Gen Z and the future of fast food5 minutes
Move over millennials, restaurants are open for Gen Z. This is the generation born between 1996 and 2012. Although experts debate the exact start and end years, they all agree Gen Z is big: two billion worldwide, and about one-quarter of the North America population. The oldest among Gen Z can work, vote and drive.
This generation was born after the Internet came to life. Many navigated toddlerhood with the help of a tablet. They love YouTube how-tos and are globally connected via social media.
Gen Z displays characteristics significant to the restaurant industry, according to QSR magazine: "For those in this group of digital natives and mobile accelerators, technology is everywhere and practically invisible. The implications are far-ranging."
One example: In a national study by the Center of Generational Kinetics, half (50%) of Gen Z respondents said they use their phone to comparison shop.
Mississauga is one of Canada's most youthful cities, where about one quarter of all residents represent Gen Z. Some of the area's quick service restaurants are already adjusting. Awiter Yaacoub manages the bustling Tim Hortons, which opened late last year. "We are getting busier every week - people come because we can serve them faster and faster every day," he says.
Finding ways to win and hold the attention of the newest generation is important to the restaurant industry, especially quick service and fast casual, which have long held a special place for teens and young adults. To garner loyalty, restaurants often turn to technology. But technology only works when well executed. Panasonic is the integrated solutions provider that delivers results for Tim Hortons, McDonald's, Dairy Queen and other retailers that use technology to enhance the lives of guests they serve. We do this by harnessing a broad set of disruptive technologies that inspire and amaze - from mobile real-time computing to artificial intelligence and robotics. Here's a look at a few innovations and ideas exciting Gen Z.
1. Customer choice
With customers demanding more choice and control, some of the biggest names in food are turning to digital self-order kiosks to give people a choice in how they interact with the restaurant. Kiosks allow consumers to customize and pay for their meal and choose to pick it up, or have it served to them. Restaurants like kiosks because consumers tend to place bigger orders when using touchscreens. In some places kiosks are so popular that restaurants are experimenting with touchscreen ordering at the drive-thru.
2. Why wait?
In the national study, Gen Zers said kids should receive a smartphone at an earlier age than any previous generation. Some 18% said middle schoolers should have one. It's a trend that could be used to drive down wait times. Mobile apps with ordering, payment and tracking capabilities so a patron can see where their order is in the prep process, and arrive when it's ready, are driving down wait times and bolstering sales. Ditto for tablets that are lightweight, rugged (protected against drops and spills) and take payments anywhere the consumer happens to be standing.
3. Forecasting before they order
Restaurants use a secret sauce to guide data collection and analysis to make sure patrons receive what they want, when they want it. Clearview by Panasonic is a highly flexible and scalable web-based solution for financial, supply and labor management. It collects data on everything from workforce scheduling to food orders, which is mixed with social data and info search activity - like when someone uses a handheld to find the closest cafe. (Word of caution - more than half of Gen Z is concerned about web and mobile privacy, according to the study.) To the data mix, operators add a pinch of AI to figure out how much milk, coffee and sugar to have on hand so that busy Gen Zer can get a cup of coffee, even if they pull up behind buses carrying a baseball team.
About our expert
Che Baird, who's been in the quick service restaurant business for nearly two decades, is Panasonic Canada's National Business Development Manager - QSR/Retail.