January 8, 2018

Generation Z is the newest generational cohort, a technical way of saying they represent the children and teens who are too young to be counted among the millennials. Although no specific start or end dates for this generation have yet been broadly agreed upon, there’s little doubt they will have a growing economic and cultural impact across the world – including in the restaurant industry.

For Austin culinary arts students, 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.

Young person eating street food.Food is more than just a way for Generation Z to fuel itself.

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.

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.

Asking and answering questions

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 and grains and raising or catching meats and seafood is also critical. Similarly, farming methods and practices are another important consideration.

For chefs, this might mean sharing more specific information on menus, online and through social media. For restaurants that already prioritize sharing these details with customers, staying the course and looking for more information to share is a strong strategy.

Experiential eating

Although shared experiences at restaurants are popular among all generational cohorts, they will be even more desirable for Generation Z. A wide range of desires already seen in millennials, from wanting to document daily life on social media to a stronger focus on enjoying experiences with friends than on purchasing items, is likely to continue among the youngest generation. These trends 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.

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.