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How to Make Sure Your Restaurant Shows Up on Younger Consumers' Radars

By Carl Orsbourn & Meredith Sandland

According to Civic Science, an online polling organization, younger guests are more likely to use food delivery apps than older consumers. In 2021, 50% of those aged 18-29 said they used a food delivery service at least once per month. After that, however, the percentage of active users declined in each age group to 23% from 30-44, 14% from 45-54, and only 7% from 55+.

Looking at this data, it appears that digital interaction with restaurants will become the norm as Millennials, Gen Z, and younger consumers age and fill the demographic spectrum, cradle to grave, of dining consumers.

This is where digital and menu innovation intersect. So, as your restaurant designs itself for more digital engagement, it also needs to develop its menu for what the current younger generations want.

Based on the restaurant consumption of these younger generations, most restaurants are not currently meeting the needs of Gen Z. According to David Portalatian of NPD Group, Gen Z customers purchase meals from restaurants only 218 times each year on average. When Gen X was the same age, they used restaurants an average of 284 times yearly.

This change is a nearly 25% decline in restaurant usage. According to NPD Group, this statistic is ominous for the industry because historically the heaviest restaurant usage during a lifetime occurs during 18-24 years' old. Of course, how this affects independent operators is uncertain, since a large percentage of that patronage might be at quick-service chain concepts.

If this trend continues, restaurateurs will have a decreasing number of visits to fight for. Restaurant experiences and menus designed for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers don't make sense to these younger consumers, meaning that restaurant concepts need a refresh to be relevant going forward.

Modern consumer demands are based on the economics of eating alone, international cuisine influences, greater attention to nutrition, and convenience. Winning restaurant concepts design their digital engagement, on-premises experiences, and menu innovation around these things. However, younger generations think about food value differently. Instead of focusing on absolute low price, or amount of food for the money, as Gen X did, Gen Z defines the value to include experience, food quality, and convenience.

With inflation pushing up prices and many of their disposable income dollars allocated to technology, Gen Z wants to ensure they are getting a lot for their money from a restaurant visit. The NPD study concurs, particularly as it relates to nutrition. Gen Z is more focused on organic foods (18% vs. 12% for those 25+), sustainably sourced foods (16% vs. 11%), and plant-based foods (10% vs. 6%) than any generation prior.

Drawing Online Attention

Whether your brand is already positioned to benefit from these trends, or you are evolving towards better nutrition and international flavors, your restaurant has to grab the attention of these young guests in a new environment: online. Gen Z is not just driving down the street, considering the pole signs they pass on the way.

Gen Z is nose-down in their phones, considering the Instagram photos, TikTok videos, and search results they are served up on Door-Dash and UberEats. This requires being present where your restaurant's consumers are – on the apps. The sooner your restaurant accepts DoorDash and UberEats as search engines, the easier it will be to reach these young consumers.

Getting noticed on the platforms is about meeting three key objectives:

1. Be on the homepage (the first destination for a hungry consumer looking for food)

2. Be above the fold on the homepage or at least in your category (a consumer can see your restaurant without scrolling)

3. Be in the carousels (<30 minutes, promotions, ordered previously)

Achieving these objectives is the most straightforward and cheapest with great operations. Strong ratings, reasonable prices, and short delivery times will cause consumers to click your restaurant. The more clicks and orders your restaurant receives, the more the platform will prioritize your restaurant in search results.

The second easiest (and also free!) way to get your restaurant noticed is to ensure your menu item titles and descriptions line up with typical consumer search terms. Again, this is where digital and menu innovation intersect.

You may make no changes to your actual menu items, but item titles and descriptions may need a rework to match what digital consumers are searching. To get a sense of how your menu shows up, explore the platforms for other similar versions of the items you offer to see if and where they appear. If they are not top in the search results, test changes to the menu item titles and descriptions until search results improve.

After that, it's time to start spending money. Offering promotions and spending on sponsored results on the platforms is a great way to get your brand noticed. Getting that first order will put your brand in the previously ordered carousel and impact ongoing search results positively. As a result, a virtual cycle initiates, which trains the algorithms to favor your brand and products, generates clicks and sales, and further teaches the algorithm.

Before you rush to change your off-premises online ordered menu from the version you offer full-service guests, consider that your restaurant likely has a strong brand based on what you offer on-premises. Your guests who order online are likely seeking your on-premises menu items for off-premises consumption. Align your menu with where your future guest shops and on which digital platforms.

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