Continue to Site

    How Restaurants Can Identify and Engage with Generation Z

  • By 2020, they will be responsible for up to 40 percent of consumer spending.

    Unsplash/Helena Lopes
    Because Gen Zers are heavy consumers of social media, brands need to be all over it with daily posts, giveaways, and contests.

    Not too long ago, Apple announced that it was extending its NFC (Near Field Communication) ID to a dozen more schools and universities. With their student ID on their iPhone or watch, more than 100,000 students can leave their ID cards at home and simply hold up their mobile devices to enter the library, their dormitory or the big game.

    And, because the student ID is located near their debit card, credit card, Apple Card, or any other rewards cards, their Wallet app also becomes the single, digital location for getting into buildings and paying for things. In essence, Apple has authorized a digital wallet for students that streamlines shopping and other campus activities.

    We can all learn a lot from Apple. Fully cognizant of the fact that college-age people, “Generation Z,” and their slightly older counterparts, the millennials, are more likely to forget their wallets than their phones, Apple has replaced the once all-important accessory with either a smart phone or a smart watch. In fact, the mobile device has become both a digital wallet and an ID.

    Apple’s strategy with its NFC technology is one best adopted by brands who want to attract Generation Z and make them loyal customers. But to market successfully to Gen Z, brands need to first understand who these individuals are, what motivates them, and how they like to shop.

    Who are Generation Z?

    By 2020, Generation Z—people born between 1996 and 2012—will be responsible for up to 40 percent of consumer spending. For restaurants, Gen Z is the next new market. Getting Gen Zers in the door and then keeping them coming back should be a priority. We already know that, on average, Gen Zers spend $1 out of every $5 on food. With the ability to impact so much of a brand’s bottom line, “Gen Z” is a force to be reckoned with.

    Here are some of the most definitive attributes of Gen Z:

    • Tech-Native—The first technology-native generation, Gen Zers have no recollection of a world without cell phones, computers, or the Internet. They have been educated in tech-saturated schools and are most comfortable communicating with each other via technology. If brands are going to capture this market, they need to have a strong digital presence.
    • Diversity—Gen Zers have grown up in a multicultural world and embrace food diversity. A sushi burrito? Korea BBQ sandwiches? Bring it on. This generation wants to try ethnic foods. If the menu offers a mash-up from multiple cultures, all the better.
    • Social Justice Warriors—Gen Zers are health conscious and demand transparency around food. While this does not mean they always eat clean, they do appreciate brands that align themselves with causes that impact the planet. For instance, they are more likely to visit brands like Starbucks and McDonald’s, which have eliminated plastic straws. They also like the way Ben & Jerry’s treats its employees and the NFL’s affiliation with the American Cancer Society.
    • Immediacy—Gen Zers want things now. Strategies most likely associated with fast-casual restaurants, such as a mobile presence or pay-at-table, will help attract this generation.
    • Individuality—Finally, Gen Z wants to feel special. One size does not fit all. Therefore, one-to-one outreach is the most effective way to appeal to this generation.

    Getting it Right

    With better insights into who Generation Z is and what they like and want, brands can build a marketing strategy that will get them in the door. Just as Apple pollenizes its brand among Gen Z by making its NFC ID available on campuses, restaurants should adopt a mobile strategy as the key to interacting with these individuals. They should expand their abilities on both the IOS and Android platforms to communicate and to facilitate digital commerce with Gen Zers. 

    Here are some “must have” capabilities that appeal to Gen Zers.

    • Mobile App—First and foremost, brands need a mobile app to interact with Gen Zers. A good example is the custom-built California Pizza Kitchen app. With features like save your favorite, order ahead, and pay by mobile, the CPK app plays to Gen Z’s need for speed as well as their desire to be treated as individuals.
    • Social Media—Because Gen Zers are heavy consumers of social media, brands need to be all over it with daily posts, giveaways, and contests. They also need to listen to guests and solicit feedback there.  After all, a one-point improvement in a restaurant’s Yelp review can mean a corresponding nine to 10 percent increase in sales. And, 82 percent of Gen Zers look online before deciding where to eat.
    • Pay by Mobile—Appealing to the Gen Zer’s sense of immediacy, Pay by Mobile can save as much as 12 minutes at the end of a meal. When fully integrated with the restaurant POS, Pay by Mobile enables the customer to settle the bill and leave on a high note, rather than wasting valuable time waiting for staff to take care of them.
    • NFC Loyalty—Mobile payment that is secure and fast is particularly attractive to Gen Z. Like Pay by Mobile, it’s a quick, secure way to pay at counter services spots. With the loyalty program connected to Apple Pay or Google Pay, guests stay active in the program and visit 6 percent more frequently. They simply tap their phone for payment and ID in one motion.
    • Online Ordering—Providing a streamlined experience for Gen Zers who want takeout food to eat at home or the office, digital ordering also opens an entirely new channel for restaurants. When integrated with both the POS and the brand loyalty program, digital ordering becomes another way to engage with guests and capture their behavioral and purchasing habits. 
    • Loyalty—Guest engagement programs could be key to winning over Gen Z. A well-designed and executed loyalty program will help a brand collect data, understand their guests, and engage with them on a one-to-one level. It also enables discounts and other promotions that will motivate repeat Gen Zer visits.

    In summary, the faster brands get to know Generation Z, the quicker they’ll have the upper hand against competition. Fast, frictionless, technology is required to interact with this tech-native generation that expects brands to recognize and reward on an individual, one-to-one basis.

    Michelle Tempesta is head of marketing at Paytronix Systems, Inc., developer of the most advanced digital guest experience platform.