they’re ‘eating with their eyes’ now more than ever.

Why? Statistics show that millennials are placing a premium on their overall dining experience, which goes far beyond food quality. In addition to delicious dishes, outstanding service and a great location, they’re also looking for well-appointed picture perfect dining spaces. From fast casual to quick service restaurants, mall food courts, and even grab n’ go spots, the pressure to ‘design up’ is being felt nation-wide. With almost 250 million #selfies posted on Instagram to date, a recent study predicts that millennials will spend about an hour a week to take up to 25,700 selfies in their lifetime. To put that into perspective, the same study points out that a majority 55% of all millennials post selfies, while only 24% of Gen X and 9% of Baby Boomers do. Canadian restaurants need to be upping their games in an effort to keep up with the next generation’s crusade for the best and most like inducing selfies.

As selfie culture shows no sign of slowing down, social media is actually being factored into design concepts more and more. That’s why successful restaurants are designing from the inside out; putting a greater emphasis on luxe design, better materials and new technology that adapts to the way millennials consume in 2017. One of our latest BUILD IT By Design projects saw us working with Basil Box in downtown Toronto, and constructed an selfie-worthy accent wall complete with authentic Thai straw hats – which has since been the subject of many well liked #foodie photos. We know that a great design on the inside of a restaurant is a powerful draw, as it makes passerby’s want to stop and stare – and walk inside. These standout feature designs are not only resulting in more onsite selfies, leading to more likes, shares and marketing opportunities, but ultimately, more patrons actually frequenting the restaurants that boast them.

This trend of Canadian restaurants upping their interiors is one we’re seeing more often, with world-class shopping malls leading the charge. Gone are the days of the greasy-spoon food court, as malls are now dedicating space to unique, high-end restaurant offerings. Take Toronto’s Sherway Gardens Mall, which is now home to Saks’ Food Hall by Pusateris, or at the Rideau Center in Ottawa, which recently invested $360 million into food court redevelopment. Boasting features like oyster and champagne bars, these examples speak to the current upward trend in optimizing well-designed food space, as malls are now devoting 8.47% of their real estate to restaurants and food offerings, up from 7% in 2007 (according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)).

This ‘luxe design effect’ from mall eateries is also trickling down into fast-casual restaurants, which are aiming to satisfy consumers that are no longer happy noshing amongst bland décor. At BUILD IT By Design we are finding that materials like marbled concrete counter tops, angled ceilings, and custom millwork are being incorporated more and more often in the dining environments we build. We recently collaborated with Paramount Fine Foods, one of Canada’s fastest growing restaurants, to curate an exceptional space that reflects its Middle Eastern flare. Situated on the corner of Richmond and Spadina, its bright, decal-ed windows purposely showcase welcoming banquettes, ensuring that potential patrons walking by are drawn to the space inside – and more likely to choose to dine there over other local options.

The luxe-look even goes as far as grab and go only restaurants, like the recently opened Hopscotch. Tucked into Toronto’s bustling financial district, we worked with the Hopscotch team to carve out a new space for the restaurant concept within the underground PATH system. The glass-walled result features real stone countertops, a simplistic white-and-grey colour palette, and modern fixtures that work together to provide busy professionals with a calm and inviting place to stop, grab healthy food, snap a quick foodie pic, and dash back to their desks.

An inviting restaurant environment has become the norm, even if customers are only spending a few minutes inside. Plus with fewer Canadians cooking at home, thanks to apps like Ritual and Uber Eats gaining momentum, more restaurants will be picking up on this design trend, putting thought into attractive and easily navigated pickup areas that avoid impacting lineups.

Overall, the message is clear: millennials care about good design and well-appointed spaces. And with upwards of 200 billion dollars spent by millennials annually, it’s key that Canadian restaurants work on winning their trust and taste. Restaurants looking to secure the hearts, minds, wallets and be captured in the #hashtagable moments of the millennial generation will need to be more conscious of curating the whole look, tone, and feel of their branded environment. That’s why every touch point in a restaurant interior should come together to create a symphony effect – leaving customers with more than just a memorable food experience.

BUILD IT By Design is a Toronto-based construction firm that collaborates with restaurants and retailers to help them bring their visions to life. With over 500 completed builds to date, BUILD IT By Design stays accountable to their clients’ vision, established budget and timeline, and have become a trusted industry partner to some of the nation’s leading businesses. For more information please visit

About Simon Shahin, CEO, BUILD IT By Design

As CEO of BUILD IT By Design, Simon Shahin founded the company in 2008 with one vision: to bring a higher level of transparency, design focus, and service to the general contracting industry. With Simon at the helm, BUILD IT By Design has grown to a team of almost 100 in-house specialists who take on commercial contracting for retail, restaurant and office projects of all sizes – and have completed over 500 projects across the GTA to date.