October 22, 2020

Generation Z is the newest generational cohort. Born between 1996 and 2015, their ages range from just 5 years old to adults of 24 (as of this writing). And while some are little more than toddlers, there’s little doubt they will have a growing economic and cultural impact across the world – including in the restaurant industry.

Developing an understanding of Gen Z’s dining preferences means a long-term edge in building attractive dishes and menus for all generations. Let’s look at the food preferences that distinguish this rising group and how you can start drawing on those desires for positive results.

A Diverse Group Desires Many Tastes

Writing for QSR magazine, restaurant marketing specialist Denise Lee Yohn highlighted the many ethnic and cultural backgrounds present in Generation Z. This level of diversity means opinions of dining and views of what might qualify as comfort or quintessentially American food will be in a state of flux. Tastes will likely grow broader and more inclusive as time goes on. This means chefs have plenty of opportunities to offer dishes from many different culinary traditions, including both modern and longstanding recipes.

Smiling young teen boys and girls taking a group selfie

These changing demographics also present a chance to focus on fusion, blending cuisines and individual recipes together in novel and exciting ways. This is fertile ground for chefs, who can experiment with their own favorite dishes as well as those preferred by their customers and Generation Z as a whole. Although it will take some time to recognize widespread favorites among this youngest generation, starting to experiment now can yield positive results.

Jeffrey Lammer, Boulder Culinary Arts Graduate“Culinary school taught me to be in touch with the classic dishes from around the world.”
Jeffrey Lammer, Boulder Culinary Arts Graduate

Students at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts get a look at a variety of world food styles, in addition to their French cuisine foundations. With this global awareness, Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry graduates are well-positioned to meet this young generation’s desire for new and unique dishes.

Transparency and Trust

Generation Z’s expertise in using the internet both to casually connect with friends and family and answer important questions may lead to major changes in what information your customers prioritize. Food Business News highlighted the digital native nature of Gen Z, meaning they grew up with internet-connected technology and expect to find answers for nearly any fact-based question that may pique their interest.

That expectation of easy access to information extends to food, both what they eat at home and meals at restaurants. Members of Gen Z will likely want to know where the ingredients in their meals come from, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. Beyond simple location, information about the farmers and other producers involved in growing fruits, vegetables, grains and raising or catching meats and seafood is also critical. Farming methods and practices are another important consideration.

Man and woman planting seeds in farm

One of the most popular modules in the Escoffier curriculum is the Farm to Table® Experience. This six-week course is taken by all Culinary Arts students, both on-campus and online. The course discusses the benefits of buying local, as well as the importance of a sustainable food production system.

Escoffier Boulder campus students on a local farm harvesting carrots

Escoffier Boulder campus students on a local farm

On-campus students will spend one day per week getting hands-on experience with a food producer like a farm, dairy, or artisanal maker. Online students have the opportunity to attend weekend workshops where they, too, can get their hands dirty.

Experiential Eating

Although shared experiences at restaurants are popular among all generational cohorts, they will be even more desirable for Generation Z. Millennials have already begun this shift, with a stronger focus on events and connections that they can document on social media than on purchases. This trend is likely to continue among the youngest generation.Taking photo of a meal using smartphone

This focus on experiences can give chefs and general managers plenty of new and exciting strategies to consider, from encouraging social media interaction – which ultimately boosts awareness of the restaurant – to creating exciting communal meals. The idea of a meal as an event that’s more than simply eating food – a concept already well understood by many chefs – is vital in this respect.

All About Convenience

As the first generation to grow up fully connected through the internet, Gen-Z is technically savvy and more likely to try new technology. They also expect to have near-instant access to anything they want.

This has made them major adopters of online ordering services. One study showed that 24% of this generation orders takeout 3-4 times per week. And with COVID-19 keeping people at home, those numbers have only gone up. Gen-Z leads the online ordering market, with 34% of 18-24 year-olds reporting that they used an online delivery service between March and April 2020.

Restaurants that don’t offer delivery could be missing out on this income stream. Many are expanding operations into “ghost kitchens” — off-premise commercial kitchens that only fulfill delivery orders. Some intrepid restaurateurs are even starting delivery-only restaurant concepts called ghost restaurants, so they can offer multiple cuisines and menus with low overhead.

With convenience such a major driver in Gen-Z’s purchasing decisions, restaurants will need to focus on providing a great online ordering experience in addition to their dine-in experience. And they may also need to tweak their menus to ensure that their offerings travel well.

Preparing for the Next Generation

While Generation Z will take some time to fully age into maturity and bring their economic and social power to bear, chefs can start preparing for their rise now.

With a foundation of classical cooking techniques and a wealth of Chef Instructors to learn from, Escoffier graduates are well-positioned to innovate and meet the demands of future generations. Stay on the cutting edge of industry trends and booming markets like the plant-based culinary arts or holistic nutrition and wellness. Learn more about degrees and diplomas from Escoffier, or request more information today!

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This article was originally published on January 8, 2018, and has since been updated.