Gen Z and the Restaurant Industry: Your Questions Answered

Gen Z: Who are they?

A few definitions are floating around,  but most commonly it includes every person born after 1995. This is one of the largest generations to date, and we can count more than 80 million Americans falling into that category.

Compared to Millennials, who grew up in the flourishing Internet bubble era just to see it crash after September 11, Gen Z kids grew up in a post-recession economy, with omnipresent terrorism threats and ongoing war in the Middle East. One can argue that those are the reasons why Gen Z kids come across as more conscientious, more hard-working, somewhat more anxious and mindful of the future than Millennials.

What are Gen Z main characteristics?

They are the first true digital native kids. They grew up with smartphones and under information overload, which has resulted in them being less focused but better as multi-taskers. Not only do they expect everything to be available online, but they expect everything to be fast, well designed and convenient. They have little patience if an app is not intuitive and easy to use.

Why should I pay attention? They are just kids.

You should pay attention for two main reasons. The first obvious one is because they are the consumers of the future. Sure, you may not reap the benefits anytime soon, but we all carry a special place in our hearts for the brands of our youth. Gen Z is also seen as a very loyal group. If you build a good, trusting relationship with them today, chances are it will carry forward as they grow into adulthood.

The second reason is because they are already heavy influencers today. Children have taken a more prominent position in their family dynamic. In other words, if you are parents, you will get it. Last time the family wanted to eat out, how many of us asked our kids first? Side note: it’s not so much that I want their opinion, but more about the fact that I don’t feel like arguing about it. My kids love “Five Guys”, which I don’t care much for, but we still end up eating there at least once per month.

 What do I need to do as a restaurant?

Make your place attractive to the kids: Younger kids will be happy to get crayons and paper to draw on. Teenagers will love a more technology-advanced environment to help speed up the process. Tablets for ordering and paying at the table can be good add-ons.

Make it attractive to the parents: With the current focus on healthier food, give options that allow parents to feel good about what their kids will eat at your restaurant. Offering a good variety of well-prepared veggies, grilled meat and cups of fruit can go a long way.

Reconsider up your kids’ menu items: Kids and parents are tired of what I call the Dull 5: namely pizza, mini-burgers, mac and cheese, hotdogs and chicken tenders. Be more creative! Kids love kebabs, mashed veggies, marinated chicken, and other fresh options. Just offer smaller versions of your adult fare and it will make everyone’s happy, I promise.

Spruce up your menu: Teenagers and young adults are more educated about food thanks to recent efforts to fight obesity. As such, they don’t want junk food — they want “interesting experiences” and are looking for fresher ingredients and healthier meals. However, since they may still have limited income, they are price sensitive and will prefer fast-casual and limited-service establishments rather than full-service restaurants. To appeal to them, make sure you offer lighter, more affordable, but eclectic fares (think ethnic).

Be cognizant of the technology you bring to your business: Gen Z is a tough crowd to please with technology. They have come to expect it, but they also want it to work seamlessly and intuitively. If you decide to offer an app for your restaurant, make sure it is flawless and serves a purpose. If not, it will be deleted faster than it was ever installed and will leave them with a lingering feeling of disappointment. And if you are using customer-facing technology in your restaurant, again, make sure it works and offers a real value-add to them.  Granted, they will love being able to order online and pay online, but it has to work and work fast for them to truly appreciate it.

The rewards? A lifelong relationship with a crowd that values a good meal and is already spending a sizeable amount of their limited income on eating out.