Gen Z Restaurant Trends: 5 Ways to Attract the Digital Generation

Gen Z Restaurant Trends: 5 Ways to Attract the Digital Generation

When Gen Z started listening to music in the early 2000s… 

We started studying kids’ music education.

When they started going to university in the 2010s… 

We started studying teenagers’ university preferences.

And when they started using social media in the 2020s…  

We started studying young adults’ spiritual and mental health. 


Because Gen Z has always been a hot topic of discussion. 

Whether they’re making waves in social justice or breaking the internet with pop culture, the “Zoomer” impact is a palpable one — and it’s finally reached the restaurant industry. 

Over the past few years, we’ve watched Gen Z influence the restaurant industry, bringing their digital-first lifestyle to QSRs and coffee shops alike. 

Now, restaurants are getting ready to adapt as Gen Z reshapes the future of restaurant technology… one TikTok at a time. 



A Brief Intro to Gen Z: The Digital Generation 

Gen Z is the most common term for folks born between 1997 and 2012* (although “Zoomers” is pretty fun, too). 

Currently, Gen Z makes up 30% of the global population, with over ~68 million Gen Zs in the United States alone. But, despite these massive numbers of people deemed to be from the “same” generation Gen Z is anything but “homogenous;” your 12-year-old cousin starting high school and your 27-year-old friend starting a new career are both Gen Zs. 

(Wild, right?)

Regardless of that decade-and-a-half Gen Z gap, research has revealed a ton of generation-wide similarities, trends, and traits — for Gen Zs both “new” and “old.”

→ Gen Z is the most “diverse generation in history”

→ Gen Z has never existed in a world without cell phones 

→ Gen Z is more likely to be college-educated than other generations 

→ Gen Z is more likely to “want an activist government” than other generations 

→ Gen Z is more open-minded with their views of family dynamics and composition

The Covid Effect 

There are a few other similarities disproportionately shared by Gen Zs, too: their experience of the pandemic. 

50% of Gen Zs (18-23) reported household pay cuts/job losses because of the pandemic

59% of Gen Zs (13-18) reported that online learning was “much worse” than in-person

31% of Gen Zs (13-18) said they felt “emotionally prepared” to socialize in person

→ Gen Zs of all ages had more stress and worry about health and financial security 

Gen Z Finances

Combine Gen Z’s pandemic-induced struggles with unemployment with their frequent experience of unstable political/social landscapes, and you get a very unique set of spending habits… but not in the way you might think. 

Because Gen Zs are young, a common assumption is that they’re bad with money. But, a Gen Z Planet survey revealed that 85% of Gen Zs save up to half of their income. 

And, whatever money they have left? That’s spent intentionally. 

Gen Zs prioritize purchases from brands that demonstrate meaningful, change-making action. From featuring “diversity and inclusion in product and advertising” to allowing customers to be “part of the brand conversation,” Gen Z prefers to spend their money where they feel it counts. 

*Note: You might have seen Gen Z’s generational range as 1996-2012 or 1995-2010 before. We’re choosing to use Pew Research Center’s range of 1997-2012, but it’s sort of a tomato, tomah-to situation… these cutoffs aren’t the most exact science on the planet.

McDonald's Canadian farmers campaign


How to Attract Gen Z to Your Restaurant 

At this point, we know that Gen Z is:

  • Young 
  • Digital-first
  • Value-driven 
  • Intentional with money 

But simple “knowing” Gen Z is no longer enough —their generation is shaping the future of restaurant technology as we know it. 

And, if you want your restaurant to be a part of that future… 

Here’s how you can follow in Gen Z’s trailblazing footsteps. 

1. Go Digital for Convenience

Two things you need to know about Gen Z’s restaurant preferences: they want things to be digital, and they want ‘em to be convenient. 

"I think speed and convenience are paramount to Gen Z. They want things now, meaning whatever easiest order mode they can get their food as quickly as possible, that's usually what they're doing," Andy Rebhun, CMO of El Pollo Loco, said.

In a 2022 survey by Afterpay, 66% of Gen Zs said they use technology when they shop. And, what’s more, 40% of Gen Z respondents said they prefer online shopping because it’s available from anywhere at any time. Or, in other words… it’s incredibly convenient. 

