How to Adjust to the Restaurant Dining Habits of the Next Generation

The oldest Gen Z diners are celebrating their 27th birthdays this year. If you haven’t started to understand their behavior or adapt to their dining needs, you’d better start now.

Generation Z, our first generation of digital natives, will be going through high schools only a few more years before Generation Alpha arrives.

This weekend, I took my customary place as a judge at the Texas Pro Start Invitational.

In this management competition supported by the Texas Restaurant Foundation, high school teams of restaurant management students create restaurant concepts for a fictional town of ProStartville, complete with menus, designs, logos, marketing tactics, and just about everything but a financial forecast.

Judges evaluate their plans and knowledge, then provide feedback about what they did really well, what they could do better, and more of what they did really well – mirroring what I expect you do with employees.

Every year, the competition is one of my most enjoyable and rewarding days, except for the number of times someone calls me “sir.”

The winners of the competition, Ben Barber Innovation Academy in Mansfield, now go on to the national finals in April, where Texas has an outstanding record of winning.

What Is Important to Them Is Clear

Each year, there is a theme running through many of the concepts – telling us about the diners of today and the future.

I first noticed this one year when so many of the restaurant concepts the high school teams designed had a live music component.

Then another year their level of design exceeded what was appropriate for the menus, which reflected the experiences our younger guests crave.

In yet another year, community orientation seemed paramount, with most concepts doing good things for ProStartville.

And on their menus? Mash-ups that make fusion look conservative and plenty of zero-proof options. They want the food they see on TikTok.

This year I noticed a combination of concepts based around student heritage, restaurants with a built in charity element, and a nod towards hospitality over technology.

Except for social media as “technology”, something students do not give up.


Get More than Your Fair Share of Younger Guests

If you have taken the time to read the National Restaurant Association’s 2024 State of the Industry Report, you know that younger diners value different restaurant experiences than their older counterparts do.

More tech, more nonalcoholic options (and, conversely, more alcohol to go), loyalty apps – and higher consumer confidence. 

Many mature brands that built on baby boomer appeal continue to adjust to Gen Xers and Millennials. The future of those brands depends on what Gen Z (and then Gen Alpha) wants to eat and how they eat.

How have you made sure that your brand inspires younger guests to choose you?

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