Menu Ideas for Generation Z

Fresh. Fast. Made from scratch. Healthy. Delicious. Customizable. Organic. Sustainably sourced. Convenient. As we discussed in last week’s feature on Generation Z, the hyper-connected teenagers of the post-millennial generation want it all when it comes to dining options. Quick-service restaurants have risen to the challenge and followed in Chipotle and Shake Shack’s ethically-conscious footsteps, with major brands like Wendy’s and McDonald’s making the switch to cage-free eggs. But how can full-service restaurants keep up with the demands of Generation-Z? Venga offers five ways you can make your menu more Gen Z-friendly.

“Fast” food that’s not necessarily fast food

Apps like UberEats, Seamless, and Postmates (2016’s “big disrupter of foodservice” by consulting group Baum + Whiteman) make it possible for quality meals from full-service restaurants to be delivered to customers’ doorsteps within minutes.

While you don’t have to have your entire menu available for delivery, offer at least a few takeout-friendly menu items that are quick to prepare and reheat well — or don’t require heating at all, like tuna poke (another 2016 food trend). Some restaurants even attach reheating instructions to their takeout packaging. Gen Z likes to eat on the go, and knowing that they can enjoy your meals from the comfort of their couch or office desk means your restaurant comes to mind when they decide where to order from.

Washington DC’s Woodward Table is a best-in-show example of how fine dining can offer great carryout options: the restaurant has a separate takeout counter, the cleverly-initialed Woodward Takeout Food, where diners in a hurry can get gourmet, Instagram-worthy carryout.

Think outside the soda can

Soda isn’t anywhere near as popular as it used to be; soda sales are the lowest they’ve been in 30 years in the US. Which is not to say that Gen Z has turned its nose up at sweet beverages entirely: smoothies are enjoyed as a fresher, healthier option, and Starbucks is Gen Z’s favorite restaurant brand according to a Piper Jaffray survey on teen spending. What Gen Z loves about smoothies and Starbucks is that they’re highly customizable (whether kale-berry-Greek-yogurt or iced grande vanilla no-foam latte with soy milk) and made to order. As reported in a survey by marketing firm Y-Pulse, Gen Z likes knowing that their food and drinks were made fresh in your kitchen, as opposed to processed in a factory. Freshen up your non-alcoholic options by offering varied beverages like smoothies, lemonade, or fresh-squeezed orange juice. Smoothies in particular allow you to have a customizable element on your menu without having to Chipotle-fy everything.

Old favorites, new twist

Gen Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, and even at a young age, Gen Z kids have been exposed to a variety of international cuisines (and, we’re guessing, the generation most inclined to dump sriracha on everything). Since Gen Z palates are open to new flavors yet loyal to the classics, there has never been a better time for your chef to experiment with new flavors while staying true to your restaurant’s concept. For instance, celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn’s creative milkshakes, with flavors like Toasted Marshmallow and Vietnamese Coffee, enjoy popularity with young diners at his restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery.

Food they can feel good about

Menu keywords like “sustainable,” “organic,” and “natural” resonate strongly with Gen Z. 53% of Gen Z say that having sustainable ingredients influences where they choose to dine, according to a Technomic report. “They want to know that what they’re doing, however small, is enough to make a difference,” says Bill Alberti of AdWeek. Famed restaurateur (and Venga client!) Danny Meyer’s “Stand for Something Good” campaign, which involves ethical farming, recycling, and community involvement, is part of why Shake Shack is a Gen Z favorite.

Snack-sized options

“Based on the fact that they are usually doing another activity while snacking—especially a passive one like watching TV or listening to music— [our research shows] that there is a lack of enthusiasm for current snack options,” Technomic reports in their study on Gen Z, which describes the demographic as “erratic eaters.” Get inventive beyond bar snacks to offer a fresh, healthy, craveable alternative to a bag of greasy potato chips. Creatively flavored popcorn (think cajun spices, furikake, or paprika) is an increasingly popular menu addition at bars and restaurants. Skewers of grilled meat or Taiwanese popcorn chicken are also more commonplace, especially with the proliferation of bubble tea shops, and are easy for Gen Z-ers to take with them as they head out to catch a rare Pokémon outside your restaurant.