Generational differences have long been recognized in shopping behavior, educational preferences, pop culture and media, and more. But it even affects patrons’ dining preferences and taste interests. Restauranteurs that understand the shared culture of each generation (and the differences among them) will have an edge in marketing and menu creation to reach each of these age groups.
Generation Z (born between 1998 and 2012)
This youngest group of consumers is still just starting to spend money on their own. You may not be making menu decisions based on the preferences of Generation Z just yet, but this is certainly the generation to watch for upcoming trends. As true digital natives who are also the most racially and ethnically diverse of any American generation, Gen Z palates will likely reflect that same diversity: spicy, flavorful food with exotic condiments will appeal, as well as the growing desire (across many generations) for natural and organic foods, sustainable ingredients, and vegetarian/vegan options.
Social media influence and recommendations will carry much more weight in their selection of restaurants, so active and human engagement with your audience will be valuable.
Millennials / Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1997)
Millennials (currently the largest living U.S. generation) have had wide-ranging influence on the food culture and menus. These 20- and 30-somethings love bold and spicy flavors, snacking, tapas and small plates, unique fusions and mashups, and the ability to customize everything they eat. This is the generation of the cronut (croissant/donut combo), Korean-Mexican fusion, super spicy dishes, and unusual flavor combinations. Millennials, for whom being “basic” is a real fear, simplistic foods may seem too unimaginative and won’t draw them in. But unusual and flavorful combos turning the familiar into a fad could have them lining up around the corner.
Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
The 35- to 50-year-old Gen Xers have similar tastes to Millennials, but respond emotionally in a little different way. Fresh and new combinations of interesting and original foods is exciting, but a new twist on an old favorite, mashed up with something unexpected, evokes a welcome sense of nostalgia. Throwbacks to comfort foods or even childhood faves will be meaningful dishes bring Gen Xers back for more. And the bonus is that while the throwback will likely be missed by the Millennial, creativity and whimsy will appeal to them as well. So despite the differences in perspective, the overlap of tastes makes menu creation for Millennials and Generation X a little easier—and inspiring.
Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
It’s important to not forget the formerly largest generation in the U.S.—the Baby Boomers. Boomers are still very active consumers with refined palates and a health-consciousness as they age. Baby Boomers will appreciate flavorful dishes and healthier options, but the mashups and fusion dishes may be too unfamiliar to appeal to them. Updated (yet recognizable) comfort dishes should have a place on your menu to appeal to this generation, who still have plenty of time (and money) to spend dining out.
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