Gen Zers: Putting Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

In a UNiDAYS survey, 78% of Gen Z respondents said that once they’ve paid tuition and bills, most of their money goes to food.1 As someone who finds herself on the blurred line between millennials and Gen Z,2 I’m not surprised to hear that. This is certainly the case for my friends and me.


We consistently joke with one another that our friendships simply revolve around food. Because our go-to activities always involve eating, I find that most of my money ends up being spent on dining out with friends. While my wallet might not like it, the reality is that these experiences are never a waste; good food and good company are always worth the pretty penny.


While millennials have been a primary target audience for many years, the reality is that Gen Zers, also known as the iGeneration or post-millennials, are quickly asserting themselves as an important demographic by putting their money where their mouths are. The oldest members of this generation are in their early 20s, yet Gen Z spends more money on average than one would expect of the typical college student. UNiDAYS found that about half spend up to $20 on an order, and 15% report spending $20 or more.¹ In other words, Gen Zers may be young, but they’re not to be underestimated in their influence and spending power.


Fortunately, Gen Z isn’t that different from our beloved millennials, making it easier to cater to both; Gen Zers are just even more devoted to the causes they believe in.


So what standards are Gen Z looking for when deciding where to eat?



1. Healthy options

All-natural food, organic and fresh may sound like familiar buzzwords when discussing millennials, but they’re also important for Gen Zers, who were raised on these trends.³


While clean eating seems to be all the rage for millennials, the upcoming generation is even more committed. Healthy options are important if one wants to bring in these young eaters.


Among my friend group, you’ll find a variety of interests in healthy eating: a friend who dabbles in vegan alternatives for the fun of it, a few friends partaking in an elimination diet to assess how food affects their bodies, an interest in pro-gut health foods and—of course—the simple activity of intentionally picking the healthier options on a menu.



2. Creative food fusions and flavors

Gen Zers are the most ethnically diverse generation yet, so of course, they enjoy experimenting. They believe that food is more than just food and use it as a way to immerse themselves in another culture.4


Millennials helped make some ethnic food trends popular, but appealing to Gen Z requires going even further with new, bold and exciting flavors.


According to Mintel, 36% of U.S. parents with children younger than 18 say that their kids like global flavors beyond Italian, Mexican and Chinese. The report also found that kids were interested in going to restaurants featuring Middle Eastern (38%), Indian (36%) and African (27%) cuisines.5


If you hang around my friends and me, you’ll find a strong desire to try new foods, searching out Indian buffets, Vietnamese pho and even Ethiopian dishes.



3. Convenience

In today’s fast-paced, digital world, Gen Z is on the go, making convenience equally as important when it comes to food.6 Fast-casual restaurants are particularly popular among this group, as this generation wants to eat at mobile-friendly restaurants that are accessible and fast.4


I have a variety of apps on my phone dedicated to a specific restaurant, including Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Qdoba, Dunkin’, Starbucks and Moe’s. These save time and allow me to skip the line, a small luxury in my busy life.


In addition, this generation loves to snack!7 Gen Z tends to eat more in-between meals and is increasingly eating smaller main meals. Snacks are convenient, cost less and come in smaller portions.8



4. Social and sharing

Did someone say tapas? Gen Z loves to share plates. A report from Y-Pulse found that 66% of those surveyed enjoy restaurants that serve shareable food, and 76% said they enjoy spending time with friends at restaurants.9


Furthermore, according to NPD, the average group of Gen Z diners is between two and three people, and in comparison with other generations, Gen Z shares meals more frequently.10 On top of everything else, these social butterflies crave a sweet hangout spot where they can stay for longer than just a meal.6


My friends and I often split multiple appetizers and sit around talking for a while post-dinner. When going out with your friends, the meal becomes more of an experience than simply grabbing a bite.



What does it all mean?

While millennials may seem demanding, Gen Zers might prove themselves to be even more particular. Health, flavor, convenience and social needs all play into their food decisions.


In order to attract this young generation into your operation, consider introducing healthy options and ethnic dishes to your menu, adding convenience by offering mobile ordering or grab-and-go options and providing an atmosphere that Gen Zers will want to share with their friends.


With more than 69 million members of Gen Z in the U.S., it’s important to start targeting them now.³ Over time, this generation will become even more influential in the market. Millennials are still a very important demographic, but slowly, these younger diners will be taking the industry by storm.


If you share our love of food and are looking for an Agency partner to help you keep up with the latest industry trends, contact VP of Strategic Partnerships David Melnick at 410.715.1500 or [email protected].




  1. Gen Z Insights: What restaurants need to know, UNiDAYS, 2017.
  2. Defining generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin, Pew Research Center, January 2019.
  3. Guide to Gen Z: Debunking the Myths of Our Youngest Generation, The NPD Group, August 2017.
  4. What Do Gen Z Eating Habits Mean For Food Brands?, Millennial Marketing, September 2017.
  5. Move over millennials, Gen Z is now shaping the food and beverage landscape, Food Navigator, July 2018.
  6. How to Win Gen Z in the Restaurant Business, QSR, April 2018.
  7. Snack Foods Are Increasingly Consumed At Main Meals and Gen Zs and Millennials Will Drive This Trend Over the Next Decade, The NPD Group, March 2017.
  8. Is This the Key to Attracting Millennial Diners?, QSR, March 2018.
  9. Gen Z & Five Key Future Dining Trends, Convenience Store News, March 2018.
  10. Move over, Millennials: Gen Z takes a seat at the table, Nation’s Restaurant News, 2016.

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