Kids these days! It’s like we can’t even get them into restaurants anymore, am I right? At least that’s what one new study from market research company the NDP Group says. Okay, not kids exactly—according to the study people ages 18-24 (falling squarely in Gen Z) are dining out around 20% less than their Gen X counterparts did at that age in the early 2000s.
It’s not that Gen Z isn’t full of food obsessives. One scroll through TikTok and you’ll come across hundreds of thousands of videos of young people offering up recipe hacks, tasting grocery products, and creating new ways to picnic. But when it comes to getting that group to spend money at restaurants, businesses have to do a lot more to cut through the noise.
How Gen Z is spending money
During the pandemic, there simply weren’t restaurants at which to spend money, so many of these young people cemented their spending habits without even considering the possibility of dining out. What took over (and continues to take over) their budgets instead, the study states, is apparel, footwear, beauty, and technology. That last category in particular is an example of how priorities are simply different than they were 20 years ago: Gen Z has recurring monthly costs to cover streaming subscriptions and cell phone bills, leaving less disposable income to spread among other things.
Gen Z is much more deal-oriented as well, in part because, again, they’re developing their spending habits in years when inflation and food prices are at an all-time high. Half of the Gen Zs surveyed by NPD for the report said that higher menu prices had impacted their restaurant visits. And as a more socially conscious generation, surveyed Gen Zs say that the values of a brand affect how they spend.
How to get Gen Z to return to restaurants
“Restaurant operators and their manufacturer partners must quickly adapt to how Gen Z consumers think and feel,” NPD food industry advisor David Portalatin says in NPD’s report. “An understanding of which menu items to emphasize, the food attributes they seek, menu innovations that appeal to them, and their preferred advertising platforms will help you win the favor of this valuable generation.”
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An earlier NPD study cites three main factors that Gen Z looks for in the food and drink they seek out: organic menu options, sustainably sourced ingredients, and plant-based dishes. Gen Z has also grown up in a more diverse world, FSR Magazine says, and are more drawn to new experiences, limited-edition products, and new restaurant technology than other generations. Continuing to do the same old, same old isn’t the way for restaurants to win Gen Z’s hearts.
According to OpenTable, engaging with social media, offering digital menus and payment options, and providing a menu with a variety of options, both in terms of ingredients and price, is the best way to keep Gen Z coming back for more. Overall, Gen Z is a vocal, extremely online generation. People ages 18-24 aren’t afraid to tell the world exactly what they care about and what they want. If we want to turn Gen Z into restaurant people, we just have to listen and deliver.