Oftentimes there is confusion on who belongs to Generation Y (millennials) and who belongs to Generation Z (Gen Z). Millennials are born between 1980 to 1995 and are characterized as idealistic, while the pragmatic Gen Z are those born between 1996 and 2015. Gen Z, now in their early teens or 20s, are entering the workforce, which means they are the future market drivers of the economy.

With Gen Z bound to outnumber millennials as the largest generation this year, how can restaurants harness their purchasing power to grow their businesses?

Socially and environmentally responsible dining experiences

For Gen Z diners, eating is all about experience, a big part of which is dining with a cause. There are lots of causes this generation is passionate about, particularly those that will affect them such as climate change. Because they will experience the full impact of society’s actions today, their willingness to be involved in these causes remains strong.

Integrity is also a standard they want in companies. They want brands to be human. Gen Z grew up with social media already established and any missteps such as unfair employee treatment and dangerous working environments will easily get their attention. Incorporating social responsibility into a brand’s objectives, like helping fund scholars and partnering with non-government organizations for feeding programs in remote communities, will more likely engage Gen Z consumers (as much as 69 percent according to this survey) to patronize products and services.

Ethical consumption matters to Gen Z because they have begun to understand how much they can impact the world.

Ethical consumption matters to them because they have begun to understand how much they can impact the world. With this, restaurants can invest in techniques and technologies that reduce food waste, save energy, and improve efficiency as well as put up efforts in supporting social causes aligned with their values. 

Fresh, organic, and sustainable food

Sixty-seven percent of Gen Z care about the nutritional value of their food. Being a health-conscious generation, they want to know what goes inside their bodies. Restaurants with organic and sustainable menus will become a priority if ethical standards of production and preparation are consistently met.

But authentic and diverse flavors are just as important. Gen Z are open to trying new things so integrating global cuisines as well as vegetarian options are inescapable strategies.

Restaurants should realize that the market is shifting, and that the demand for a dining experience that incorporates a good cause, a healthy and diverse menu, and a connection with consumers is only getting stronger.

Gen Z’s capability to shape what a restaurant serves can be seen in the way that more manufacturers are producing healthier snacks through, for example, innovative frying technologies (multi-stage frying, vacuum frying, and batch frying) that uphold nutritional value, lengthen shelf life, and maintain texture and taste. Utilizing advanced pre-processing techniques (such as pulsed electric field technology, a non-thermal method) decreases raw material costs while increasing quality and profitability. 

Even fast food chains are trying to incorporate nutritious ingredients into their meals. Taco Bell has committed itself to cutting the use of artificial ingredients and to using cage-free eggs alongside introducing a low-calorie menu as early as 2008 to make its food more nutritious.

McDonald’s is also starting to source antibiotic-free chicken and intends to add more salads to their menu as they work with dietitians. At the rate they are going, Gen Z will continuously seek brands that are transparent and adherent to their dining habits.

Technology and social media connection

Social media is Gen Z’s main gateway to discovering brands. Blogs, reviews, and market influencers will easily pique their interest and urge them to try a particular place. Ninety-nine percent of Gen Z are more inclined to rely on social media and online reviews when choosing a restaurant, and 33 percent are influenced by advertisements they see. They, among all people, know and understand trends so they don’t just walk into a restaurant without knowing what to expect.

These types of consumers will always remember if a restaurant has bad service. As diners from Gen Z are usually on-the-go, they put great value on efficiency. Which makes technology a necessity to enable fast and reliable service. Aside from online purchasing and delivery systems, restaurants can invest in tabletop tablets to reduce the time it takes to order manually in the counter.

Gen Z are also thought of as the loneliest generation and because of their tendencies to shy away from people or not feel in tune with a crowd, they are risk-averse (meaning they prefer lower risk options). But being reliant on off-premise dining (ordering food for takeout or delivery) doesn’t mean they won’t bother looking for restaurants so bringing everything out on the table will help you better cater to their specific needs and preferences.

Eventually, foodservice traffic will be composed mostly of Gen Z. Restaurants should realize that the market is shifting and that the demand for a dining experience that incorporates a good cause, a healthy and diverse menu, and a connection with consumers is only getting stronger.