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Millenial-Who?

When it comes to Gen Z, throw out the rulebook you’ve been using for Millennials as it’s a whole new ballgame.

By Ellen Hartman

Marketers are always looking to identify new customers to convert early and keep them for life. One way to attract Gen Z – teens and young adults born after 1995 – is to serve healthy choices, according to a recent report on Gen Z and their preferences by UNiDAYS. For that reason and more, operators should cater to Gen Z with healthy menu options.

As an industry, and as a country, we’ve spent a lot of time mulling about the Millennials. They still matter. This demographic spends more on a per capita basis than any other generation on food outside the home.

But in 2018, the oldest of the Gen Z-ers – at age 23 – will be finishing college and entering the workplace, and the group already represents upwards of $830 billion in spending power in the U.S., according to UNiDAYS, the world’s leading student affinity network with an in-depth knowledge of the Gen Z audience.

New customers with spending power are always good news for the restaurant industry, particularly as the industry faces a problem of “too many restaurants” and entirely new types of competition from food delivery services, meal kits and groceraunts.

The better news? 78 percent of Gen Z survey respondents spend the majority of their money on food, after tuition and rent. And this food is, primarily, eaten away from home. A whopping 14 percent of Gen Z-ers never cook at home and are generally content to eat out much more than previous generations.

Gen Z may just disrupt the meal delivery trend, catalyzed by Millennials, who, according to The Spoon, like to cook at home. In fact, 47 percent cook or eat at home 5 or more times per week.

Gen Z-ers are already eating out, representing a great opportunity during this slowing market. The key is to make your restaurant brand the top choice for their (considerable) dollars. How?

1. Make it healthy.
Gen Z-ers demand healthy and organic, more than even their Millennial predecessors. Millennials drove sustainability and local sourcing into the mainstream, and Gen Z is taking the reins. When it comes to mealtimes, 84 percent of students surveyed said healthy ingredients are important, 66 percent said organic was key and, interestingly, 72 percent wanted ingredients high in protein. Which is to say, these youngsters know what they want, and it is more than a side salad.

2. Consider student discounts or “happy hours.”
91 percent of students are willing to eat at off-peak times in order to get a discount, and 93 percent are more likely to eat at restaurants that offer them special values. Community-based platforms are a great way to market local offers that generate new customers – and buzz among the up-and-coming generation.

3. Be visual.
Gen-Zers are less influenced by social media, and they make up their own mind to go out. Because this group of digital natives are constantly bombarded with brand messaging, they are nearly resistant to advertising. Moreover, they are considerably less “hooked” on social media than Millennials – 20 percent of Gen Z-ers rely on social media networks for info on new menu items/dining options, compared with nearly 50 percent of Millennials. Furthermore, Gen Z-ers often communicate in images. So if you want to cut through the online clutter, put pictures and video snippets of your food across social media and in promotions to grab their attention.

If “capture Millennial market” is still on your 2018 list of resolutions, don’t be alarmed. Many of the steps taken towards appealing to Millennials set your brand in the right direction. That said, Gen Z can’t be ignored.

So get thinking about how you can attract more Gen Z in the coming year – this group already represents 26 percent of the population and will grow to 40 percent by 2020, so you’ll be glad you did.


Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full- service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, City BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality.

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