Move over Millennials—there’s a new generation capturing the interest of today’s restaurant industry: Generation Z.
With members born between 1995 and 2012, Generation Z is one of the strongest growing segments in the food service industry, particularly in regard to fast-casual restaurants.
These tech-savvy and socially conscious consumers made a whopping 11 billion restaurant visits in the year ended July 2019. Today, they represent nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all food service traffic.
This is good news for the restaurant industry, which has recently seen older generations, from baby boomers to Millennials, pull back on restaurant visits. But it does mean that in the years ahead, as boomers in particular gradually come to represent a smaller share of the population, restaurants are going to have to be smart about catering to the unique expectations of Gen Z if they want to keep attracting this influential generation to their tables.
Here are some of the most important things that restaurants need to know when thinking about marketing to and serving members of Generation Z.
1. They like community and casual spaces.
For Gen Z, food isn’t just about nourishment, it’s also about community. This generation sees eating and drinking as a social opportunity. Gen Z members love to meet their friends in casual spaces where they can easily chat and socialize over a long, lingering meal. For food service establishments, there are a few important lessons to learn here.
One is the importance of creating a relaxed, group-friendly space where young diners can really feel at home. Rather than focusing on fussy details, which can be intimidating, informal seating and a cozy atmosphere is the way to go. Think collections of couches or long tables for big social gatherings.
Another lesson concerns the menu itself. Diners from this generation like to share, and they would rather graze on a few small plates over the course of an evening than order single dishes à la carte.
2. They’re adventurous eaters.
Change and curiosity seem to be built into the DNA of Gen Z, especially so when it comes to what they eat. Gen Z diners are more likely than any other generation to have been exposed to a wide variety of foods and flavors throughout their lives. As a result, they are very open to and interested in international and experimental cuisines that feature new and exciting spices, textures, tastes, and products. To attract Gen Z customers, restaurants need to think about creative ways to spice up their menu options, as well as frequently varying and changing what’s on offer.
3. They’re health-conscious.
Consumers of all ages are eating healthier these days, but Generation Z, in particular, is gaining a reputation as a strongly health-conscious generation. These diners are looking for food options that are healthy and natural, so incorporating things like non-GMO and organic ingredients, fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed products is a must for restaurants.
In addition, many Gen Z consumers are curious about on-trend eating patterns like keto, paleo, or Whole 30, which they see as an important part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, so creating menu offerings that are compatible with these types of diets can help boost restaurants’ appeal.
4. They value social responsibility.
Like the Millennials who started the trend, Gen Z consumers place great importance on social and environmental responsibility. This young generation is keenly aware of the many urgent issues currently facing people and the planet, and they want to support and patronize restaurants that are helping make a positive difference. From a restaurant perspective, the simpler and more authentic these responsibility measures are, the better. For example, restaurants can consider implementing new practices to manage food waste more sustainably, sourcing more supplies from organic producers, or even using a portion of profits to support local charities.
5. They have a more fluid sense of time.
The day-to-day lives of Gen Z members are less structured and more fluid than those of older consumers. These young diners, often juggling multiple projects and obligations, have constantly changing schedules. As a result, they tend not to stick to conventional meal times. Restaurants can attract these busy consumers by offering special deals or promotions during off-peak hours, or ensuring that different menu options are always available regardless of the time of day.
6. They’re careful with their money.
Generation Z is very frugal when it comes to spending habits. Warned by the serious financial impact that the so-called Great Recession had on their Millennial predecessors, frequently weighed down by student loans, and often struggling to find living-wage employment, members of Generation Z are all about saving money whenever and wherever they can. Restaurants should, therefore, consider budget-friendly menu options, special discounts and coupons, and similar promotions to keep this thrifty generation coming back.