Recently, there has been a considerable push for restaurants to appeal to the millennial market in order to stay relevant and increase sales. While millennials dine out often, Gen Z (those born after 1995) should start taking more focus. These two groups are similar in their social media reliance, but there are certain aspects of Gen Z that make them prime targets for restaurants looking to build a loyal customer base.

Though young, Gen Z-ers spent $78 billion at restaurants in 2016, and that’s without spending a single dollar on alcohol (remember, they’re not even of drinking age yet). A whopping 1/5 of Gen Z’s budget goes to food at the moment, and they prefer to dine out in big groups, which means plenty of big-ticket tables for restaurants.

It’s not only that Gen Z likes to eat out, giving restaurants a boost in sales, they also share positive experiences, which is a free word-of-mouth campaign for restaurants.

Gen Z and the Sharing Culture

This generation follows food trends they see on social media. They don’t experience a restaurant without their phone—whether it’s to place an order ahead of time, read reviews, make a reservation, split the check, or post a post-meal review. Gen Z never experienced the day of walking into a restaurant not knowing what to expect.

Gen Z likes to simplify their dining experience using technology, and they enjoy experiences like ordering through tabletop tablets. Since this generation is more focused on Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and Tumblr (rather than Facebook), restaurants should know that good service and experience can spread quickly on those networks. Unfortunately, a Gen Z-er can easily post a bad experience too, so owners should know that no matter what happens, this group will share on goings with corresponding photos to their massive lists of followers.

What does Gen Z Want in a Restaurant?

This generation is more adventurous than previous generations, and they enjoy fusions, global cuisines, and authentic ethnic foods. Gen Z-ers want to have an authentic experience with the culture, not just eat great authentic food—the atmosphere and service are equally important.

This group prefers fast-casual restaurants at a 50 percent greater rate than full-service restaurants.

Considering they grew up right behind penny-pinching millennials who graduated during the financial crisis, they are up for a bargain. That, coupled with the fact that Gen Z-ers have an attention span of eight seconds, makes restaurants like Chipotle and Panera big hits.

But just because this generation wants a fast meal, doesn’t mean they forget about nutrition. In fact, 67 percent of Gen Z care about the nutritional content of their food. “Fresh,” “organic,” and “sustainable” are great buzzwords to get Gen Z-ers in the door, but they expect full transparency when it comes to ingredients. They want to know exactly what they’re digesting and care about the impact their meal has on the environment.

How to Reach the Gen Z Market

Gen Z cares about the food and the experience, so restaurants ready to capture this market should be sure to make eating out worthwhile. Part of that is using a dynamic, engaging social media campaign to get this market in the door. To really capture Gen Z’s attention, marketing must directly appeal to them—and it’s worthwhile since this group is definitely online following new trends. In-restaurant technology options, such as using tablets to order from the table, also go over well with this generation.

Restaurants that want to cater to Gen Z should also try to diversify the menu. This generation is the most diverse in the United States yet, with only 54 percent of them identifying as Caucasian. The idea of “traditional American” food is changing, and for this generation “fusion” is absolutely booming.

Gen Z is socially conscious, so they are more likely to dine out at a place that has the same social conscious they do. Restaurants that give back or help to solve social problems in the local community will go over much better with these spenders.

Along with dining out in big groups, this is a sharing generation who loves snacks, appetizers, and street food; 42 percent of Gen Z-ers ask for street food on the menu where they go, so offering smaller portion options, especially that are authentic will most likely be popular. Restaurants that can give a trendy, fast, and inexpensive meal that offers full transparency to ingredients and calorie count are sure to succeed with Gen Z.

Gen Z is surprisingly already some of the biggest spenders in the food industry without spending anything on alcohol. With the love of creative fusion dishes that stay authentic to cultures, Gen Z should have the attention of all restaurants looking to bump up their social presence and in-house sales.

Kevin Valdez is the Co-Founder of GroupRaise, a new way of organizing restaurant fundraisers for local causes.
Consumer Trends, Customer Experience, Outside Insights, Story