What Gen Z Restaurant Consumers Want

Technology, quality food and service, and ambience are key for the next generation after Millennials

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2017 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 20-23. Visit NRN.com for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

At the NRA Show Gen Z panel, from left: John Strom of Georgia-Pacific, Jackie Mendez; Christopher Chavez, Jill Ahern of Havi, Adam Millman of Yale Dining, and Abhijeet Jadhav of Georgia-Pacific Pro Marketing Strategy

The next generation of restaurant consumers, who are now in their teens, will demand the non-negotiables of good value, a unique experience and superb food safety, according to an NRA Show panel on Saturday.

“Gen Z will have a huge impact on the global markets and the foodservice industry,” said Abhijeet Jadhav, senior manager of marketing strategy for Georgia-Pacific Professional and moderator of a panel titled “Introducing Generation: The World’s Newest Influential Decision Maker.”

With about 80 million members, mostly in their teens, Gen Z is on the cusp of being the restaurant industry’s major consumer market, Jadhav said.

“These folks are not just Millennial 2.0,” Jadhav told a packed audience that spilled well into the NRA Show’s exhibit hall.

Born between 1995 and the mid- to late-2000s, Gen Z customers have values that are very different from Millennials, he said. They spend a lot of time online and tend to have shorter attention spans, Jadhav said. And because they consume a lot of information, they tend to make decisions quickly.

Early research on Gen Z consumers indicates that they want good value and quality from restaurants, like the food found in fast casual. They also want inviting service and a welcoming ambience that makes them feel valued, Jadhav said. Additionally, they demand cleanliness and the highest standards of food safety.

Adam Millman, senior director of Yale Dining in New Haven, Conn., said Gen Z covers a lot of college students, and that requires approaching them with information.

“We’re telling a story,” Millman said. “This generation wants to know why we are doing things. And we’re telling that story through technology, which is their major form of communication.”

Yale uses its foodservice smartphone app to detail food sources, which farms ingredients are from, and when the products were harvested. The university offers supply-chain transparency from farm to plate, he said.

In addition, Gen Z customers don’t want to wait, so Yale allows students to order through the app and have the food ready when they arrive.

Digital nativism is a trait unique to Gen Z, as opposed to Millennials, said Jill Ahern, senior director for insights and design packaging at Havi. Technology has been available to Gen Z consumers for their entire lives, she said.

“That really shapes how they interact with the world,” Ahern said. “It allows them to get ratings and do crowdsourcing for places where they might want to eat or where they might want to work.”

Millman said Yale has adapted worker scheduling to accommodate digital nativism, allowing them to work when they want to work. Short videos are also used for training and available on smartphones or iPads, he said.

Gen Z student Jackie Mendez said one of her favorite restaurants is Buffalo Wild Wings because it offers tabletop tablet ordering, which also occupies her younger sister. Plus, restaurants have televisions for watching sports.

“This generation is really about the experience,” Millman of Yale said. “They are willing to wait two hours to go to a place that has the technology behind it, versus the brand they are comfortable with.”

Gen Z customer Christopher Chavez of Chicago said he likes to seek out restaurants that have been suggested on social media in order to get new experiences.

Technology also gives the Gen Z customers the ability to find and compare new places, Ahern said.

“Another hallmark of this generation is that it is a very diverse generation and very open-minded compared to earlier generations,” she said. “They are very adventuresome. They are very open to new tastes that you don’t typically associate with teenagers.

“If you are looking for trends with this group, you are probably too late with this group,” she added. “You really need to be challenging them and giving them new things. Give them something to talk about.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com

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