Visually stunning, high-quality beverages can win this growing consumer group.
Each generation brings with it a certain set of preferences and proclivities. Generation Z, roughly defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, are perhaps one of the more discerning consumer groups to emerge in recent decades. As digital natives who grew up in the age of social media, they’ve been privy to global trends — including those within the F&B space — since their formative years. To that end, they’ve already proved to have more adventurous palates than previous generations.
Restaurants — particularly those targeting younger consumers — have spent the past several years deciphering Gen Z’s eating habits. Now that the eldest members of the group are of legal drinking age, operators would do well to consider their imbibing habits, as well. Gen Z has high standards, but they are willing to pay for products and services that meet those expectations. Amid the craft beverage movement, some older consumers may balk at pricey drinks, but that’s less likely with Gen Z.
“It is a generation that has grown up on $7-plus coffees. This really is the key point and a true shift in attitudes that will lead to long-term behavioral changes,” says Marcie Merriman, managing director of Americas cultural insights at global consulting firm Ernst & Young. “They are willing to trade up from $1 coffees and $2 sodas for options they perceive as better tasting or better for you.”
Indeed, health plays an important role in this group’s purchasing decisions. Where Gen X and millennials were cutting calories or carbs, Gen Z seeks out wholesome ingredients. Elva Ramirez, author of the new book Zero Proof Cocktails: A collection of 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking, credits their early exposure to specialty diets like keto, vegetarian, and vegan for instilling a health-conscious attitude.
This mindset combined with the growing sober-curious movement suggests that nonalcoholic drinks would curry favor with Gen Z. And because members of this generation grew up seeing restaurants cater to specialty diets, they’re likely to expect an equally vast array of beverage options — including no/low ABV cocktails.
“In the way that every consumer now expects nut milks to be an option at every café — no matter how fancy — the consumer is also looking for zero-proof and low-proof options within the larger drinks space,” Ramirez says. She also thinks Gen Z’s interest in no/low-ABV options goes beyond health considerations.
“My pet theory is that for at least some of the younger generation, being drunk or drinking heavily just isn’t cool. All you need to do is watch a season of any reality TV or reality competition show to see drunk people acting foolishly and paying some kind of price,” she adds.
Devin Kennedy, director of bars at Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito, California, echoes this sentiment. Instead of building up drinking occasions as big — and potentially debaucherous — affairs, he sees Gen Z leaning more toward casual gatherings that involve low-proof or nonalcoholic libations.
While this tempered approach may be novel in the U.S., Kennedy points out that the ritual is more established overseas and cites Spain’s “aperitivo” hour as an example, with other countries like France and Italy having their own renditions. These drinking occasions typically precede larger meals and often include low-proof options, with beverages like vermouth and campari being standards. Gen Z’s preferences lean lighter and less bitter, but they carry the spirit of the traditional aperitivo options.
“Some drinks that come to mind that answer to this movement are spritzes and highball-style drinks with homemade sodas and sparkling wines,” Kennedy says. Collins-style cocktails and wellness-focused drinks with high acid components and botanical flavors also play well with Gen Z, he adds.
Despite their young age, Gen Z already demonstrates a certain sophistication in their eating and drinking preferences. They appreciate the craft and showmanship that go into preparing a food or beverage.
“This new generation of drinkers is very interested in the experience of mixology. Due to the rise in social media and consumers being able to see the most sophisticated of creations straight from their phones, the visual appeal of cocktails — including the use of cutting-edge techniques, niche glassware, and unusual ingredients — is increasingly important to the younger generation,” Kennedy says. “This is a contrast to the preferences of older generations who tend to stick to the tried-and-true classics regardless of flair.”
Rosewood Miramar Beach debuted a frosé around Memorial Day, and Kennedy thinks his proprietary recipe plus the drink’s visual appeal will be a hit with younger consumers.
Gen Z might care about substance, but that’s not to say they ignore looks. As social media savants, they are keen to share their experiences through stunning visuals. That means bartenders and mixologists are saddled with the double challenge of making tasty, complex drinks that are also highly photogenic. Not to mention, Gen Z along with a growing number of older consumers are coming to expect specialty options like no/low-ABV beverages.
The upside is that if a restaurant or bar succeeds in winning on these fronts, they can expect Gen Z to share these experiences, thus bringing more of their peers in for a drink.
“People still love bars, bartenders, and beautiful drinks. That’s not going away,” Ramirez says. “People will still treasure the ritual of photo-ready drinks at bars with friends.”