The impact of Gen Z on the restaurant industry

Originally printed in the March 2022 issue of Produce business.

The restaurant industry is constantly changing, responding to food trends, changing demographics, consumer demands, changes in the economy, staff shortages and much more. Information about what Gen Z consumers want is shaping how campus foodservice operations design dining rooms as well as menus. How will this generation influence the restaurant industry over the next 10 years? Time will tell, but here are some ideas and predictions.

Generation Z or “zoomers” were born between 1997 and 2012, so members of this cohort are between 10 and 25 years old. They are more diverse than previous generations; 19% are black and 23% are Hispanic.

Gen Zers describe themselves as adventurous, ambitious, creative, driven, and funny, and many are using social media to express these self-perceptions. They also say that acceptance and equality are important priorities and they are eager to try new things.

Gen Zers are often referred to as “digital natives,” meaning they were born after internet access became widely available. Gen Zers spend an average of over three hours a day on social media, while the rest of the US population averages just under two hours a day.

Their use of social media is frequent and varied. Zoomers use multiple social media channels more than once a day, including Discord, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter. New platforms like Discord are heavily over-indexed for this generation at 355. Their most common channels for accessing product and brand information are Instagram and TikTok.

Politically, they are more likely to describe themselves as progressive and, perhaps surprisingly, pro-government, but they are less likely to believe the United States is superior to other nations compared to previous generations .

They are also ambitious. Generation Z is on its way to becoming the most educated generation. Nearly six in 10 high school graduates of this generation have enrolled in college, although for many the college experience has been quite different from previous generations due to the pandemic. The majority think it is important to be successful and earn money, unlike the previous generation.

More than half of Gen Z consumers still live at home and are less likely to shop, but are more likely to believe local and organic produce is important. They love app-based food delivery services like Door Dash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub. They are also more likely than older generations to use subscription meal services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, showing a desire to learn how to cook. When dining out, outside of campus restaurants, their top chain choices include Buffalo Wild Wings and IHOP.

So how will all of this influence the future of the restaurant industry? Here are my predictions.

  1. Restaurants will be treasured parts of Gen Z’s lives, but exclusive and expensive fine dining will not be a priority for them. Their desire for inclusivity and equality will outweigh their desire to demonstrate their success and wealth through expensive meals.
  2. Generation Z will push the restaurant industry to evolve menus to feature foods and flavors from countries and regions found on only a few menus today. We will see more restaurants offering dishes inspired by the traditional cuisine of Central and South America as well as all of Africa.
  3. Gen Z will support government mandates to raise wages, add benefits, and improve working conditions for people working in the food industry, from farms and factories to restaurants and delivery services.
  4. They will research products for their nutrition and health benefits, with an emphasis on potential benefits for mental health and immunity. Restaurants and foodservices that promote products that demonstrate these benefits or that consumers believe provide benefits will be more successful than their competitors – unless they’re selling wings; then all bets are off!

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a North Dakota farmer’s daughter, award-winning registered dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is a consultant for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Texas A&M AgriLife External Advisory Board Member and Bayer Vegetable Seeds Horticultural Advisory Board Member. You can find out more about his company at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.comand you can follow her food and flavor ideas on social media @AmyMyrdalMiller


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Cecil N. Messick