Brands that use direct, authentic messaging are better equipped to capture the loyalties of this rising demographic.

For several years, Gen Z have been an increasingly critical target demographic for restaurateurs. Now that the oldest among Gen Z are beginning to graduate college and enter the workforce, restaurateurs can expect that this group will have even more financial freedom and spending power. It is more important than ever for brands to connect with Gen Z and build a relationship with them while they are still forming their opinions.

“Gen Z are their own unique cohort,” says Jaime Friedman, insights director at PepsiCo Foodservice. “They’re different from millennials. They spend a larger portion of their food budget on foodservice, and they tend to over-index on restaurant loyalty compared to other generations.”

So how can restaurants be sure to capture this audience and keep Gen Z loyal to their brand over others?

1. Be Social

Fifty-five percent of Gen Z report that they cannot go more than five hours without using the Internet. In large part, this means they are checking on various social media feeds to ensure they are up-to-date on the latest communications from friends, celebrities, and favorite brands. For this demographic, there is no distinction between the digital experience and the personal experience, and it is critical for brands seeking their attention to speak to them where they are.

“Restaurants should communicate to Gen Z diners in the digital space, understanding that these consumers see social media as an extension of their real lives,” Friedman says. “Gen Z are best engaged when content is posted directly to their accounts or they receive a reaction to what they post—this generation likes to have a true conversation on social media, rather than having brands talk at them.”

Friedman also recommends using a variety of platforms in order to diversify content and maximize interactions with Gen Z, who are most active on Snapchat and Instagram, but also to a lesser extent on more static applications like Facebook.

“Restaurants should consider producing different content for each social channel,” Friedman says. “You need to show these younger consumers that your brand genuinely understands the way they like to communicate and be engaged.”

By creating a consistent brand image that both carries across the different platforms, and yet adapts the brand voice to accommodate the different conversations of each social media outlet, restaurants will be better equipped to engage Gen Z users and capture their interest.

2. Be Authentic

Gen Z know when they’re being tricked, and they don’t respond kindly if they suspect they’ve been misled about a product or brand. Members of this group value authenticity above almost all else, so it is essential for restaurants to promote a “real” brand.

“Gen Z tend to be more pragmatic than millennials,” Friedman says. “They’re more focused on developing skills for the future. They’re more interested in having memorable experiences than investing in so-called luxury brands. They are very diverse and accepting of different races and ethnicities.”

For these reasons, brands that are attempting to attract Gen Z consumers also need to display qualities which they consider to be authentic. For example, surveys show that 69 percent of Gen Z consumers report being more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes. Restaurants that donate a certain percentage of proceeds to charity or hold regular fundraisers are more likely to develop long-term relationships with Gen Z patrons.

3. Reassure Them

Despite being generally self-reliant, Gen Z can also be worriers, and are fiercely dependent on values such as trust and communication.

“If millennials need praise,” Friedman says, “Gen Z need to be reassured. In an uncertain, ambiguous, and sometimes dangerous world, members of this group need to be sure that your brand has their best interests at heart.”

There are several ways that restaurant operators can instill trust in Gen Z consumers. For one thing, members of this group are more interested in making their own decisions when it comes to food, Friedman says.

Restaurants that afford Gen Z with the opportunity to customize or personalize their meal tend to put them more at ease than menus with strict itemization or limitations on substitutions, for example.

“For a fiercely individualist generation such as Gen Z,” Friedman says, “creating value is about treating people as individuals, not part of a target demographic.”

4. Offer Real Value

“Gen Z approach brands and businesses with a critical eye, and will ask what’s in it for them,” Friedman says.

And it’s not just about what’s on the plate: As highly social diners, Gen Z are more likely than other generations to eat out with friends. Despite spending more of their budget on restaurant dining than older demographics, the majority of Gen Z have a smaller budget to work with. For that reason, “value and price are big factors for them,” Friedman says.

Restaurants can attract Gen Z consumers with items that show sensitivity to their limited budget, including off-peak pricing menus or shareable plates that cater to their socializing. In addition, it is important for brands to recognize that for Gen Z, value is not only relative to price.

“Value is about helping people achieve their goals,” Friedman says. “That means offering menus, options, updates, and services that allow people to personalize their experience to their own taste.”

Although Gen Z trust can be difficult to capture, once it has been earned, consumers in this demographic are more likely to ascribe that trust with a fierce, unwavering loyalty.

“They care about the whole experience,” Friedman says. “The quality of the food is still tall stakes, but it’s all of the experiential elements combined—including service and atmosphere—that are going to drive Gen Z traffic to a restaurant or brand.”

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