For Gen Z, digital-powered convenience is not just a “want” — it’s a “need,” too. In 2022, 46% of Gen Z employees took on a second job, with more recent data suggesting some folks are even working three jobs. 

With their increasingly busy schedules and strong preferences for digital ordering, Gen Z is practically spelling out the solution: a fast, easy-to-use mobile app. 

Our solution → Make digital your default with a highly convenient Craver app. 

Craver mobile apps-1

2. Strive to Be & Do Better

Gen Z has been called  “socially and environmentally conscious” on more than one occasion, a commitment that’s often reflected in their buying habits. 

"My choice to purchase from a certain brand is definitely driven by their support of social causes. I would not shop at a place that did not support my social beliefs.” - Cameron, 24 years old, New York

A brand’s stance on issues like mental health and sustainability — among others — dictates whether or not they have support from Gen Z consumers. And, when businesses prove they actually value the things they say they do,  Gen Z is more than happy to reward them for it; 56% of Gen Z shoppers would happily spend more on a sustainably sourced product, for example. 

This presents an amazing opportunity for small restaurants to swoop in, highlighting how they do things differently (read: better) than the big guys. Roundel says the best Gen Z-forward brand messaging is “consistent, authentic, and transparent’ — the same values many local and small businesses are already upholding, anyway! 

Our solution → Empower your community to support you directly with a Craver app

3. Make it Exclusive

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z’s philosophy is about embracing individuality, celebrating uniqueness, and ditching tradition. 

And, perhaps counterintuitively, that commitment to standing out is actually how you fit in. “[Going] niche and being cool is about standing out,” says Maxine Gurevich, Horizon Media’s Senior VP for Cultural Intelligence. “[It’s] being as unique as you possibly can in order to fit in.”

That applies to restaurants, too.

In a 2023 survey by apc and ICXA, 100% of respondents — yes, 100% — said they prefer restaurant experiences that they “can’t get elsewhere.” Combine that craving for exclusivity with Gen Zs post-pandemic preference for hanging out and socializing at restaurants, and you’ve got the secret to a Gen Z hotspot. 

Our solution → Boost exclusivity with limited-time offers and deals through Craver’s platform

4. Focus on Loyalty & Rewards

At this point, we know that Gen Z works incredibly hard for their money and that they love “can’t be found elsewhere” experiences. 

So, how can you give Gen Z the best of both money-saving and exclusivity? Simple —you can craft a stellar loyalty or rewards program. 

According to apc and ICXA, 98% of Gen Zs said that joining a restaurant’s rewards program was “important” to them. So important, in fact, that rewards programs can easily swap brand loyalty — the top reason Gen Z diners switch food service operators is their rewards program (or lack thereof).  

Whether or not a business even has a rewards program can be a “make or break” for Gen Zs deciding where to lend their loyalty… so why not give them exactly what they want? 

Our solution → Start a rewards program with Craver and boost brand loyalty. 

Craver rewards

5. Be Innovative & Customizable

Knowing Gen Z has a strong penchant for individuality, their commitment to customizability isn’t a surprising one. 

From skyrocketing Starbucks cold drink sales (which you can read more about here) to encouraging better Sweetgreen suggestions, “Gen Z” and “customization” are just about synonymous. 

If you’re looking for ideas to customize your Gen Z connection — bad tum tss —  Morning Consult says “novelty and experimentation” is the way to go.

Whether you’re trying something bold with “new product innovation” or spicing up existing offers with “new flavor combinations,” the bottom line is the same: Gen Z wants to buy products that truly feel like their own. 

Customization is how you empower them to do just that. 

Our solution → Simplify the customization process with a Craver app.


Wrap Up

Throughout the next decade, the size (and impact) of Gen Z is going to explode. 

They’ll make up 27% of the workforce, represent over ⅓ of global consumers, and have an estimated 52% share of global retail spend. 

So, what can you do? 

A quote in OC&C’s Gen Z report says, “When I think of Generation Z, the first thing that comes to mind is change.”

That’s how restaurants need to start thinking, too. 

At least the ones interested in a future of Gen-Z-powered success, anyway.