Business Insights

How to Create Menus That Attract Gen Z Customers

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By Mars Foodservices
Gen Z, the first generation immersed in the digital era, is a diverse group that represents an exciting opportunity for foodservice operators to connect on a deeper level. By crafting menu items that resonate with their values, you can engage with this vibrant consumer base and their considerable spending power.

Comprising approximately 27% of the U.S. population and wielding a remarkable $360 billion in disposable income, Gen Z emerges as a force to be reckoned with. Their passion for culinary experiences is evident, as 40% of their monthly expenditures are dedicated to restaurants and packaged foods, surpassing even apparel and entertainment, as revealed by Morning Consult’s market research.

But Gen Z is far from a homogenous group. Their interests and preferences span the spectrum, shaped by their different life stages. Embracing this diversity, we have the opportunity to cater to each individual’s unique tastes and desires, regardless of age.

So What Does Gen Z Really Want?

When it comes to food, Gen Z members strike a delightful balance between cherishing beloved classics and embracing their adventurous spirit, setting them apart from older generations. Morning Consult conducted an open-ended survey, posing the simple question, "What's your favorite food?" The responses didn't hold any major surprises, with pizza taking the crown at around 20%, followed by chicken (13%), pasta (11%), burgers (7%) and sushi (6%).

But let's dive a little deeper.

  • 62% of Gen Zers surveyed had ventured into trying new beverages in the past month
  • 57% explored new dishes at restaurants
  • 51% ventured into unfamiliar restaurant or bar settings.

Restaurant operators and food service companies must go beyond the surface and tap into Gen Z's desires to truly captivate their hearts and palates. By prioritizing factors like health-conscious choices, meal customization, and culinary wanderlust, we can curate menus that resonate deeply with this generation's preferences.

Gen Z Health Preferences

Members of Gen Z are very health conscious and take a comprehensive approach to their well-being. That said, menus must go beyond just healthy ingredients. A report from market researcher Datassential emphasized the importance of smart searching and filters as well as menu labels that enable consumers to find menu items that fit their lifestyles, allergies, and other dietary restrictions.

For example, Chipotle Mexican Grill launched Lifestyle Bowls in January 2023 that meet guests where they are regarding their health preferences. “We created seven new Lifestyle Bowls that embrace Gen Z and Millennials’ modern interpretation of well-being,” said Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer. From their Balanced Macros Bowl to the High Protein Bowl, the seven-bowl offerings are easily customized to the dietary needs of the customer.

Embracing Customization

Speaking of custom, Gen Zers love making menu items their own. From bowls and burgers to treats and desserts, offering customers the opportunity to pick from a list of ingredients, sauces, and flavors to personalize their dish makes it more appealing.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, a Wichita, Kansas-based chain of 470 fast-casual restaurants, has had success with Gen Z customers by combining all three attributes. Freddy’s uses customizable menus and build-your-own options that feature high-quality ingredients at affordable prices.

Adventurous Bites

According to Morning Consult’s research, Gen Zers are more likely to try new food and beverages compared with other generations. Gen Zers love adventurous flavors, toppings, dips and sauces, and restaurants are taking notice.

“Younger generations in general value new flavors and novelty menu items, particularly food they may not make at home,” Fabiola Del Rio, VP of integrated marketing communications at Panda Express, told Business Insider. She listed the chain’s plant-based Orange Chicken, Orange Chicken Sandwich and Panda Bing wrap as examples.

Tapping into spicy, complex and global flavors are all ways to craft menu items that can attract Gen Z.

More Than Just the Food

of Gen Zers consider takeout and delivery food as essential to their lifestyles

When it comes to developing a menu that resonates with Gen Z, it’s important to keep in mind a few key additional characteristics that define this vibrant generation. One notable aspect is their love for socializing, both offline and online.

When Gen Zers visit restaurants, they often come in groups, seeking opportunities to celebrate special occasions or simply enjoy the company of friends. After the isolating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, dining out has taken on even greater significance for them. As a result, snack-style foods and shareable dishes have gained popularity, adding a delightful communal element to the dining experience.

This spirit of sociability extends into the digital realm as well. Gen Z is highly active on digital platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. They rely on these channels not only for staying connected but also for gathering information and seeking recommendations from online influencers. By offering camera-ready dishes that align with the unique aspects of the Gen Z food culture, restaurants can effortlessly build a positive following among these young consumers, leveraging the power of social media. (For more creative ideas on utilizing social media, be sure to check out our article on “3 Ways Social Media Can Drive Profit.”)

Convenience is another significant value for these young consumers, and menus should reflect this. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report, a whopping 66% of Gen Zers consider takeout and delivery food as essential to their lifestyles. Therefore, it’s crucial for operators to not only focus on specific menu items but also ensure that the packaging used for mobile orders maintains the temperature, taste and quality of the food.

As the Gen Z population continues to mature and wield greater economic power, their influence on the restaurant and foodservice industry will only grow stronger. By proactively developing menus that cater to the needs and preferences of these younger consumers, establishments can secure their long-term success in this dynamic landscape. It’s an exciting opportunity to shape the future of dining while creating meaningful connections with Gen Z along the way.

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