Generation Z Orders Up: Habits of the Newest Restaurant Customer

by Cristin O’Hara2 Min Read

We’ve experienced a dining revolution in recent years. Smartphone-savvy customers want the ease of ordering food through a mobile app; services like Grubhub and UberEats deliver meals from local restaurants directly to your door; and, companies such as Domino’s are starting to deliver to parks, beaches, and other outdoor hotspots. Much of the industry has embraced technology and created new marketing strategies and business models that match customers’ growing desire for convenience. To remain relevant, however, restaurants need to understand how its newest audience will continue to impact the industry.

The catalyst behind this restaurant revolution is Generation Z, or “Gen Z” – the 85 million Americans born between 1995 and 2010 who not only differ in their communication style, education and social preferences, but also differ dramatically in their dining habits, compared to their predecessors. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the up-and-coming generation is more ethnically diverse, health-conscious, and conservative in their spending habits. As a result, restaurants must adjust their marketing and digital strategies to form a relationship with the next cohort.

Below, find some of the ways Generation Z is affecting the restaurant industry and suggestions for restaurateurs to meet the fresh expectations.

Healthy Preferences

Gen Z cares about what ingredients are in their food, as well as food’s impact on the environment. According to a Tufts Nutrition report], 41 percent of Gen Z say they would pay more for foods they perceive as healthier, compared to only 32 percent of millennials. This group also cares about whether choices are organic, non-GMO and tailored to dietary restrictions. Restaurants can cater to these preferences by being transparent about caloric information, potential allergens and vendors.

Convenience

 Rather than adopting smart phones later in life, Generation Z has used this technology since childhood. They have become accustomed to ordering things with the push of a button, and aren’t keen on waiting long for the perfect meal.

They also exhibit “grazing” behavior – a habit of eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day rather than full-course dishes. To satisfy the impatient itch, restaurants can offer takeout and delivery options, in addition to providing a mobile-friendly “order ahead” form on websites and apps. For the grazers, restaurants should provide smaller portions and “on the go” items at the front of the restaurant.

Digital Engagement

Generation Z spends six to eight hours online each day “connected” through various electronic devices. Most preferences for things such as clothing or food come from peer recommendations and word-of-mouth posts on social media rather than direct advertisements. This group also turns to community applications, such as Yelp, to read reviews of restaurants and gauge prices. Restaurants can show they’re listening by engaging in dialogue on various platforms and offering activations and contests through social media.

Fiscal Conservatism

This demographic is more careful with their money. This is in part due to growing up during the Great Recession and watching their families struggle financially. Restaurants can adapt to this by offering low-cost additions to the menu and creating half-sizes for a lower price.

Despite the wave of new dining preferences led by Gen-Z, restaurants have an opportunity to forge relationships with a new group of spenders. If restaurants push to prioritize strategies such digital engagement and development of healthy menu options, in addition to the usual priorities like cleanliness and great food, restaurants can turn Gen Z into a highly coveted demographic of brand loyalists.

Cristin O’Hara

@bofaml | LinkedIn | Website

Cristin O’Hara, managing director and head of restaurant group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the marketing name for the global banking and global markets businesses of Bank of America Corporation.

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