March 16, 2020

Gen Z influences can shape your restaurant menus and marketing strategies

Gen Z with phones
Gen Zs have been introduced to a wide range of cultures from an early age, and continue to explore international foods and flavors as they grow.

Global cuisines, plant-forward meals, sustainability, and value pricing all resonate with Gen Z consumers, and will continue to as that generation becomes your paying customers.

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Menu trends

In the United States, Gen Z — roughly ages 7 to 23 — is highly diverse, coming from a wide assortment of backgrounds and ethnic groups. According to Pew Research, nearly 50% of this group are minorities, with some 80% reporting they have friends of other ethnicities.

This often means they’ve been introduced to a wide range of cultures from an early age, and continue to explore international foods and flavors as they grow. In addition, Gen Zs, as they age and mature, are likely to want an even greater proliferation of authentic global cuisines and innovative culinary fusions from the restaurant industry.

Unlike prior generations, Gen Z’s don’t go through vegetarian “phases.” Plant-based meals have always been a part of their diets and many expect a range of vegetarian choices wherever they are. In fact, some 79% say they want to eat plant-based meals at least one or two times a week.

Deanne Brandstetter, M.B.A., R.D., vice president of Nutrition & Wellness for Compass Group, North America, shared these Gen Z observations — along with a host of other generational influences — during the National Restaurant Association’s Nutrition Expert Exchange conference earlier this month.

Snacking is and will continue to be important to this age group, Brandstetter said. Gen Z primary schoolers get about 25 minutes for lunch on average. That includes walking to the cafeteria, getting their food (customizing it the way they want), eating, and returning to class.

Lunch periods run the gamut from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as well. By the end of the school day, these kids are hungry and reliant on snacks to bridge them until dinner.

Add in the proliferation of after-school activities, which effect dinner times, and the snacking trend is not likely to wane anytime soon.

Marketing to match lifestyles

In addition to menu preferences, Brandstetter said understanding Gen Z lifestyle factors can inform the way you market to them.

For example, Gen Zs are worried about the economy, she said. The Great Recession is still in memory for many and as a result, they tend to be fearful of debt.

The current coronavirus situation is another global event that could add to their sense of financial insecurity. Restaurant campaigns that effectively market value meals, loyalty rewards, and coupons could be very important in getting this frugal customer group to increase spending.

In addition, this generation is highly concerned about the planet, and this concern is evident in the high value Gen Z places on the food it perceives as fresh, clean, and sustainably acquired, with recognizable ingredients and minimal processing. It will be important to promote those factors on menus and in marketing messaging, Brandstetter said.

Considered “digital natives,” the typical Gen Z is on his or her cell phone for more than three hours every day. Most get their first phone in the fifth grade, at about age 10. That said, increasing your company’s visibility and relevance online should continue to be a top priority. Last, but not least, Gen Zs expect to pay by app.