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What’s on the Menu for Gen Z: Restaurant Preferences for the Youngest Generation

Looking for more than just chicken nuggets, Gen Z has restaurant preferences that put forth a more mature outlook on food.

While Millennials may have grown up snacking on chicken nuggets, Gen Z children and young teens are opting for healthier options. Gen Z, the generation after Millennials, are already a force to be reckoned with in the restaurant, fast-casual, and fast food eating space.


A recent Courier Press article noted that more than one-fifth of teens’ total budget goes toward food, according to Piper Jaffray’s Fall 2016 “Taking Stock With Teens” survey, conducted by analysts at the investment firm.

In fact, the study found that Gen Z spends more on food than on any other category, including clothing, electronics, or concerts.

“Gen Z is already starting to drive a lot of trends,” said Jason Dorsey. “It hasn’t turned the dining industry on its head yet, but over the next five years, it will.”

This is especially important to pay attention to, because, as Dorsey said, it’s the younger generation, not the older one, that is the trendsetter. A huge example of this is seen with the use of smartphones.

“Gen Z has never walked into a restaurant without their phone,” Dorsey said. Knowing how trends move these days, it’s now likely that nearly every generation will rely on their phones in some way while dining.

Gen Z seems to have perfected the technology available to them when it comes to restaurants, though. Some fast-casual eateries like Modern Market and Texas-based chain Verts, as well as multinational companies like Starbucks, offer online ordering as a means to avoid waiting on lines or having to pay at the register. Even splitting checks has become much easier with digital services such as Venmo.

Keeping an eye on the youngest customer base – even younger than today’s teens – is also crucial. Successful fast-casual Mediterranean chain, Zoes Kitchen, rolled out a revamped kids menu aimed, at ages 12 and younger, in late September 2016, and there’s not a chicken nugget in sight. Instead, they offer orzo pasta bowls and shrimp kabobs. According to Courier Press, the chicken is grilled, not breaded. Piadina, a thin Italian flatbread, replaces pizza; and the ham sandwich comes with fresh mozzarella and rosemary ham.

But of course, the actual food is only part of the equation. To connect with Gen Z consumers, restaurants must step up their social media game. Chains like Starbucks, Shake Shack, and the sparkling water brand La Croix all have carefully curated social media platforms, equal parts informative about new products and strikingly appealing, making the content both relatable and aspirational. It’s more about cultivating a lifestyle than trying to merely sell people meals.

Shake Shack especially takes it to the next level, boasting a list of a dozen ways to connect: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Periscope, Giphy, Foursquare, Google+, and LinkedIn. They even took it a step farther when they recently announced that they raised the price of their burgers slightly in order to pay their workers fairer wages. It is practices like this that will catch Gen Z’s attention and keep them coming back for more.

For more groundbreaking original research on Gen Z as consumers, check out our study here!

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