How to Successfully Market Your Restaurant to Gen Z

By Jackie Prange

Two friends dining together

Just as you were getting your head wrapped around Millennials….surprise! There’s a new cohort on the rise. Enter Generation Z; born in the mid 90’s, members of Gen Z fall between the ages of 12 and 20. Z may come at the end of the alphabet, but with a combined buying power of $43 billion, this generation should be first in your mind.

Like any generation before them, Gen Z is already getting a bad wrap; labeled as screen addicts with a fleeting attention span, these wee ones are being counted out by some before they even hit adulthood. By shedding a positive light on a few of the negative stereotypes and using the strategies below, you can successfully market your restaurant to this emerging demographic.

TECHNOLOGY: “They’re Screen Addicts”

For a generation that basically traded in their soothers for iPads, it’s no wonder they’re being pegged as screen addicts. But who says this early tech adoption is a bad thing? The screen addict label speaks to Z’s “always on” nature. For a generation more connected than ever before, one foolproof way to gain their attention is by leveraging your restaurant’s digital presence.

Gen Z-ers consume content differently than their predecessors. If you’re trying to reach them in the same “cookie cutter” fashion, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even their platform preferences have changed; with more than 25% of Gen Z’s leaving Facebook in 2014, knowing how to use social media and which channels to focus on are key ingredients to successfully marketing to this group.

So how can you use the trending techs amongst Gen Zers to benefit your business? First things first, you’re nobody without an Instagram account. You’d be amazed at the power this platform has to drive traffic to your restaurant. Fashion bloggers have taken to food blogging, gaining “Instafame” from the photos they snap of their favorite meals. This growing trend has left Gen Z’ers deciding where to eat based off of the picturesque-plates appearing all over their newsfeeds. Don’t believe us? See for yourself! Check out these two Instagram powerhouses, @tastetoronto and @chicagofoodauthority, who have become a hit amongst this demographic.

With a general love for mobile apps, Gen Z’ers also favor incognito media platforms…so be sure to leverage these in your digital marketing initiatives. Apps like TikTok and Snapchat have made big waves with this generation, providing them with “social interactions that offer instant, no-strings attached, gratification.”

Snapchat specifically has proved to be a crowd favorite, with the ability to communicate via pictures and videos that quickly disappear. Whether through product promotions, contests, or just good old customer engagement, Snapchat provides you with a platform to intrigue this already-curious generation, all the while, creating huge potential for your business.

Chain restaurant IHOP has “hopped” on the Snapchat bandwagon, introducing a campaign that targets patrons inside its restaurants through the use of the apps location-based effects, known as ‘geofilters’. After only a few days, the customer filter gained 3 million views. IHOP is just one example of how these unique campaigns can gain traction in the restaurant industry; see how they pulled this off here. Loveless Cafe in Toronto has also made use of these geofilters to creatively drive traffic to their business and have social media savvy customer engage further with their brand once they’re there.

Snapchat Stories also provide you with another opportunity to reach this audience, thanks to short-form video. To get your customers interacting with your venue, make use of Snapchat’s “story” feature to increase engagement and (hopefully) business. Taco Bell is yet another brand who’s taken full advantage of Snapchat’s marketing potential via the app’s “story” feature. Social media leader, Nick Tran, explains Taco Bell’s decision to roll out a branded story. “Customers love sharing their stories and trips and adventure. We created a story that modeled that experience of hanging out with a friend.” See how Taco Bell creatively engaged their customers through this real-time storytelling feature.

Interested in joining the Snap sensation? Whether you’re a franchise or a single location venue, check out our post all about how to use Snapchat for restaurant marketing for further insight on how you can become a successful, snapchatting restaurateur. With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to harnessing the power of technology and social media that Gen Zers love.

FOOD & EXPERIENCE: “They Have No Attention Span”

Zs are growing up in a world with limitless options (read this article, check out this store, try our new product…you get the point) and limited time to pursue them. It’s no wonder they’ve had to narrow their focus in order to sift through the mass amounts of information they’re blasted with on all of the various platforms they occupy. As it turns out, it’s not an attention problem, it’s an “8-second filter”, which allows this cohort to zero in on their values and interests. Down from 12 seconds in 2000, this 8-second filter also makes keeping their attention challenging, especially if you’re trying to do so in a way that isn’t keeping with the times.

