Gen Z and millennial expert Jason Dorsey says people refer to Gen Z and millennials as “tech savvy.” But that’s not necessarily true, says Dorsey. He says they’re actually “tech dependent” -- and that’s a different thing altogether.

That may be how they engage with restaurants too. From baby boomers to Gen Xers, generational attitudes toward restaurant technology notably differ, according to National Restaurant Association research delivered in a recent webinar.

  • When asked if restaurant technology -- which can include everything from smartphone apps to tableside tablets and order kiosks -- increases convenience, 60 percent of all adults surveyed agreed, but the number jumped to 70 percent of respondents ages 18-34.
  • The younger groups’ responses skewed 10 percent higher than all adults (66 percent to 56 percent) when asked if they think technology increases order accuracy and if access to technology encourages them to dine out or order out more frequently. To the latter, 30 percent of all adults and 40 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed answered yes.
  • A greater number of younger respondents also say technology use in restaurants makes dining out more fun and speeds up service.

Accurate online restaurant information is critical

Consumers are using smartphones and tablets to look up restaurant locations and hours, check out menus, order takeout and delivery, and read and write reviews, according to the Association’s 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report. One in four also are using devices to look up nutrition info and make restaurant reservations.

“It is absolutely imperative that you have a digital presence, that your restaurant’s information is complete and accurate in real time, and that it’s mobile-device-responsive,” says Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president, research & knowledge group.

“If consumers, especially younger consumers, perceive you’re not delivering the information they need in that moment, you’ll be dismissed and they’ll move on to the next option quickly.”

Riehle shared another interesting insight from the 2019 report: At movie theaters, you can join preferred-customer programs that let you skip the line, get discounts on snacks, and earn free tickets. And today, many theaters let you choose your seats in advance.

About 40 percent of consumers surveyed (and nearly 50 percent of Gen Xers and millennials) said they’d use similar options in restaurants. They’d like to be able to choose a table from a restaurant’s online seating chart, and say they’d be willing to pay for a preferred-customer program to guarantee reservations on busy days, discounts on menu items, and skip-the-wait privileges.

Tech options are now must-haves

Households with incomes above $70,000 account for almost 60 percent of total restaurant spending, according to the report. The tail end of the baby boomers, and Gen Xers, generally are the higher earners now, but tech-dependent millennials are quickly becoming the heads of those households and the leading edge of Gen Z (born in the mid-1990s) is just a few years behind.

The shift will mean that tech options in restaurants will need to go from “nice to have” (novelty) to “must have” (expectation).

For more tech trends and to get the 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry and watch the webinar, visit The report is free to download for Association members, and $349 for nonmembers.