Gen Z and the Dining Experience
The next wave of restaurant customers is ready to be won over.
Gen Z’s Digital Mindset, Huge Buying Power, and Loyalty Are Up for Grab
Generation Z may be young, but they make up almost 26 percent of the American economy and have an estimated $250 billion in spending power. Those eye-popping numbers from Technomic Inc. make this generation, born in 1993 and later, impossible to ignore. For Gen Z, dining out is not a special event. Most of them visit restaurants once a week—a very high number, considering many are too young to drive.
As they get older and their income level rises, they are the next wave of restaurant customers. That makes it important to appeal to Gen Z now. By offering the flavors and the dining-out styles they crave, you can build loyalty among this group. To accomplish this, place emphasis on three major areas: technology, customizable menus, and unique experiences.
Mobilize Your Technology
Gen Z has always been plugged in to smart technology—from smart cars to smartphones—so it’s smart to reach them in the digital and mobile world where they spend their time. Start with a mobile-friendly online menu, urges restaurantengine.com. They are a short-attention-span group, so a simple, fast-loading menu works best. Technomic advises that you menu should mention taste, flavor, fresh ingredients, and better-for-you choices as selling points.
While you’re out on the web, don’t overlook social media. Gen Z is not as big on Facebook as they are on YouTube, Instagram, and Vine, but all of these present opportunities to market fast-paced, humorous 6- to 15-second videos that grab their attention. Speaking to even the youngest members of Gen Z can be profitable. They have a big influence on choosing where the family goes out to eat.
Being a wireless hotspot can also make you a dining hotspot. Free Wi-Fi means that even if they are eating with family or friends, they still can send texts and photos on their mobile devices. This word-of-mouth advertising is priceless.
Craft the Perfect Dining Playlist
Of all the generations, Gen Z places the highest importance on the ability to customize meals—getting what they want, when they want it. This makes burgers and pizza popular players among the young set, but don’t narrow the dining scope too quickly. Technomic’s The Generational Consumer Trend Report points out that Gen Z also embraces Chinese, Mexican, pasta, and other global dishes at higher levels than other generations.
This global appetite is the result of Gen Z being the most-diverse generation, plus the influence of their adventurous Gen X parents. But more than anything else, it’s the appeal of customization. Everyone at the table can be eating a different kind of taco, creating a shared-plate opportunity steeped in customization. This fits right in with Flavor & The Menu’s Generational Flavors report, which explains that low prices, overall value, and convenience appeal to Gen Z diners—places like Subway and Chipotle are favorites because they are customizable and affordable.
Offer a Taste of Experience
Flavors like yuzu, tamarind, lemongrass, and vinegar may be less common for other generations, but Flavor & The Menu says these flavors are catching on with Gen Z. Part of the reason may be linked to education foodservice. In addition to a focus on healthy, nutritious foods as part of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program in grade schools, campus foodservice also is getting in on the act. Colleges and universities have moved away from traditional dining and now offer something known as “campus cuisine.” For example, Gen Z students are introduced to Lebanese, Greek, and other Middle Eastern fare, with both halal and kosher options. In addition, they’re offered options that focus on dietary and lifestyle needs, such as vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free.
These are just examples of the way the dining experience appeals to Gen Z. Social experiences like those offered at Starbucks are a favorite. Coffee shops provide a specialty coffee experience in an adult-style setting—a place to socialize for this group not old enough to drink adult beverages.
Speaking of beverages, Gen Z likes soda and will order it frequently, but this generation also is more likely than any of the others to order lemonade, bottled water, fruit juice, or smoothies, so it helps to highlight better-for-you options.
Playing into the better-for-you mindset is Gen Z’s attraction to socially responsible restaurants. Technomic says promoting recycling and sustainable food practices, or featuring low-fat, low-sodium menu items may help drive traffic and build a following.
Ultimately, loyalty is what builds restaurant business most of all. If your restaurant appeals to the things Gen Z craves most—technology, customization, and unique experiences—it’s possible to build their loyalty for generations to come.