Foodservice directors are well aware that today’s students are different from past generations. From the most exotic of flavors, to the most specific requests, today’s K-12 students - members of Generation Z - are arguably the most diverse generation yet. Making up 32 percent of the U.S. population, well-connected, tech-savvy Gen Z-ers crave immediate gratification and variety. Plus, they have a global palate. How does a foodservice director please these picky palates?
While students aren’t necessarily begging for Brussels sprouts and green beans, Generation Z tends to be more health-conscious when choosing food. Market researcher NPD predicts salad consumption in particular will increase with Gen Z, offering savvy foodservice operators an opportunity to include salad bars into lunch-time offerings.
Create “stealth health” options by offering familiar flavors with a healthy twist, like cauliflower mashed potatoes. Try serving a variety of lighter fare options such as soups, wraps, and sandwiches - all of which are favorites, especially among females.
After easy favorites, like pizza and burgers, Asian and Hispanic flavors are top picks for students. While kimchi, sushi, tacos, burritos, and the like are all favorites among all Gen Zers, college-aged students (18 to 21) are more likely to prefer Mexican, pasta, and combination dishes than younger Gen Zers (ages 13 to 17).
While it’s no secret that Asian food - especially Chinese - is an easy favorite among Generation Z-ers, sushi, ramen, pho, and various Japanese dishes are also hits. Work made-to-order rice or noodle bowls into your menu. Or, start simple with stir fry or orange chicken.
Today’s students are generally more into spice and one surprise favorite is Peruvian food. A fusion of Spanish, German, Italian, Asian, and West African cuisines, Peruvian cuisine is generalized by smokey spices and ancient grains - like quinoa - chili peppers, corn, potatoes, and legumes. Try these flavors with chicken or quinoa side dishes.
Customization and better-for-you options are of great importance for today’s students in both K-12 and college. Develop customizable meal solutions - like salad bars with unique ingredients, or a build-your-own noodle bowl bar.
According to Technomic Inc., the speed of service is more important to Generation Z than to other generations. Consider potential ways to speed up service, like ordering kiosks, mobile apps, or menu boards to give students waiting in line time to consider their options.
Variety is Key
For these always-connected students, keeping things new and exciting is important. Take a page from the small-plates concept by serving smaller portions, allowing students the opportunity to add variety of food on their trays.