How Gen Z Differs from Millennials, and Why Restaurants Need to Take Notice

Millennials–you can love them or hate them, but if you’re in the hospitality industry, you simply can’t ignore them. They’ve surpassed baby boomers this year as the largest living generation, which means they also have the most collective disposable income to spend on dining out and taking trips. Their purchasing patterns, values and behavior have been analyzed and dissected for years by now, and every restaurant or hotel worth its salt has a strategy in place to bring them in.

But what about Gen Z? It may sound premature, but despite not yet being old enough to legally consume alcohol, those born after 1995 are already making their presence felt in the hospitality industry. They spent $78 billion at restaurants in 2016, and according to a recent QSR article, it’s not too soon to start devising a strategy to appeal to Gen Z. However, there are a few important ways that strategy needs to differ from how the industry approaches millennial customers.

Unlike their millennial counterparts, Gen Z has never known a time without smartphones–this includes their dining experiences. While millennials may remember having no choice but to call for reservations, much of Gen Z has likely never placed a phone call for a reservation. Instead, they’re used to interacting with apps or tablets. Their comfortability with technology permeates every aspect of the dining experience, even before they enter the restaurant. As such, smart restaurant owners understand that they need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. A seamless mobile web experience is a basic requirement and a presence on their favorite food delivery apps, like Caviar or DoorDash, is even better–but the golden ticket is a well-designed, easy to use proprietary app that actually enhances the dining experience and fosters brand connection, even when a Gen Z diner is not in the restaurant.

Another key difference is Gen Z’s diversity, both in their demographic makeup and their menu expectations when dining out. Gen Z is the most diverse generation ever, with only 54% in the U.S. identifying as Caucasian. This also naturally influences their tastes and preferences, with fusion cuisines being hugely popular. But just blending various global flavors isn’t enough–Gen Z-ers, like millennials, also care deeply about authenticity, nutrition and environmental impact. They want to know where their food comes from, how healthy it is, and if it’s an accurate representation of that particular culture’s cuisine.

Although they share some similarities, Gen Z presents a set of unique challenges for the hospitality industry. The restaurants who are forward-thinking enough to capture this emerging group will be rewarded for their foresight in the long run.

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