“I feel seen.” Throughout the past year, filled with millions of TikTok videos, tweets, and meme pages on Instagram, this term was used by Generation Z, those born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s. “I feel seen” means, “I’m glad you understand me;” “I’m happy you accept me for who I am.”

Born into a world of the internet, growing up in the era of the smartphone and social networks, Gen Z has a different set of characteristics and expectations than those prior. It’s no wonder Gen Z constantly seeks positive attention, information in the palm of their hands, and are the most likely to report poor mental health, with the highest rates of stress and anxiety.

The restaurant industry has a chance to become a positive force in the lives of Gen Zers. Whether restaurants can achieve this depends on if they understand and adapt to the unique wants and needs of Gen Z. Catering to this generation is critical, for Gen Z has tremendous buying power, an estimated $143 billion in the United States alone.

Generation of Influencers

Gen Z cares most about what other people think of them and how they look. They are the generation of “publishers,” meaning if Gen Z likes something they see or try, this generation feels pressure to post it immediately and want to make friends aware they’re up on the latest trends. It is critical restaurants make their menus innovative, develop a unique brand, and ensure their food is picture-worthy. By doing so, they can receive the publicity on social media needed to succeed with Gen Z-ers.       

A great example of this is the popular matcha shop in SoHo, Manhattan, Cha Cha Matcha. Walking into their tiny piece of NYC real estate makes you feel like you’re suddenly in a tropical paradise; green grass on the walls, funky seating, a light-up sign that says “Matcha Gracias,” perfect for an Instagram Story. When COVID-19 hit, Cha Cha Matcha created a line of dairy-free matcha lattes customers could order online. They maintained their cute, tropical branding while doing so. They even adopted some of the latest food trends by adding Reishi mushroom, an adaptogen, to one of these lattes, which enhanced the experiential aspect of the product, even while customers sipped from home.

Mobile-First Generation

Gen Z grew up with the smartphone and expects to receive information in the palm of their hands. The old ways of food-ordering no longer exist for them. Those restaurants that adopt new technology, including ordering via consumer app or digital menus, will see increased efficiency and accessibility regarding the ability to purchase and stand out and succeed. The pandemic has only increased urgency for this adoption.

Zingerman’s Delicatessen, a famous deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has maintained high revenue rates since they adopted online ordering, mobile app ordering, and QR code ordering systems before and during the pandemic. Jenny Hall, Assistant to the Managing Partner at Zingerman’s, stated, “Since all of our ordering and paying is happening with no contact right now, that means that more people are ordering online. We are glad we already had this system in place before we were required to close for in-house dining.”

Generation of Eliminating Stress

Gen Z has the highest rate of anxiety among other generations. Anything restaurants can do to make their ordering process as stress-free and efficient as possible will keep Gen Z customers returning.              

Chipotle has its order-ahead app that tends to make Gen Z’s feel more secure about their order. For instance, they always expect that the app will ask them if they want an extra tortilla on the side (the answer is always yes). These little measures make Gen Z’s like my brother, a collegiate athlete, prefer to use an order-ahead app instead of ordering in-person.

Apps that combine social and efficient mobile ordering are a perfect fit for this generation. Gen Z wants their food fast, wants to order from their phones, avoids calling the restaurant, and gives their credit card info over the phone (a now ancient system), and they want to share their experience with friends. Restaurants must adopt these methods and create a post-worthy brand for survival in 2020 and beyond.

Claudia Haimovici is a 2019 graduate from the University of Michigan and the Growth Marketing Manager at Snackpass, an app that lets you skip the line and get discounts with friends on college campuses and beyond. While in college, Claudia pursued her passion for food on the side of her political science major, writing for Spoon University and starting her food blog. Teen Vogue and Business Insider repost articles of hers. Claudia hopes to see Snackpass grow to new heights and strives to make it the largest food ordering app around.

Outside Insights, Story