Don't underestimate the 11-year-old glued to her phone at your favorite guest's table -- the Generation Z kid likely knows as much about the latest food trends on your menu as her dad does. Described in Technomic's Generational Consumer Trend Report as "born foodies," the 10-to-20-year-olds that make up Generation Z share Millennials' passion for high quality, healthy, sustainably-sourced ingredients. They love food, and they want it their way.
With a population of 2.62 billion worldwide, Generation Z far outnumber Milliennials (1.74 billion), according to research from NextGeneration Recruitment. Gen Z makes up 26% of the US population, and even at their young age accounted for $76 billion in restaurant revenue last year, according to market research firm The NPD Group (as reported to National Restaurant News). "Now is the time to start building loyalty with them," advises NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs. "They’re going to drive your business in the years to come." So, how do you invite this hyper-connected generation of "digital natives" to your table?
Talk with them, not just to them -- and on the right channels
Unsurprisingly for a demographic that's well-acquainted with AdBlock (and has an 8-second attention span), traditional advertising has little impact on Gen Z. Social media engagement is key, but know which channels you'll find each demographic in: Facebook and Twitter might be popular with Millennials, but Snapchat and Instagram are the platforms of choice for Gen Z. YouTube is also a favorite, with 70% of Gen Z Americans watching YouTube for at least 2 hours a day according to UpFront Analytics.
These newer social media platforms are a boon for restaurateurs, providing a free, highly interactive way to engage in two-way dialogue with customers. Collecting compliments and emoji reactions on Instagram is nice and all, but responding establishes an emotional connection with the customers lavishing praise on your restaurant's dishes. Reply, regram, retweet, and stay authentic in your interactions.
"Authenticity rules," says Bill Alberti of AdWeek. Simply knowing how to use Snapchat, Vine, and hashtags properly won't impress your Gen Z diner, but showing your restaurant's true personality will. Your Gen Z diners want genuine conversation with you, not just more advertising.
In addition to promos and gorgeous food shots, tell a story: a funny interactions between staff members, a sweet proposal or happy occasion that took place, or some backstory on how your chef came up with the latest menu item.
Accept criticism with grace
"Run towards criticism" is one of Venga's core values. Snappy comebacks at nasty Yelp reviews may get the headlines, but remaining humble and gracious in the face of criticism earns the respect of other Yelpers looking for a place to eat. "Keep replies sincere and gracious," advises Holly Machanic on Restaurant Hospitality. She provides the following as an example of how to respond: "Your feedback is important to us. We hope you’ll consider giving us another try."
Find a cause you care about
Seeing the word "sustainable" on a menu strongly influences where Gen Z consumers choose to dine, according to Flavor & the Menu. "They want to know that what they're doing, however small, is enough to make a difference," says AdWeek's Alberti. Beyond using sustainable ingredients, social causes and charity involvement also resonate with Gen Z. UpFront Analytics reports that 60% of Gen Z-ers "want to change the world," compared with 39% of Millennials.
Change up the menu
Gen Z wants it all: a healthy, socially-conscious, affordable, delicious, and convenient meal. Next week, we'll provide tips on making your restaurant's menu more appealing to Generation Z.