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Generational divide may reveal emerging restaurant trends

Millennials and Gen Z love restaurant subscriptions, voice ordering, and 3rd-party delivery

Generational divide may reveal emerging restaurant trends

Millennials & Gen Z are embracing technology & new more nuanced relationships with restaurants

The National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report reveals a generational divide in consumer behavior. Millennials—born 1980-1995—and Generation Z adults—born 1996-2003—are embracing technology, new business models, and more nuanced relationships with restaurants. 
These up-and-coming generations have the power to shape consumer expectations for years to come. 

Here are 5 trends to keep an eye on:


1. Partners in meal prep: Younger generations view restaurants as a partner in their at-home meal prep. It’s no longer a simple binary choice between a restaurant meal and home cooking. 

More than half the adults surveyed for the 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report say they are more likely to incorporate restaurant-prepared items into meals made at home than they were before the pandemic. This is particularly popular with Gen Zs and millennials, with more than 70% indicating increased reliance on mixed meals.

Millennials and Gen Zs also hunger for make-at-home meal kits that contain pre-measured ingredients, along with cooking instructions. Eight in 10 of them are inclined to purchase a meal kit if offered by one of their favorite restaurants, compared with 47% of Gen Xers and 33% of baby boomers. 


2. To go-to is the new go-to: Young adults view takeout and delivery as their go-to food, with 72% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z calling it “essential” to their lifestyle. The vast majority use 3rd-party delivery, even though they indicate a slight preference for ordering directly from a restaurant. 85% of Gen Z delivery customers ordered through a 3rd-party service in the past six months; only 38% of boomer delivery customers did so.

A whopping 94% of millennials say they would likely order an expanded variety of to-go foods if there were improved packaging to maintain food temperature, taste and quality. Seven in 10 would be willing to pay a little more to cover the cost of upgraded packaging. That’s compared with 47% of boomers.

3. New sales models: Gen Z and millennials are eager to try new purchasing methods, including restaurant subscriptions and pre-paid house accounts. About 80% say they would likely purchase a subscription for a specified number of meals in a month, if offered by a favorite restaurant. Three out of four are inclined to open “house accounts,” given the option. This sales model provides a discount for prepaying. For example, a customer who pays $50 gets $60 added to an account to spend at the restaurant. Only 37% of boomers report that they’re likely to purchase a subscription, and 38% say they’re apt to open a house account.

4. Portable potent potables: When the pandemic temporarily shuttered dining rooms in 2020, more than 35 states issued emergency orders allowing alcohol-to-go(Opens in a new window). Many localities have since made this a permanent policy—a decision widely favored by younger generations. More than three-quarters of Gen Z adults (age 21+) and 58% of millennials say they included an alcohol beverage with a to-go order in the past 6 months, compared with a mere 10% of baby boomers.

Alcohol-to-go has emerged as a selling point with the younger crowd. 70% of Gen Z adults and 62% of millennials say the option of including alcohol with a takeout or delivery order would make them more inclined to choose one restaurant over another similar restaurant. Just 12% of boomers agree.

5. High-tech transactions: Online ordering and payment have become commonplace; even a majority of baby boomers (61%) say they are likely to use these methods. Meanwhile, Gen Z is adapting newer approaches, with 69% reporting that they would likely order through voice-enabled platforms like Amazon Alexa or the iPhone’s Siri. Only 26% of boomers say they’re apt to use a virtual assistant for ordering.

Technology-enabled transactions could change the face of table service dining. Eight out of 10 millennials and Gen Z adults say they would be likely to use a tablet for ordering at the table, if offered by a restaurant they patronize. Given a choice between sitting in a restaurant section offering traditional wait service or a section with tablet/smartphone ordering, slightly more than half of Gen Z respondents opted for high-tech ordering. This could signal the need for fewer servers as Gen Z becomes a larger consumer segment.

by Chris Abbey

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