Gen Z Dining Trends Restaurant Operators Must Know About

“While Gen Z doesn’t have a ton of disposable income, this generation is more likely to spend the extra money they do have on experiences, like visiting restaurants, than other generations.”

Those words from Katherine Pendrill, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at TouchBistro, should be quite telling for restaurant operators as they point out the opportunity that exists to reach a valuable audience. 

Despite the bite from inflation, TouchBistro’s 2024 U.S. Diner Report found Gen Z diners are willing to cash out for immediate gratification. Among the findings:

  • Unlike older diners who largely prefer pick up, nearly half (46 percent) of Gen Z say they prefer their food to be delivered to them and they want it to arrive fast. 
  • On average, Gen Z diners say they'd only wait up to 33 minutes for a delivery order. 

“Gen Z is an incredibly important audience for restaurants because this group dines out more than any other generation,” Pendrill continued. “Our research found that 64 percent of Gen Z dine in weekly or more often, which is significantly more than the U.S. average of 39 percent across all age groups. We also found that Gen Z is ordering takeout/delivery far more frequently, with 69 percent of Gen Z diners saying they order takeout or delivery weekly or more often – well above the U.S. average of 43 percent.”

When TouchBistro conducted this year’s Diner Report, they noticed that Gen Z was often driving key trends or a major outlier compared to older generations, she added. For instance, Gen Z was driving the recent increase in takeout/delivery sales. 

It became clear to us that Gen Z is now at an age where this generation is having a real impact on restaurants and how they operate.

“We also noticed that Gen Z was one of the few generations open to some tech in the dining room, while older diners were much more in favor of a traditional dining experience. It became clear to us that Gen Z is now at an age where this generation is having a real impact on restaurants and how they operate. With this in mind, we wanted to create a report dedicated to better understanding this generation’s unique dining habits, motivations, and preferences, so we can start to predict how this will change the overall trajectory of the restaurant industry.”

Pendrill noted that Gen Z is both comfortable spending money on restaurants, but also highly motivated by value, finding that, on average, Gen Z spends more on dine-in and takeout/delivery than any other generation. But at the same time, 46 percent of Gen Z diners said they value deals and specials as a deciding factor in whether they choose to dine somewhere, which was a greater percentage than other generations. Moreover, 65 percent of Gen Z indicated that they use value for their money to decide whether or not to dine at a particular restaurant, which was a greater percentage than any other generation.

“In an age of fast fashion and other relatively cheap goods, Gen Z consumers are used to being able to purchase a high volume of goods without paying too much for each individual item,” she said. “I think that behavior has carried over into dining as well, where Gen Z consumers want to dine out a lot, but don’t want to pay too much each time they do it. This means they might seek out a $15 meal on DoorDash four times a week, instead of a $50 meal once a week. While I think this behavior isn’t entirely unique to Gen Z, it seems to be a bit more pronounced among younger diners than older ones.” 

As value is a major motivator for Gen Z, it’s not a surprise the research is starting to see this play out in the loyalty space: 42 percent of Gen Z diners are part of a restaurant loyalty program and this group engages with loyalty programs more often than any other generation. 

“A whopping 53 percent of Gen Z told us they engage with a restaurant loyalty program once a week or more often, versus just 22 percent of Boomers who said the same,” said Pendrill. “This generation interacts with loyalty programs so often, what they want from these programs is different from other generations.”

Gen Z consumers want to dine out a lot, but don’t want to pay too much each time they do it.

Gen Z consumers want the ability to earn free items and get access to coupons/discounts, but they also want other perks that will make their restaurant experience faster and more convenient. For instance, 40 percent of Gen Z said that extra ordering options (like the ability to place mobile pickup orders) was among the top two reasons they joined a restaurant loyalty program, while just 22 percent of Millennials said the same, she added. Moreover, 14 percent of Gen Z diners indicated that early and exclusive access to new menu items was the number one factor influencing them to join a restaurant loyalty program, which was more than any other generation.

"We see this trend becoming more prominent in the coming years where loyalty programs become a channel for restaurants to deliver value in a myriad of ways – not just discounts and freebies, but also perks, convenience, and exclusivity. It’s probably no surprise that a generation that grew up in the age of Uber Eats and Amazon Prime expects speed and convenience. Gen Z has grown up at a time when they can get things when they want them and how they want them, and this has absolutely influenced their expectations when it comes to visiting restaurants."

Pendrill said this attitude is particularly noticeable when it comes to takeout/delivery. Gen Z orders takeout/delivery more often than any other generation and when they place those orders, they expect them to arrive quickly and with their order preferred to their exact specifications. For instance, more than half (53 percent) of Gen Z diners reported they would cancel their delivery if it took more than 30 minutes to arrive. And when asked about their biggest takeout/delivery frustrations, 28 percent said it was their order being inaccurate, while 23 percent said it was their order being cold. 

"The takeaway for operators is that having off-premise ordering is essential if they want to attract a Gen Z audience. But if they’re going to offer takeout and delivery, they have to strike that tricky balance of offering speed without sacrificing quality. Restaurateurs today need to pay really close attention when it comes to correctly fulfilling orders and ensuring those orders will maintain their quality during the delivery process. Fortunately, today’s operators have a lot of options when it comes to technology that can help speed up online order fulfillment and improve order accuracy."