Catering to Different Generations: What Each Generation Wants in Dining Options

The secret to running a successful dining operation is serving up dishes consumers crave. To accomplish this, you have to know who your target audience is and what they look for in their dining options. Understanding different generations’ food preferences will help you market your menu to specific customers more effectively. But how do food preferences differ among generations?

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the different generations’ taste buds by reviewing the food preferences of different generations. Keep reading to learn the essentials of generational preferences in foodservice.

Generation Z

Generation Z refers to anyone born in 1997 or later. As the youngest generation, Gen Z is still figuring out its identity, but the group still has some trademark characteristics. Most notably, Generation Z members are technology natives. Having been born into the digital age, Gen Zers are more tech-savvy and globally connected than any generation before them.

Gen Z members’ familiarity with technology has influenced everything from their expectations to how they interact with the world, and their dining preferences are no exception. As Generation Z begins to enter the workforce and gain more buying power, understanding what Gen Zers are looking for from their dining options will become increasingly essential.

To get to know this rising generation of foodies, check out the main dining qualities they’re after.

1. Convenience

Above all, Gen Zers are in the market for fast and casual dining. Many Generation Z members have full schedules packed with school, extracurriculars and homework, which means they don’t have time to sit down at a traditional restaurant. Considering that approximately 40% of Generation Z members eat their food while on the go, it makes sense that their dining options would need to offer quick, easy-to-consume meals.

Along with hectic schedules, the internet has conditioned Gen Zers to expect convenient and nearly instantaneous results, which directly applies to their food orders. One solution for accommodating this demand for convenience is menu items available in a handheld format. Dining locations that offer foods conducive for takeout or delivery will be more appealing to busy Gen Zers.

While it’s possible to package some typically messy dishes like a salad or soup in to-go containers, these are still challenging to eat on the run. Instead, getting more creative with traditionally sit-down meals can help make menu items better suited for the road. For example, transforming chicken Parmesan into a sandwich by placing it on a ciabatta bun or wrapping a salad in a pita can make them convenient, portable dining options.

2. Trendiness

Gen Zers are all about keeping up with the latest trends. Whether they get their information from social media or another outlet, this generational cohort always knows what’s hot and what’s not. However, they aren’t content to follow the crowd — they want to be among the first to discover the next craze.

To keep up with fleeting fads, Gen Zers are always on the lookout for innovative dining options. From rainbow-colored bagels to outlandish milkshake toppings, a menu can catch this generation’s eye merely by being bold and creative. In particular, a visually appealing dish that pops in pictures is sure to draw crowds of Gen Zers hoping to score extra likes on a cute food post.

3. Internationally Inspired Cuisine

Generation Z is America’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet. Many Gen Z members want to see dishes that represent their culture and taste like home to them. A menu that offers internationally inspired foods will draw in more Gen Z members and appeal to a wider range of young customers.

In addition to their diversity, Gen Zers grew up in a time when food culture was on the upswing and global cuisine took center stage. Thanks to increased globalization and the internet, Generation Z has an appetite for dishes from every corner of the world. From curry and ramen to arepas and falafel, many foods from other cultures have become more mainstream and in demand due to Gen Zers.

4. Health-Centered Ingredients

Generation Z members are concerned about how healthy their food’s ingredients are, for themselves and for the Earth. Indeed, 45% of college students report it’s essential that their food comes from fresh ingredients, and 44% of them agree that their food’s ingredient sources are crucial.

Health-Centered Ingredients

Instead of highly processed food from factories, Gen Zers are interested in farm-fresh, locally grown ingredients. Overall, they prefer healthy and allergen-free ingredients that are conducive to clean eating. Generation Z members look for natural, organic foods and menus that feature healthy dishes.

Millennials

Those born between 1981 and 1996 qualify as a millennial. While millennials often get labeled as the “avocado toast generation,” there is so much more to them than a sliced bread spread. It’s challenging to generalize about millennial consumers because this generation has so many unique members.

Millennials are now getting older and starting families. As they enter the next phase of life, millennials’ priorities evolve and change, including what they want out of their dining options. Older millennials might not have the same idea of what constitutes a fun Friday night anymore. Instead of grabbing fast food between activities, they look for a family-friendly environment with reliable kids’ menus.

While millennials in various phases of life want different things from their dining services, most millennials are searching for the following traits.

1. Smaller Portions

Millennials tend to gravitate toward snacks and small plates rather than one large main dish. This smaller portion preference is most likely due to their enthusiasm for new flavors and various options. Indeed, 64% of millennials said they like to try new dishes and are open to a wide range of cuisine styles.

Smaller Portions

Snacks and small plates are an ideal way for millennials to be adventurous and try new items without becoming too stuffed. A buffet or tapas-style dining can be the perfect dining setup for millennials because either format allows them to sample a little bit of a lot of dishes. Offering bite-sized options is an excellent solution for delivering millennials the variety they crave.

2. Value

Compared with previous generations, millennials typically have less disposable income, which means they place a premium on well-priced menu items. Because millennials appreciate scoring a good bargain on high-quality food, they are willing to shop around a bit more to find the best deals on the market. Instead of settling for the first option they see, millennials will hunt for top-notch food at an affordable price.

