Leslie Park Lynn is a 15 year restaurant industry veteran.
The newest generation to impact the restaurant industry is already making its mark. Generation Z, kids born after 1995, represents the largest population increase since the Baby Boomers of the 1950s. Savvy marketers and research firms already have them firmly in their sites because this is the generation that is going to drive the industry for decades to come.
A Different Digital Breed
This super group leaves Millennials in the dust when it comes to utilizing technology. They multitask over a large array of digital devices and social media with ease in their daily lives. This makes them more engaged with the digital marketing efforts of restaurants and therefore more inclined to be influenced by them. But, in order to capture their attention and keep it, operators are going to have to step-up and stay on the cutting edge of what is new and hot. This is a group who is always looking forward to the next best thing. They have never known a world without the internet.
Socially and environmentally conscious, this diverse group views the world differently from their predecessors. Most see volunteering as a noble cause and a better way to learn key life skills and business experience. They are also worriers having been born during the financial meltdown and believe they will have to work harder than the generation before them in order to be successful. They are bargain-hunters, comparison shoppers and prefer to purchase over the internet. They place a high value on education and according to NationSwell, 1 of every 2 will be university educated. This is up from 1 in 3 from Gen Y and 1 in 4 from Gen X. And they can learn over a wide variety of mediums. Most want to work for themselves rather than for a company or other individual. Therefore this generation is shaping up to be the most highly educated and entrepreneurial minded generation we’ve seen in a long time.
A Changed View of the World
So how will this affect the restaurant industry going forward? It will have a profound effect when you consider Generation Z not only as consumers but also as employee’s. For all their technology they surprisingly prefer to communicate in the workplace in person rather than electronically. Most feel that honesty is the most important quality in a leader and the majority are motivated primarily by the opportunity to advance. As a group they feel money is the primary indicator of success. Therefore restaurant operators are going to have to redefine the employment model in order to attract and keep good employees.
As consumers this generation will separate the men from the boys when it comes to restaurant marketing. Operators will no longer be able to sit on the digital sidelines and rely on old school brand building methods. If you don’t have a digital presence this generation probably won’t even know you exist. Generation Z relies on social media and a strong internet brand to shape their buying decisions and brand alliances. They view a strong digital presence as an indicator of trustworthiness and want to connect personally with the brands they love via visual content, social media, text messaging and through mobile applications in a fun and sharable way. Evian’s “Roller Babies” is a great example of a company with a eye towards marketing to Generation Z kids.
A Group with a Big Future
But here’s the really good news. This generation’s favorite items to spend money on are food and drink and going out with groups of friends. This makes them the second largest consumer group, behind baby boomers, for restaurants. In 2015 this group spent $78 billion dollars at restaurants. While the majority of these visits were in the fast food segment, older Generation Z consumers tend to gravitate towards casual dining, a trend that will grow as the generation matures. Additionally, they prefer to dine in groups and have a significantly larger average party size.They are also more health conscious than their comparative groups and like to share their meals. Operators need to keep these factors inside their strategy as they evolve their menus in the future.
While Millennials and Generation X still represent significant buying power and employment resources for our industry, restaurant operators should be turning an eye to the future as Generation Z starts to come on strong. Now is the time to start building loyalty by learning to speak their digital language and by understanding what motivates them. Even if they aren’t all buying from their own wallets yet they influence billions of dollars of family spending. Restaurant operators should evolve their marketing to appeal to the need of Generation Z to engage and share in a fun way across a myriad of platforms. They will also need to evolve their menus in a careful way to capture this generation’s preference for group dining, sharing, innovation and customization. Finding fresh ways to stand out in the digital clutter and stay on the cutting edge will be the key to staying connected to this important consumer group for the long haul.