Futureproofing for Generation Z

Chloe Combi, the Generation Z expert and co-founder of consultancy Zed, looks at some of the ways in which the sector can appeal to a new breed of diners and drinkers.

9 January 2019
food wastemenupersonalisationrestaurantssharing plates
image credit: Getty Images

Generation Z kind of snuck up on us, while everyone obsessed over the minutiae of millennials’ lives, but by the end of 2019, Generation Z – roughly aged between 13 and 23 – will represent 32% of the entire global population.

One of the food and drink sector’s greatest strengths is its cross-generational and multi-generational appeal. Food and drink is one of life’s greatest social levellers and is connected to near-universal need for sustenance, pleasure, communicating, sharing and quite literally ‘breaking bread,’ whether it’s with family, friends, colleagues, strangers or alone. However, convincing Generation Z – a generation with an unprecedented number of options, settings, distractions, flavours, allergies, considerations and just sheer noise vying for their attention – to break your bread is the real challenge.

Communal experiences

As we become busier and more hyper-connected (from a technological point of view), we are demonstrably neglecting human relationships and connections in real life – and none more so than Generation Z, who are essentially the children of the internet and social media

Restaurants that foster communal, sharing and ‘doing’ elements – fondue, building tacos, Korean BBQ, pick-n-mix platters – are proving to be popular with Generation Z, who find communal food breaks down social awkwardness and encourages conversation. Moreover, it forces a generation who are often more intimate with their screens than their peers to put down their phones, roll up their sleeves, savour the flavours and re-connect with their fellow people – and, of course, the food and drink.


With the job, economic and housing market hitting the youngest hardest, it is not surprising that both socialising (for money reasons) and romantic relationships (for all of the above reasons) have fallen down the list of Generation Z’s priorities. Food and drink establishments are very good at catering for the traditional couple or family (particularly on special occasions: Valentine’s Day, Christmas etc.), but perhaps less successful at catering for units outside traditional couples and families.

Both out of need and necessity, Generation Z will cohabit with, go out with and be dependent on their ‘tribes’ (as opposed to a partner or family) more and for longer. Restaurants, pubs and clubs should cater for this, offering group packages that are affordable, flexible and appealing for these diverse Generation Z tribes. Group packages, flexible menus to cater for different food needs and tastes, and flexible paying options are a must for the industry if they want to keep in step with Generation Z.

Eat-in and take-home

Two of the main factors that put off Generation Z eating and drinking out more are cost and waste. The cost for a financially challenged generation is often hard to justify, but the idea of leftovers going in the bin is just too much to stomach for an anti-waste generation. All outlets need to both operate, facilitate and encourage creative ways customers can take home their leftovers – to minimise waste and maximise a sense of value. If young customers view a meal as a something that can be stretched into something more – a midnight feast, tomorrow’s lunch, a snack for one of their tribe – that is certain to be appealing – and make the vendor look more accommodating and less wasteful.

Additionally, establishments that seem to be giving a little – free table water, a free re-fill, not charging for sides – go far with Generation Z.

More than nostalgia…

Nostalgia is all the rage, with the ‘80s and ‘90s particular favourite for revivals – perhaps depressing news for those who were there the first time round! Restaurants, pubs and clubs are already getting in on the action, and recreating the music, food and fashions, but how about the prices too? One of the biggest grievances of GZ is they will never experience the financial boons enjoyed by their parents and grandparents. The idea of a venue offering a special one-off on a monthly basis or special occasions, bringing back the prices from the decade they are recreating, is the type of nifty and generous gimmick that young people will discuss and share on social media – which means lots of free marketing.

One is fun…

As Generation Z struggle with loneliness, mental health issues and a general sense of dislocation, there is a real space to re-centralise the pub/bar as a positive social experience.

Rather than the standard industry advice to “to drink responsibly” – which is a bit of an obsolete message for a generation which is embracing sobriety and teetotalism – why not “drink mindfully.” This is more fitting for an age group that should be encouraged to remain responsible where alcohol is concerned, but also sometimes need to remember that food and drink can be pleasurable and fun.