We know it’s not easy to stand out in today’s never-ending stream of information, so as a rule of thumb when trying to attract Gen Zers, remember to be where they are; don’t expect them to reach out to you like their Millennial predecessors. Tedious as it may be, you’ve got to give a little to get a lot with this generation…but once you’ve caught (and kept) their eye, you’ve struck gold.

Wondering exactly how to work around this 8-second filter in the restaurant industry? Visuals are vital. The current popularity of short-form video content is proof of this. Buzzfeed’s Foodie Channel, Tasty, has gained a large Facebook following by creatively leveraging video content. By featuring short, fast-motion (not to mention mouthwatering) food videos, audiences just can’t seem to look away. With such a small window to grab a Gen Zers attention, creative and concise communication through social media platforms is your best chance of not only grabbing, but keeping their attention.

In short, this generation is known for loving authentic experiences. One trend that’s recently been picking up steam with Zs is experiential dining which offers not just unique food, but a memorable experience served alongside it. To keep their attention and stand out in such a competitive industry, offer Gen Zers a restaurant experience they can’t resist- even better if the experience provides them with great Instagram or Snapchat material.   

Some sure-fire ways to create a unique restaurant experience can be done by keeping a diverse menu, introducing “themed” nights, or by creatively leveraging some of the platforms mentioned above, (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook) in order to give your venue a voice in today’s noisy newsfeeds.

One restaurant that’s attracting new patrons with more than just great eats is Studio Cellar. The South Carolina restaurant pairs a variety of painting packages with a selection of wine, craft beer, and non-alcoholic beverages, while providing guests with the opportunity to create their own masterpiece to take home as a souvenir.

Whether it’s a seasonal pre-fixe menu, fun sharing plates, or a karaoke night, Gen Z’s want to try it all, so provide them with that diversity all within the confines of your restaurant. Offering a unique restaurant experience will make your Gen Z customers remember their visit long after their last bite.

MARKETING &  BRANDING: “They Lack Brand Loyalty”

Another stereotype pegged on Gen Z’s is the assumption that their generation’s brand loyalty is lacking. Known for their high expectations and desire for personalization, you’re dealing with more of an increase in selectivity, rather than a lack of loyalty. Even more so than their Millennial counterparts, members of Generation Z are demanding that their needs and wants be catered to. Marc Kielburger highlights what a handful of businesses have done right in securing Z’ers loyalty: “We find that when companies are genuine in their outreach, strategic in their engagement and are able to communicate impact, they’ve become extremely popular with the young demographic.”

There are many ways your business can authentically earn Generation Z’s loyalty and trust. Lenovo CEO David Roman claims “Gen Z consumers want to feel inspired and part of something exciting, so telling a brand’s unique story is a powerful tool in achieving consumer loyalty and engagement”. Forbes outlined 7 essential qualities for humanizing any business’s social brand, the most notable being: trustworthy, personal, unique, and responsive. Keeping these qualities top of mind while executing your branding and marketing initiatives will help you get your foot in the door of the Gen Z world. To familiarize yourself with the rest of the qualities, access the article here.

Another way to score loyalty points with this generation is through reward programs. Starbucks, a major player in the rewards program realm, has taken customer loyalty to another level with the help of their app. Starbucks Rewards make their customers feel special by rewarding them with 2 stars per every dollar spent. Members can later apply these stars to score a free Starbucks treat. This instant gratification (for something as simple as purchasing a coffee) really resonates with Gen Zers. Want to roll out something similar in your venue, but don’t have Starbucks’s revenue? No problem – check out this article to get your loyalty program juices flowing.

We know winning Generation Z’s hearts (and stomachs) will be no easy victory, but by looking at the generation’s unique attitudes and behaviors as opportunities to target a new demographic rather than as negative stereotypes, you can attract and cater to this increasingly influential customer base.

Photo of Jackie Prange
by Jackie Prange

Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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