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Millennials to Blame for Killing Napkins

Millennials are blamed for a lot of things these days, and they don't deserve it.

Well, most of it.

Some of it.

I mean, I blame hipsters for a lot of things, like skinny jeans, flannel shirts in summer, and man buns, and I think we can all get on board with that. But I don't blame the entire 18 – 28 year old demographic for everything wrong in society.

Millennials currently outnumber Baby Boomers, and thanks to the laws of attrition, that won't be changing any time soon. Also, Generation X, my generation, is predicted to start outnumbering the Baby Boomers by 2028, which is a little depressing when you think about what that means.

But as the largest population demographic, Millennials have the biggest buying impact on our economy. Ten years ago, they were the biggest influencers on purchasing, but now they've got their own money, and they're starting to decide when and how they want to spend it. And that has a whole slew of industry experts in a tizzy, shrieking that the sky is falling. Again.

So it's not a surprise to see a slew of articles lately that blame Millennials for killing dozens of industries simply by not patronizing them.
For example, last year, the Washington Post reported Millennials are killing the napkin industry for a variety of reasons: they stopped buying napkins in favor of paper towels, because they prefer to use paper towels at dinner. They think paper towels are a better choice than napkins, said a napkin industry expert, because they're ideal for cleaning.

Paper towels, that is. Napkin industry experts are pretty useless for wiping up spills, and you're never sure if you can recycle them.

Also, says Big Napkin, Millennials are dining out more, which cuts into the napkin industrial complex. But they must be eating at fancy places with cloth napkins or they're wiping their mouths on their flannel sleeves.

On the other hand, despite all their dining out, Millennials are also killing chain restaurants like Applebee's, TGI Fridays, and Buffalo Wild Wings by not eating there anymore.

Sure, they went with their parents when they were little, but now that they can make their own big kid decisions, 20-somethings don't want to eat at the boil-in-a-bag, microwave-a-meal restaurants anymore.

They prefer farm-to-table restaurants. They love the phrase so much, they're turning it into a verb. "I wish I could just farm-to-table this chicken."

Okay, not really, but I'll bet it didn't surprise you either.

The point is, Millennials are getting picky about where they eat, what they do for entertainment, and even the things they do to help the environment.

They value experiences over possessions, so they're traveling more and buying less useless crap. So if you're in the useless crap business — which is about half our gross domestic product — you've got problems. Not because it's the Millennials' fault, but that you didn't find a way to appeal to them and their buying habits.

That's the problem. All these industries don't fit into what 20-somethings want out of life. They didn't do their research, they didn't find out what their young customers wanted, they just assumed that if their parents did it, their kids would do follow suit.

Anyone who grew up in the Sixties knows how well that worked out.

They're killing credit, they're killing traditional banking, they're killing the entire lending industry, cry the financial industry experts.

Can you blame them? They're cautious about spending money, because they're underemployed. They're underemployed because wages dropped after the Great Recession. A recession that was created by Baby Boomers at all the big mortgage lenders and banks. They can't find high-paying jobs because corporations are making cuts so their executives can get million dollar bonuses. Which means they're not buying cars or houses, because they don't feel like driving SUVs or owning 4,000 square foot McMansions to store all the useless crap they're not buying.

Except they got college degrees, and loads of college debt, because they were told that going to college guaranteed a good solid job.

Of course, someone should have explained that those degrees shouldn't be in poetry or art history, because corporations don't hire people to write about their feelings or stare at paintings. Said the guy with a Philosophy degree.

They're even killing golf, because they can't afford to play such an expensive sport. Also, because golf is stupid. Plus golf courses damage the environment. But mostly it's stupid.

Remember, these are the same people who want farm-to-table food because they care about an animal's life experience. Why would they support an environmental black hole like a golf course?

If you want your golf course to succeed, forget the Millennials. Go after the rednecks who put diesel-belching pipes on their pickups because Obama wanted to protect the environment. Tell them liberals think golf courses harm the planet, and they'll belch over to the golf course and sign up in droves.

But this blame game isn't anything new. The older generation always blames the younger generation. Go back as far as you can, and you'll see who was to blame for killing live theater, vinyl records, radio theater, Victrolas, pre-movie newsreels, silent movies, Vaudeville, the harpsichord, leeching, and having the vapors.

Sort of makes you nostalgic for the good old days, doesn't it?

Photo credit: Shari Weinsheimer (, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


  1. Erik - both insightful and amusing comparison on the trends between the two generations! Millennials also seem to be fascinated by technology driven value propositions as gleaned from their banking patterns in the financial industry - with a clear preference to digital self-service channels such as online and mobile banking platforms over the traditional brick and mortar in branch transaction options.


    1. And that's only going to grow, especially as fintech companies start using artificial intelligence as a way to analyze people's spending and saving patterns, and creating detailed and customized banking solutions for them.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Great article Erik! All the traits you mentioned are because Millennials are very conscious when it comes to health, social, economical and environmental issues. I thoroghly enjoyed the comparison between baby boomers and Millennials and it bought a smile on my face. Would love to read all your blogs and articles.

    1. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.


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