Though they are fiscally responsible, millennials are still willing to pay more for fresh, healthy ingredients. Millennials refuse to settle for processed, subpar food even if it is less expensive than their other dining options. Despite being frugal, millennials recognize the value of fueling their bodies with nutritious foods.

3. High-Tech Accommodations

Members of this generation are comfortable with technology and interested in how it can serve them further. Mostly due to their fascination with technology’s seemingly endless possibilities, millennials are highly likely to order food via a mobile app. Correspondingly, 63% of millennials have at least one quick-service restaurant mobile app downloaded to their phone.

Along with mobile app ordering, millennials usually appreciate high-tech services like self-order kiosks and contactless payment options. These technologically advanced dining options allow millennials to customize their meals and control exactly which ingredients go into their dish.

4. Responsible Ingredients

Millennials are prone to align themselves with on-trend food movements, such as small-batch artisanal cuisine from local vendors and responsibly sourced organic agriculture. This generation is willing to seek natural, organic products and specialty foods. On the other hand, they avoid highly processed foods with artificial additives.

Millennials prioritize fresh, healthy foods for the sake of themselves and their families. Members of this generation are looking for dishes that will nourish their bodies and keep their families in good health. As they raise their children to eat this way too, millennials’ nutritional dining preferences are likely to influence the foodservice industry for years to come.

Generation X

Generation X may be a smaller generation, but those born between 1965 and 1980 still have some powerful sway in the foodservice industry. Most Generation X members are in the prime of their career and starting to think more about retiring or sending their kids to college. Both these options indicate that Gen Xers have finances at the front of their mind.

As Generation X begins to slow down and plan for the next phases of life, they are looking to save money wherever they can. When looking for dining options, low prices and discounts will entice Gen X more than extensive menus or trendy flavors. However, Gen Xers still know the value of high-quality food and care about what they feed themselves and their families.

Consider the characteristics below to get a better grasp on what Generation X members want from their dining experience.

1. Homemade Foods

Essentially, Generation X bridges the flavor gap between millennials and baby boomers. While Gen Xers gravitate toward familiar comfort foods, they don’t shy away from a bit of adventure and spice. In general, a Gen X member will be willing to try a more exotic dish, but they much prefer safer options like pizza, burgers or Mexican and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Creative takes on favorite classics, such as bacon-ranch cheeseburgers or ginger-glazed salmon, is one way to appeal to Gen Xers and younger generations at the same time.

Regardless of whether a menu item is within or outside their comfort zone, Generation X members primarily focus on whether their food is homemade and fresh. Most Gen Xers will be willing to pay a bit more for their food if restaurants advertise it as homemade, authentic or organic. Essentially, Generation X wants to know that someone is handcrafting their dish in the back of the house.

2. Functional Foods

Members of Generation X are looking for foods that serve a purpose. They want meals filled with ingredients that deliver health benefits like essential vitamins and minerals, increased energy or better sleep. Dishes that feature superfoods or superfruits, such as salads, smoothies and grain bowls, are an easy way to sneak more of these items onto a menu. Health-promoting beverages like herbal teas are also popular among Gen Xers.

While members of this cohort want foods that will nourish their bodies, they don’t want to feel as if they are sacrificing flavor or enjoyment. Instead of reminding Gen Xers of what they’re missing with terms like “low-fat” or “low-sodium,” focusing on the positives and spotlighting delicious, health-conscious ingredients is the secret to winning this generation over.

3. Customizable Beverages

Gen Xers purchase fountain beverages more than any other generation. Fountain beverages stand out to Generation X members as another way to customize their meal to create a unique dining experience. For example, housemade craft sodas attract Gen Xers as a fun, fizzy, premium and distinct beverage option. Even drinks as simple as seltzer water mixed with syrups, juices or fruit purees and sweetened with honey, agave or sugar can draw Generation X in.

Customizable Beverages

Just like their food preferences, Gen X members love innovative twists on familiar beverages. For instance, giving lemonade a modern makeover by swirling in a strawberry puree or a hint of guava juice and adding an eye-catching grilled lemon slice garnish can impress Gen X customers. It’s also possible to make beverages more functional by including healthier ingredients, such as blending spinach or kale into a fruit-based smoothie or offering antioxidant-packed matcha tea.

4. Traditional Dining

Generation X members, especially younger Gen Xers with younger kids, are more inclined than any other generation to choose a full-service dining establishment where they can sit down and eat together with their family. As opposed to younger generations, Gen X members like to slow down a bit more and take the time to enjoy a full meal at a traditional restaurant.

At these sit-down dining establishments, Generation X members also display more traditional food preferences by opting for food like burgers, chicken and tacos instead of more global cuisine choices like those from other generations might. When not at a traditional dining establishment, Gen Xers are more likely than any other generation to cook at home.

Partner With American Dining Creations to Provide Menu Items Every Generation Will Love

Whether you want a menu that will appeal to members of all generations or target a specific demographic, American Dining Creations has the solutions you need. As a hospitality and culinary company, we offer a unique, customized experience for our partners. At American Dining Creations, our priority is to provide dining options that match your organization’s needs perfectly. 

To learn more about partnership opportunities, contact American Dining Creations today.

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