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Understanding Gen Z: Adapting to this generation’s unique needs is a recipe for success

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With the holiday season underway, restaurants are enjoying one of the busiest times of the year. But looking beyond the holidays and into the new year, those in the foodservice industry will need to find new ways to maintain that momentum into the slower seasons – and one of those strategies should be prioritizing ways to attract Gen Z consumers.

While millennial consumers have garnered the most attention in recent years, Gen Z is growing up and gaining buying power. This group is particularly important for the foodservice industry: 79 per cent of Gen Z order food or beverages from a restaurant at least once per week, and last year they contributed to overall growth in foodservice sales in Canada by 5.1 per cent[1].

While it’s clear that Gen Z will help propel future growth in the foodservice industry, there still appears a gap between what business owners understand about the generation and their unique needs, according to a  recent survey [2] of businesses, restaurants and QSRs conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by American Express.

“This generation has a unique set of needs and different expectations than those before them,” says Kerri-Ann Santaguida, Vice President and General Manager, Global Merchant and Network Services, American Express Canada. “The foodservice industry can be particularly dynamic and there is an incredible opportunity for those businesses to adapt to the wants of Gen Z as their influence continues to grow.”

With nearly nine out of ten (86 per cent) of Canadians owning a smartphone, it’s clear that the future is digital. As business owners plan ahead, they need to consider how they will leverage the power of technology, especially when connecting with younger consumers. Whether it’s interacting with them on social media, considering payment options or looking at marketing channels, restaurants need to pay attention to how their consumers, especially Gen Z, are using technology.

A small group of happy young people sitting in a restaurant, eating and smiling at each other.

Sharable experiences reign supreme

For restaurants that want to get Gen Z customers through the door and keep them coming back, the in-restaurant experiences needs to be memorable and sharable. With 69 per cent of those aged 18 – 34 taking a photo or video of their food before diving in[3], it’s no wonder the trend of visual presentation of food is continuing to be incredibly important for restaurant owners. By offering things like unique menu items (i.e. “charcoal ice cream” in Toronto)[4], or interesting interior design, restaurants can keep Gen Z’s interest, while encouraging them to broadcast their business to their very connected social and intrapersonal networks.  

The power of digital and social media

With the opportunity to share over social media playing such an important role in the decision making of Gen Zers, business owners are responding, and more than half are considering investments to improve their social media (57 per cent) and digital (59 per cent) presence.

“As Gen Z becomes increasingly important for businesses’ long-term growth, we see how vital it is to respond to their love of social and digital content,” says Santaguida. “Through platforms like American Express Maps, personalized recommendations connect our Cardmembers to restaurants in their area, helping business owners attract relevant, valuable customers.”

Continuing to prioritize digital payment options

When it comes to payments, it’s no surprise that digital is important to Gen Z, with 35 per cent expecting to use mobile wallet/in-app or contactless (i.e. tap) payments when they make purchases.

That’s good news for business owners, with close to a third (32 per cent) already accepting these payment options, and 57 per cent planning to invest in mobile wallet/in-app payment solutions. And as the new generation of payment tools (such as digital kiosks and mobile ordering apps) becoming more prevalent, it would be a smart investment for the future for business owners to explore these innovative payment options.

Businesses in the restaurant industry are always looking for ways to evolve and adapt in tune with the demands of their ever-changing consumers. By enhancing sharable, in-person social experiences, prioritizing digital marketing, and continued investment in digital payment options, restaurant owners can keep Gen Z happy and experience continued growth in 2020 and beyond.  


[1] Canada Convenience Store News: Retail foodservice is the fastest-growing foodservice segment in Canada

[2] Canadian Newswire: From A to Gen Z – Bridging the gap between retailers and Generation Z’s shopping expectations

[3] National Post: Why restaurants are catering their dishes to be shared on Instagram

[4] Restaurants Canada: Generation Z is here: Are they Millennials 2.0 or a Whole New Breed of Consumer?

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