Generational differences are creating distinct trends throughout the foodservice industry. How can a restaurant look to attract a wide range of customers with such varied—and sometimes conflicting—tastes, trends and styles? Every business wants variation in its customers, regardless of their age. However, Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers expect different things when they head out for a meal or drink. There are plenty of things that restaurateurs would do well to explore as they traverse generational eating traits and habits.

As of late, clean eating and provenance are becoming more and more prominent throughout the foodservice industry. This is something that is shared globally, but within each generation, there are other unique trends. Generation Z, for example, is accustomed to technology that perhaps older generations have not become used to. Social media and mobile apps play a huge role in modern dining, especially for Generation Z. Whereas Generation Z tends towards mobile and online, millennials, for instance, lean towards convenience and sustainability. Baby Boomers tend to show more brand loyalty than their younger counterparts, also generally having more money to spend in comparison. Although some of these trends lend themselves towards ageing, there are more transformational generational differences in dining trends, things that have the potential to shape the future and influence the present foodservice industry.

Foodservice’s digital presence has seen dramatic increase throughout the last 20 years and is only expected to keep growing and improving. Growing up with high levels of connectivity is something that Generation Z is used to. It is estimated that Generation Z spends between six and eight hours connected to various devices throughout each day. It makes sense, therefore, that Generation Z is the most respondent to digital advertising. Additionally, nothing is too far detached to hide from a Google search. If Generation Z is going to eat, one can almost assume that they have looked it up online. The foodservice industry needs to think about digital engagement, and getting through to consumers in the realms that they are comfortable in. Chipotle, for instance, encourage customers through in-app games that earn customers prizes and keep consumers up to date on promotional activity. Restaurants and cafés that aim to appeal to this younger crowd need to be the ones that reward the hours Generation Z put into their phones.

In a recent survey conducted by the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, over 60 percent of Millennial diners would like restaurants to use technology to make takeout and delivery more convenient. On top of that, 58 percent are more likely to choose a restaurant that can offer sustainably grown, raised and manufactured food as opposed to one that cannot. Millennials are an essential clientele to target—they are most likely the generation having babies currently. This means that Millennial eating habits are likely to get passed on to the next generation give-or-take major dining trend reformation. Recently, Wendy’s expanded its technological and digital investments. Todd Penegor, Wendy’s CEO and president, said, “We believe that being successful in digital will be a competitive advantage for us as consumers are craving customisation, speed and convenience all of which can be enhanced through our platforms.” Menulog, one of New Zealand’s leading food delivery services, found that Millennials are three times more likely to order food from a mobile device than Baby Boomers—convenience, convenience, convenience! As the business of food delivery to consumer homes becomes commonplace, restaurants and cafés need to be able to keep up, especially as it becomes more accessible for older generations, as well.

The Baby Boomer generation is not immune to evolving dining trends. Although they are perhaps more resistant to drastic changes, Baby Boomers display patterns that are unique to their age group. For instance, brand loyalty is something that is perhaps more prevalent amongst Baby Boomers than other generations; this means menu transparency as well as aspects of dining familiarity. While it may be easy to perceive Baby Boomers as ‘stuck in their ways’, Baby Boomers are increasingly likely to try new flavours, especially when added to age-old favourites like pastas, or burgers. One final thing to take into consideration is that Baby Boomers are more likely to have larger amounts of disposable income as opposed to their younger counterparts. While intrinsic value is placed in remaining loyal to dining establishments as well as unique offerings, Boomers expect excellent service and top-quality produce. It’s important to serve not only good food with a range of options, but running a clean operation with efficient service is paramount, too.

Appealing to a range of consumers is not an easy thing to do nowadays. On top of having a vast array of global cuisine at the touch of a button, there are distinct trends amongst each generation. In order to encourage business from each age, there are fundamental necessities that the foodservice industry must adhere to. On top of the global trends of clean eating and ethical provenance, convenience, technological developments and rewarding brand loyalty are ways that each generation can be brought in and retained. The more that technology develops, the smoother, and faster foodservice will become. Furthermore, the longer technology is around, the more its use will spread and filter down to older generations, as well. Today’s consumer expects convenience. Almost anything can be delivered now—the full ‘Amazon-experience’. Customers expect a hassle-free visit to your store and a website that matches with efficient service and purposeful functionality. Lastly, something that ties in with these other ideas is brand loyalty. If a consumer can be offered the services they desire, or they find a restaurant that can appeal to their personal ‘restaurant check-list’, they are likely to return.

Dining in the modern-day is multi-faceted and diverse. Restaurants that can stay ahead will be the ones with equally diverse patrons.

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