Multi-layered experiences

The modern world has robbed us all of our attention spans, and many of us struggle to focus on one thing at a time. As a result we have become less good at just sitting, conversing, eating and drinking. Generation Z are the masters of multi-tasking and are increasingly demanding multitudes from their social and dining experiences. Unsurprisingly, experiential dining and drinking are really taking off with younger generations who don’t just want to sit and chat. Dining experiences that contain elements of adventure, mystery, surprise and doing might sound like anathema for people who just like a quiet meal and a drink – but are beloved by younger generations who like stimuli.

Serving beauty…

There is no real mystery as to why avocados have become the Kardashian of the fruit and veg world in the last couple of years: people discovered the ingredients the little green guys possessed were linked to beauty – good skin, strong nails, shiny hair. We live in an age where people will pay through the nose for antioxidants, vitamin A and collagen in their beauty products/treatments, without really realising those things exist naturally (and for free) in food and drink.

Generation Z are hooked on beauty, vanity and being Instagram-perfect, and restaurants and bars need to make a bigger deal about how eating and drinking well are tickets to looking great. On menus, operators should be pointing out which good ingredients dishes and drinks have and, more importantly, the positive benefits they have on looks and well-being. Generation Z might know they need iron or vitamin A to look and feel great, but do they know a steak and Bloody Mary can provide them with those things?


We live in an age where everyone likes to feel special – and particularly Generation Z. Whether it’s anniversary balloons, specially named bottles, T-shirts, private membership passes, occasion cocktails or being sung ‘happy birthday’ by the staff, establishments that go the extra mile for young customers will be remembered, revisited and reviewed (favourably) a lot on social media. Remember, for Generation Z, glowing endorsements from their peers and favourite influencers means infinitely more to them than a favourable review or mention in a broadsheet newspapers (which none of them really read anymore, anyway.)

Beyond spending a penny

Toilets in pubs, clubs and restaurants are no longer places where people have a wee – they are often central to the action of a place (particularly in clubs and pubs), where makeup is retouched and tips are given, gossip is exchanged, crying and laughter happens, and thousands and thousands of selfies are taken. Loos need to be interesting, aesthetically beautiful and company branded. The logical next step for thriving lo -culture is to take it to the next level and bring in makeup artists, hairdressers, tarot readers, masseuses – the possibilities are endless – and very, very Instagram-able! Come for the food and drink and stay for the loos? Less weird than it sounds!


Lots of Generation Z are anxious about going into pubs and restaurants for a variety of financial, psychological and social reasons. To remove those barriers, brands should embrace festival culture and seek to install pop-ups in Gen Z populated places, whether it’s a van at fresher fairs, or stalls on the street in the summer. Consider these the gateway to long-term Gen Z love.

Have an identity

A sign of a truly successful company or brand is one that is instantly identifiable; one that you can describe in a sentence or even a word(s). It is far better in this muddled and noisy age to be identified with something strongly rather than many things moderately – or worse, nothing at all.

Generation Z, for example, love Nando’s because they know exactly the type of food and experience they are going to get. Generation Z also like things or places they feel reflect them (even if only for a night), so they want to know if they are getting rustic, budget, luxury, glamour, social, cosy, sit-down, stand-up, noisy, quiet, and so on. In this day and age, where you can find a venue to suit literally any mood, whim or taste, it is far better to be the most recognisable name in a genre than an unknown one in many.

For Generation Z, attention and notoriety are the most prized commodities of all, and in order to both survive and thrive, every company, brand and establishment is going to need plenty. It’s sometimes easy for brands and companies to ignore younger customers and consumers, and to focus on older generations who have more money and are easier to win over. But to repeat, by the end of this year Generation Z are going to represent 32% of the global population. Can anyone really afford not to be Generation Z savvy?


This article was originally published on Food Spark’s sister title MCA. Chloe Combi is the co-founder of Zed (www.thinkzed.co.uk), a dedicated generational futureproofing agency. She will be one of the speakers at MCA’s Hostech conference on January 30 at the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, talking about the tech needs of Generation Z. Delegates will also hear about digital innovation from KFC, Fuller’s, Whitbread and Grind, among others. Please visit the website to find out more and for the full agenda

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