Get Ready: Gen Z is coming to disrupt your business

Back in March, I wrote about how Millennials are disrupting your business and shared some things you can do to future-proof your business and profit from these demographic shifts. We’re going to do it again, because Generation Z is waiting outside your door. In fact, they may already be in your physical or virtual establishment, and Gen Z’s numbers are growing. So what do we know about them, and how do they differ from previous generations?

Generation who?

First the facts. Gen Z is the big demographic cohort following Millennials. Most demographers define this age group as those born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, making them roughly ages 13 to 23. They make up 25 per cent of the population, which makes Gen Z bigger than both boomers and Millennials. In the next few years, that figure will balloon to 33 per cent of the population.

Their relative youth means that they’re still in their formative years and developing brand attitudes and loyalties. Take note, though: those in the 18- to 23-year-old group are already dedicated restaurant patrons, with foodservice consultancy Mintel reporting that 66 per cent of them visit foodservice outlets at least once a week, compared to 54 per cent of total Canadians.

Many Gen Zers are entering the workforce and beginning a new life stage, forming new habits and attachments. If you think Millennials have been taking up a lot of the oxygen in the room, imagine what’s coming with Gen Z! Because of its size, Gen Z is expected to have a huge impact on culture and society.

Brush up on your digital skills

These are the first, true digital natives. There is no before or after the internet for them. They can’t imagine a world that’s not completely wired and accessible. It’s the “what I want, when I want, where I want” generation.

What does that mean for your business? First off, Gen Zers will not respect your traditional meal dayparts. Can you leverage that by offering deals on off-hour dining, like later evenings and brunch? Can you reinvent that early bird special for something that appeals to Gen Zers sense of value and proclivity for snacking?

While they are very technology forward, they are also more conservative. They have grown up with terrorism and recession and a 24/7 news cycle. and personal and financial safety is more important to them. They probably have more in common with the generation before the boomers who also went through the depression and war. They drink less, smoke less and are expected to save more. They are also going to have to fix what past generations screwed up.

Gen Zers expect customization because that’s how their music and their coffee orders have always been. They also grew up in a multicultural world, so they don’t expect to see homogeneity. Skin colour, like gender, is fluid. Flavours are mashed up. It’s not ethnic cuisine; it’s just what someone else eats in another part of the world, and that’s exciting.

What else is there to know?

Gen Z diners already outspend boomers in reported monthly expenditures on food prepared outside the home. The majority of Gen Zers go online when choosing a place to eat, and Technomic reports that, because of their economic situation, they tend to search out deals more than past restaurant-goers.

Gen Zers phone is their primary connection to the world. It’s where they live, so your business ought to, as well. Is your website optimized for mobile? Can they easily make a reservation or find your special offers online? Is there an easy delivery option and do you have an online loyalty program with some element of gamification? You need to think phone-first with this generation. That includes paying for things — they don’t carry that old, dirty thing called cash. Try only using your phone for a day to understand how well your establishment will fare with these customers.

They are also a visual generation and prefer being shown rather than told new information, and social media is a great way to create food cravings that will drive them to your establishment. Young females in this group are especially driven by the latest unicorn-type trend and will broadcast it to their very connected social networks. Are you using short, bite-sized video to bring your food offerings to life? You need to call out your new offerings and flavours on your website, social media and, of course, your menu board.

Plus, your visual cues have never been more important. Are there Instagrammable elements within your establishment? Think photo-worthy walls, cute napkins, tray-liners with interesting sayings and unique foods served up in a visually appealing way. If your presentation is on point, user-generated content will bolster your ad spend.

Less isn’t More

This is a generation who is also loving their meal leftovers again, bringing them to work or school, rather than throwing them into waste. Supersized options are appealing because they provide two meals for one in their eyes.

They have also grown up with a foodie and wellness-obsessed culture defined by the Millennial generation. They are more educated than past generations on nutrition and healthy choices, as that has been taught to them in school. But they are too young to have many health worries, so fun and flavour is of high importance to them when choosing a meal, but they’ll still want to know what’s in that menu item and where the ingredients came from and whether or they’re fresh or organic. They want story and an element of the unknown or unusual.

What do you think: are you ready for the rise of Generation Z?

About the Author

Jo-Ann McArthur is the President and Founding Partner of Nourish, a marketing agency that specializes in Food & Beverage, working across all aspects of the food ecosystem. Clients include producers, processors, retailers, manufacturers, food service, and restaurants. Nourish has offices in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal. Want to know more? Jo-Ann can be contacted at, or sign-up for the agency’s monthly newsletter at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *