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The Yes’s and No’s of Gen Z in QSRs


Written by Derek Wenzell

As a “supposedly” entitled, self-centered Millennial I’m having a hard time writing this article. It’s not easy to admit that someone else is deserving of other people’s attention and efforts. But I guess that’s the maturity that comes with no longer being the most sought-after generation in terms of future purchasing power.

And not just future purchasing power, Gen Z is spending right now between $29-$143 billion directly and will be the largest generation of consumers by next year. With 24% of their budgets going to food the QSR and fast casual segments are primed to be the first to really feel the impact of this purchasing power.

This is not a brand loyal group so, to earn their money, you need to appeal to them on many different levels. The last thing I want to do here is give you insight into this generation that you can’t apply now. The fact that they’re more optimistic than previous generations isn’t helpful (of course they’re more optimistic, they aren’t old enough to be pessimistic yet). So, here’s a simple list of what Gen Z is drawn to:

Convenience – and make it small

This generation is obviously very digitally connected and they expect that technology will be used to make the entire experience more convenient. Whether it’s menu exploration, ordering or the dine-in experience, this group expects that you have thought of ways to eliminate unnecessary dead time.

Convenience also applies to the types of food they are looking for. More than any other generation they love small bites. Snacks, appetizers and street foods allow this generation to grab food on the go so they can keep doing what they want to do.

Affordability – no cha-ching

Growing up during the Great Recession, Gen Z is a pretty fiscally conservative group. They are already more confident about their saving than older generations and don’t appear likely to get off that train. They certainly don’t want to splurge the way their parents do.

Experience – cool factor

Experience is the most important thing to this group. If they are going to spend time engaging with a brand, either in-person or digitally, they want something that they can’t get anywhere else. This group is also seeking out experiences that are culturally different from their own. To them it may be less “that food is good” and more “that place is cool.”

Customizability – their way

They are always looking for something new and something they can make their own. Having the experience and not just the food be customizable and exploratory will go a long way to getting them to come back. They are more attracted to experiences and discovery than familiarity.

Authenticity – no B.S.

And none of this will work if it feels fake or like it’s trying too hard. They have phenomenal BS detectors and will very quickly get turned off by a brand that seems to stray out of their lane or try too hard. On the other hand, they will also reward brands that have genuine social impact (75% will pay a premium for do-good food).

As a Millennial, I can look at the proceeding generation and see a lot of similarities. Some have called them Millennials on steroids and I can see that. And if that’s the case, and you didn’t completely ignore us, then you should already be on the right path to attracting this next big wave of consumers.