February 02, 2022

Generational divide may reveal emerging restaurant trends

Millennials and Gen Z adults love restaurant subscriptions, voice ordering, and 3rd-party delivery.
Woman eating a salad

Millennials and Gen Zs are embracing technology, and new, more nuanced relationships with restaurants.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report reveals a generational divide in consumer behavior. Millennials—born 1980-1995—and Generation Z adults—born 1996-2003—are embracing technology, new business models, and more nuanced relationships with restaurants. 
These up-and-coming generations have the power to shape consumer expectations for years to come. 

Here are five trends to keep an eye on:

1. Partners in meal prep: Younger generations view restaurants as a partner in their at-home meal prep. It’s no longer a simple binary choice between a restaurant meal and home cooking. 

More than half the adults surveyed for the 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report say they are more likely to incorporate restaurant-prepared items into meals made at home than they were before the pandemic. This is particularly popular with Gen Zs and millennials, with more than 70% indicating increased reliance on mixed meals.

Millennials and Gen Zs also hunger for make-at-home meal kits that contain pre-measured ingredients, along with cooking instructions. Eight in 10 of them are inclined to purchase a meal kit if offered by one of their favorite restaurants, compared with 47% of Gen Xers and 33% of baby boomers. 

2. To go-to is the new go-to: Young adults view takeout and delivery as their go-to food, with 72% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z calling it “essential” to their lifestyle. The vast majority use 3rd-party delivery, even though they indicate a slight preference for ordering directly from a restaurant. 85% of Gen Z delivery customers ordered through a 3rd-party service in the past six months; only 38% of boomer delivery customers did so.

A whopping 94% of millennials say they would likely order an expanded variety of to-go foods if there were improved packaging to maintain food temperature, taste and quality. Seven in 10 would be willing to pay a little more to cover the cost of upgraded packaging. That’s compared with 47% of boomers.

3. New sales models: Gen Z and millennials are eager to try new purchasing methods, including restaurant subscriptions and pre-paid house accounts. About 80% say they would likely purchase a subscription for a specified number of meals in a month, if offered by a favorite restaurant. Three out of four are inclined to open “house accounts,” given the option. This sales model provides a discount for prepaying. For example, a customer who pays $50 gets $60 added to an account to spend at the restaurant. Only 37% of boomers report that they’re likely to purchase a subscription, and 38% say they’re apt to open a house account.

4. Portable potent potables: When the pandemic temporarily shuttered dining rooms in 2020, more than 35 states issued emergency orders allowing alcohol-to-go. Many localities have since made this a permanent policy—a decision widely favored by younger generations. More than three-quarters of Gen Z adults (age 21+) and 58% of millennials say they included an alcohol beverage with a to-go order in the past 6 months, compared with a mere 10% of baby boomers.

Alcohol-to-go has emerged as a selling point with the younger crowd. 70% of Gen Z adults and 62% of millennials say the option of including alcohol with a takeout or delivery order would make them more inclined to choose one restaurant over another similar restaurant. Just 12% of boomers agree.

5. High-tech transactions: Online ordering and payment have become commonplace; even a majority of baby boomers (61%) say they are likely to use these methods. Meanwhile, Gen Z is adapting newer approaches, with 69% reporting that they would likely order through voice-enabled platforms like Amazon Alexa or the iPhone’s Siri. Only 26% of boomers say they’re apt to use a virtual assistant for ordering.

Technology-enabled transactions could change the face of tableservice dining. Eight out of 10 millennials and Gen Z adults say they would be likely to use a tablet for ordering at the table, if offered by a restaurant they patronize. Given a choice between sitting in a restaurant section offering traditional wait service or a section with tablet/smartphone ordering, slightly more than half of Gen Z respondents opted for high-tech ordering. This could signal the need for fewer servers as Gen Z becomes a larger consumer segment.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report is considered the authoritative source for restaurant industry sales projections and business trends. The report is free to members (a $349 value). Get the report today!
The 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry is Presented By