By Marisa Upson
Experiential and Eatertainment—the two words currently defining the restaurant industry. Why? Well, blame it on the kids. Actually, not just the kids. If you were born from 1997 to 2012, you’re considered a Gen Z. This generation has reached the ripe old age of 26. Where did the time go? And as they enter and excel in the workforce, their spending power grows. And they’re spending a sizable share of their income on food and beverages—yay for us.
According to Morning Consult, experimentation and trying something new are the tactics restaurants are taking to win this generation’s hearts. Unique flavor combinations and new occasions are some of the calling cards. Their dining habits differ from their older brethren, the millennials, partly because they have yet to embrace the actions that require financial responsibility, such as having kids and purchasing a home. Therefore, they can spend more money on unique food and beverages as well as experiences the restaurant industry is expanding on in search of brand-loyal youngsters.
Their estimated disposable income? $360 billion in 2022.
Let’s explore what restaurants are doing to grab Gen Z’s attention.
What Does Gen Z Want?
So, what does this segment of the population look for in a restaurant? I’m unsure when generalizing generations began or who started the trend, but it feels a little non-PC. And yet, there are environmental influences that shape us, no matter how fiercely independent we may proclaim to be. So, with that disclaimer…
Gen Z embraces individualism, making customization key. Gen Z is also a big driver of the takeout and delivery platforms. In response, restaurants like Wingstop are planning restaurants with no dining area. They are social diners, heading out with friends and eating whenever the spirit moves them, whether that be 9 p.m. or 5 a.m. In response, restaurants are changing hours and going big on shareables.
They are also digital natives and, as Business Insider so eloquently states, “They eat with their phones first and are pulled in by influencer marketing.” They are also the most diverse generation. What does this mean to restaurants? According to Restaurant Dive, eateries should expect about 60% of order growth to arrive through digital channels in the next several years. Brands with a strong digital presence will draw in this phone-first generation.
How Do Restaurants Appeal to Gen Z?
So, what does this have to do with the increasing demand for experiences and how do restaurants appeal to this demographic? In addition to unique dishes, flavors, and global food, they’re also the generation that takes advantage of chef’s table experiences, a form of experiential dining.
They want this experience to start before they even enter your restaurant. They want to be engaged on social media, drawn into your sustainable practices, and see numerous positive reviews. Where do they live in the digital world? Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat.
When they get to your restaurant, they want to be inspired by locally and sustainably sourced food with authentic flavors, eco-friendly practices, and shareable cuisine. The big thing about Gen Z is their experience over things. Innovative and interactive experiences that bring lasting memories and an Instagram post call to this younger generation.
A few examples include themed dining experiences and the growing pop-up restaurant. Pop-up restaurants that offer authentic cuisine from a different culture are particularly popular.