Gen Z, individuals born between 1993 and 2003, are coming of age. Since this generation grew up during the recent economic recession beginning in 2008, which perhaps financially affected their (mostly) Gen X parents, they are more value-minded when it comes to their restaurant behaviors. Additionally, because Gen Z grew up with mobile access to the internet, they—more than any other generation—use social media and other tech amenities to gain information and communicate with others. They’re also the most ethnically diverse generation, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Operators need to keep these characteristics in mind in order to attract this young, yet budding demographic during breakfast hours.
Gen Zers are habitual breakfast foodservice purchasers, but operators still have opportunities to increase the frequency of their visits, especially as they age and gain more disposable income. Currently, more than two-thirds of Gen Zers (67%) purchase food or beverage for breakfast at a foodservice location at least once a week. This response is higher than the total population (61%), equal to Gen X (67%) yet lower than the frequency of visits from millennials (76%).
Although Gen Zers do not dine out as much as millennials for breakfast, they are considering breakfast to be more of an experience compared to all other age groups. Over a third of Gen Z respondents (38%) said they consider breakfast to be more of a destination than a quick occasion today versus two years ago, which is compared to 26% of the total population who said the same.
Operators trying to attract this generation should position their operations as a place to linger for breakfast. Strategies to accomplish this could include:
Extending breakfast hours to accommodate later diners and longer dining occasions
Providing communal tables to promote group meals
Using tech enhancements at the table to encourage dining in
Gen Zers stand out from older counterparts in many areas of foodservice preferences at breakfast. Let’s take a look at some ways operators can cater directly to these younger guests.
One way operators drive Gen Z traffic in the morning is to offer a wide variety of items. Nearly three-fourths of Gen Z respondents (73%) said that a bevy of breakfast options is important to them, compared to 67% of the overall population.
Variety at breakfast can include a mix of:
Traditional breakfast offerings such as pancakes, omelets, eggs and toast
Nontraditional breakfast mashups like wonuts (waffle-doughnut hybrid) and biscuit doughnuts
Ethnic options such as Mexican chilaquiles and Georgian khachapuri (oval-shaped dough topped with cheese, butter and eggs)
Healthy options such as yogurt parfaits and housemade oatmeal
When asked about the importance of customization, Gen Z ranked this menu attribute highest of all generations. Nearly half of Gen Zers agree that the ability to customize a meal is important when choosing both a limited-service restaurant (51%) and full-service restaurant (49%) for dine-in occasions.
One way operators can appeal to Gen Z’s affinity for customization is with build your-own breakfast bowls and handhelds. These dishes should include a range of indulgent and better-for-you options, as well as flavor-packed or ethnic ingredients like kimchee and hot sauce.
Blurring the Breakfast Daypart
Nearly two-thirds of Gen Zers (62%) like eating breakfast at nontraditional times, which is the highest response of all generations. These younger diners enjoy breakfast foods as a mid-morning snack, lunch, dinner and late-night snack or meal option. Gen Zers also respond highest to saying they would visit a restaurant not typically frequented if the venue offered breakfast fare beyond the morning hours (48% of Gen Z compared to 40% of the total population).
Consider creating mini versions of traditional breakfast goods to cater to snacking and late-night occasions. This could include breakfast sliders or pancake balls served with syrup for dipping.
Interestingly, Gen Z also ties with millennials for the greatest interest in lunch and dinner foods served in the morning. Opportunities to blur dayparts include:
Experimenting with savory interpretations of traditional breakfast dishes, such as bacon-infused pancakes and peanut butter and jelly French toast
Menuing dinner-inspired dishes such as breakfast pizzas and burgers in the morning
Putting traditional lunch or dinner proteins on breakfast sandwiches, such as grilled chicken
The youngest of the generations is also the most budget-minded. For over a third of Gen Zers still immersed in their education, getting breakfast even from a limited-service restaurant is considered expensive. This cash-strapped cohort has limited to no discretionary income for dining out, which requires operators to use discounts, freebies and other value-centric strategies to convince these individuals to visit restaurants for breakfast.
There are other ways operators can enhance value perception in the morning beyond pricing deals. These include:
Creating one-of-a-kind signature and chef-driven options
Listing build-your-own options that allow guests to customize dishes to exact preferences
Calling out quality ingredients that are natural, local or organic
Launching seasonal dishes that spotlight popular flavors
Offering all-you-can-eat plated options or breakfast buffets
3 Areas of Opportunity for Generation Z
CUSTOMIZATION IS KEY
Gen Z wants and expects customization options at restaurants, including in the morning. Fortunately, the DIY-approach can be realized in several ways during breakfast. Menu build-your-own handhelds or bowls with an assortment of indulgent and better-for-you ingredients. In addition, offering a variety of condiments, toppings and sauces provides vast customization opportunities.
Gen Zers are driving the demand for all-day breakfast, including breakfast options as a snack and breakfast for lunch, dinner and late-night occasions. Operators serving this demographic would do well to extend the availability of their morning menu into the afternoon and evening. Creating smaller snack-size portions of items such as biscuits and pancakes, and savory interpretations of sweeter breakfast dishes will really capitalize on Gen Z’s interest in breakfast at nontraditional times.
BALANCE THE MENU WITH VARIETY
Gen Zers expect restaurants to offer a plethora of options in the morning. This is likely because they are attracted to often opposing breakfast foods—they want healthy fare, but they also crave indulgent dishes like dessert-inspired pancakes. Customization of dishes can allow consumers to choose whether they want their dish to be healthy or on the more indulgent side.