How Generation Z will shake up the restaurant industry

9/13/16 7:00 AM Natalie Appleton


They told you that Gen X-ers wanted experiences over stuff.

They said Gen X-ers believed in working to live.

They said Gen X had a short attention span and they wanted everything, now, on their phones.

Well, forget all that, because it’s nearly Gen Z’s turn, and they’re an entirely different bunch.

Because of their unique digital, global, entrepreneurial upbringing, Generation Z (also referred to as the ‘iGen’) is set to pitch big shifts to a number of industries, and restaurants might be at the top.

From what they want to eat to how they want to work, these teenagers (born after 1995) are the biggest group of techies and foodies we’ve ever seen.

So, what do researchers already know about how Generation Z will impact the restaurant world?

1. Gen Z at the table

They want to know what’s on the menu

Thanks to Google—a word they probably learned to speak along with up, more and mama—there isn’t a fact, a story, an idea these kids can’t uncover, in their minds.  

“Gen Z is the first generation to completely grow up in the digital age, so to them there is no question that can be unanswered,” said Melissa Abbott, vice-president of culinary insights at the Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based consumer insights firm.

Her thoughts appeared in the Food Business News article How boomers and Gen Z are changing food.

“This is really affecting the food that they eat because they want to know where it’s from, how’s it grown, who made it. We see this behavior will be integrated into their everyday lives as they continue to grow up.”

Melissa Abbott - VP Culinary Insights - Hartman Group

They want to eat fair


For Gen Z, there is no ‘maybe I’m a tree-hugger who occasionally eats at burger chains housed in massive discount department stores that carry clothing made in third-world sweatshops’ -- as previous generations may have made compromises.


Generation Z walks the walk.

“Gen Zers grew up caring about issues like animal welfare, sustainability and fair labor practices, and they are eager to make a difference in the world,” said Dawn Aubrey, Director of Dining Services at University of Illinois, whose thoughts were captured post-panel (at the University of Massachusetts’ Chef Culinary Conference) in a Restaurant Business Online article.

“A restaurant that supports menu transparency and a culture of fairness is going to win even more points with this generation than it does with millenials.

Restaurant operators trying to attract this market to the table would do well to promote its philanthropic efforts, according to article on plugging into the interests of Gen Z diners.

“Placing value on brands with perceived social causes, Gen Z strives to change the world for the better. Create campaigns and menus around the social causes and respective events you support or put on for your local community.” 

They want food that’s as bold, global and diverse as they are


North America’s comfort foods will probably always have a place at the table, but for Generation Z—half of which is non-Caucasian—tastes will be much more ethnically driven.

“Gen Z’s diversity will continue to drive food culture trends we already see around the exploration of authentic, global food experiences, and the impacts of this diversity are going to include how they eat,” said Abbott.

Speaking at that Chef Culinary Conference and quoted in Restaurant Business Online, Aubrey suggested this generation has an unusually high number of “supertasters”:

“Expect increased demand for ever-bolder, more varied and unusual flavors to please their palates.”

It’s not just that Gen Z has had exposure to multicultural fare, they’ve also been exposed to standards driven by food that’s good for us, according to a CSP Daily News article about Technomic’s Special Topics Study, Gen Z: Decoding the Behaviors of the Next Generation.

“More than any previous generation, Gen Z has been exposed to global food influences and a more holistic approach to health and wellness. Good-tasting, high-quality, craveable food is by far the strongest driver behind Gen Z restaurant preferences.”

2. Gen Z in the kitchen

Now that you think you might have a handle on how to get Gen Z in the door as guests, what do you need to know about their traits to get them in the door with resumés, and stick around?

Train in bites

Remember when they told you Gen X had the attention span of a gnat? Well, Gen Z, it turns out, has the attention span of a baby gnat.

Aubrey told conference-goers that a Gen Z-er’s attention span is 50 per cent shorter than a millenial’s. What does that mean for staffing your front and back of house with this lot?  

“Some operators are already making adjustments in training to accommodate Gen Z employees,” writes Restaurant Business Online editor Patricia Cobe. “Short, two-to-five-minute YouTube sessions or step-by-step video vignettes are proving more effective than days-long on-site training seminars.

Gen Z’s social and educational landscape are framed less by PowerPoint and Facebook, and more by visuals. The article about plugging into the interests of Gen Z diners, says “short, visual and conversational messages speak to Gen Z,” which most frequently checks: 

  • YouTube (12.2 times)
  • Instagram (7.7 times)
  • Snapchat (6.9 times)
  • Facebook (6.7 times)

Make it a two-way street

We know Gen Z is adept at—and expects to be—engaging socially with the brands they buy, but researchers expect them to also take this approach with employers. Make it easy for them to ask questions and get answers as well as share their thoughts and ideas.

Invite them to create culture

One of the reasons why you’ll want to open up the dialogue is to invite Gen Z staff to help build a culture they’ll be proud of.

In fact, they’re as used to creating culture as they are to creating content—and the two actually work together for Gen Z.

Market research firm Wildness discovered in their study that American teenagers are redefining the workplace, consumption and entertainment, almost simultaneously:

“They have created a new Cultural Currency that values uniqueness, authenticity, creativity, shareability and recognition. What’s different for this generation is not as simple as the internet or technology. Technology is an important component, but what’s changed is this generation’s relationship with culture.”

Culture-Creators-Infographic-Wildness.jpgCaption: Infographic courtesy Wildness

It may be a while before payroll or paying customers are dominated by Gen Z. In the meantime, find out how to appeal to that other generation in our post What Matters Most to Your Millenial Team Members.


Are you looking for an easy way to communicate with and schedule all the generations under your restaurant’s roof? We can help so get in touch!

Topics: Restaurant Culture