The term “Millennials” gets thrown around a lot when discussing any food trends that fall outside of Baby Boomer interest. And it’s easy to think of Millennials as pretty much “anyone young,” but the reality is, the majority of Millennials are now in their late twenties and early thirties, with kids of their own. Now, there’s an even younger group of eaters out there called Generation Z – namely, anyone born between 1996 and now (20 years old or younger).
Just like it’s tempting to dismiss Millennials, it’s easy to overlook Gen Z diners because so many of them are still at the point where their parents by and large choose and pay for their meals.
However, the older consumers among Gen Z are in high school and college, and the rest of the age group are slowly growing up and starting to make purchasing choices themselves. This is the time to start keying in on this demographic, as they’ll be the market drivers in the years to come.
Please note: as with all looks at consumer age groups, these are general trends being assessed within certain demographics. Clearly, many Gen Z diners will stray from these trends, and many of these trends overlap with what’s happening with Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomer consumers. How to use these trends to your advantage depends largely on your restaurant brand.
Health conscious, fresh cuisine
Even in limited service dining, Gen Z consumers expect their food to have fresh components to them. They’re more likely to look for a balance of vegetable to protein and starch when it comes to a meal. They’re also more likely to go flexitarian and eat dishes where the vegetable is the star of the show. If you can offer them fresh food and make those vegetables taste great, you can win over Gen Z eaters and secure loyal customers for years.
Gen Z is also looking for restaurants that use organic and sustainable ingredients in their menu. Standards of humane animal treatment and food production are base expectations for kids who grew up with these ideas as part of their food vocabulary.
If organic, sustainable, and locally grown are the cornerstones of your restaurant, make sure to market as such – in advertising, on your website, and on your in-restaurant menus as well. “Fresh,” “organic,” and “sustainable” are all buzzwords that pull Generation Z diners in.
Basics that allow for lots of variety
While every group of teenagers will include some picky eaters, Gen Z is already shown to be pretty adventurous in their eating choices. Yes, they tend to like the classics you’d find in restaurants throughout America. Burgers, pizzas, tacos, pastas, and other restaurant basics are all fair game with them. That’s the food they grew up on (and really are still growing up on).
But what they’re looking for beyond that are classics with fun twists, like new flavor combos, global cuisine fusion, and healthy choice options. Don’t forget to offer various spice levels as well. These younger diners are starting to make choices on their own, and getting to choose from mild to hot flavors is very appealing to them.
Authentic ethnic cuisine
Again, a strong theme in Gen Z eating habits is authenticity and exploring exciting flavors from all over the world. Some of this comes from growing up in the same households as Gen X and Millennial foodies.
But it also comes from the next generation of American diners being so diverse in background, and exposed to international trends via the internet. The US Census has projected that Gen Z isn’t afraid of trying new cuisines, and are looking for authentic experiences trying out foods from all over the globe.
And that’s the key here: it’s an authentic “experience” with the culture rather than just an authentic cooking technique or ingredients. Their reaction to your restaurant is more about whether they feel like your brand is truly inspired by the culture you’re representing in the food.
Social media and tech
For most of these diners, social media has been around for their entire lives. They’ve grown up with companies marketing through social media as much as any other advertising channel, so they expect restaurants to do the same.
Gen Z is very savvy, shying away from Facebook (now a home for older generations of internet users) and focusing more on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.
These are the consumers most likely to liveblog or livetweet their experience, so tapping into that via specials (“get a free sugar cookie when you tweet a pic of your meal and @ us”) can really appeal to them.
They’re also the generation that grew up with touchscreens, so using the most up-to-date tech for your ordering and POS system will seem second nature to them as consumers and employees.
Just make sure your tech focused on function over style. Gen Z is not easily fooled by flash and fashion if not backed up by making things easier to accomplish and understand.
Want to clue in further on how to develop freshness and authenticity in your cuisine?