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4 Ways Restaurants Can Attract Gen Z
QSR is the business-to-business magazine for the
limited-service restaurant segment. This article was
published in QSR’s February 2017 edition
Teenagers have more spending power than most operators imagine making them a key
demographic to capture. SKOOLLIVE
It will come as no surprise that Gen Z is the future of the restaurant industry, but what many
owners and operators don’t know is that this generation already holds significant buying power
and can no longer be ignored.
“Gen Z already represents 30 percent of the entire U.S. population, and by 2020 will represent 40
percent,” says George Bruton, CEO of SkoolLive. “U.S. teens currently spend $258 billion a
year, and if you do the math, that’s roughly $9,600 that teenagers have to spend on food and
items they want.”
Without rent, and other living expenses, the bulk of this money is expendable and can be used on
food, clothing, and other wants. In addition to choosing where to spend their own money, brands
that reach teenagers can also help convert their parents into loyal customers. Teens influence
over 70 percent of the family food choices, Bruton says.
“A lot of businesses, especially local and regional businesses, don’t think kids have much
influence and buying power,” he says. “But when Friday night comes and mom and dad don’t
want to make dinner, they ask what their kids want. All the data coming out shows the
persuasive power that this market carries.”
But Gen Z is unlike the other generations that come before them. Born into a world of
technology, capturing this elusive group can be a challenge. Here are some ways restaurants can
reach younger consumers:
1. Get High-Tech
Today, technology influences every aspect of teen lives, so high-tech strategies are good ways to
reach these consumers.
“The world they’ve grown up in is all technology, all mobile, all interactive campaigns, and
interactive engagement with themselves,” Bruton says. “They want to access this information
and to be engaged and appreciated, and they want it to happen in a fast period of time.”
Investing in outreach that effectively uses technology is critical for reaching this generation. A
successful platform will meet teens on many different levels and offer social media, apps, and
digital messaging so restaurants can better engage teenagers and begin building relationships.
2. Talk with Them
Once you reach this audience, the challenge is to engage teens with your message quickly.
Having lived their whole lives in an instant world, competition for the attention of young people
is much harder than it once was.
“The average attention span for Gen Z is 8 seconds and is not as long as it was in previous
generations, which responded well to commercials or television and magazines,” Bruton says.
But just because their attention spans are shorter doesn’t mean that engaging teens is impossible.
The trick is to start conversations, rather than relying on traditional advertising. “Teenagers want
to be talked to in a two-way conversation,” Bruton says. “They want to be asked their opinion
and be part of the conversation.”
Offering teens opportunities to speak back to brands is a great way to keep their attention. Gen Z
is loyal to companies that care about their opinions, so don’t be afraid to ask about their
experiences or to try unique outreach methods.
3. Sell Them on the Brand, Not Food
Of course the restaurant industry wants to sell food to consumers, but the way to Gen Z’s heart
may be by giving these consumers more than meal discounts. Brands that focus on the
generation’s desire for bright, successful futures are able to foster stronger relationships with this
“One of our partners is McDonald’s, and instead of just putting out a coupon for a double
cheeseburger, they share hiring opportunities at a local restaurant and explain their college
financial aid programs,” Bruton says. “It’s about saying, ‘we want you to engage with our brand,
and we want to offer you opportunities’.”
In these ads, McDonald’s doesn’t even mention burgers and fries. Red Robin uses a similar
strategy and, rather than trying to sell a specific product, sells teens on the fact that a percentage
of their checks goes toward school clubs to fund the events and activities they love. These brands
want students to understand that they can help students find employment and funding
opportunities, and as a result, reach students on a deeper level.
This strategy also works on a local level, as smaller brands can partner with school fundraising
events to help tackle issues that students and faculty care about. By hosting a pancake breakfast
to raise money for a cause, for example, restaurants can become part of the school community
and earn the trust of these consumers.
4. Find a Partner That Can Reach Them Where They Are
Even the best messages are only successful if the audience sees them. Some brands are finding
success by placing messages where teenagers are—schools. By placing messaging in schools
where students already are, they are far more likely to interact and engage.
But placing messaging inside schools can be tough and requires a partner that can not only use
technology on campus, but knows how to make that technology a daily destination for
informative, interesting, and engaging content that positively inspires and excites youth culture.
“Put your messages where [teens] will see and interact with them,” says Ed Andrew, COO at
SkoolLive. “You don’t just simply install monitors on a school’s campus and just have
everything self-ignite and become successful.”
A good partner can help you assess the best ways to get your message out, where messages
should be located, and can foster relationships with schools.
Though members of Generation Z are young, they are on track to become the biggest group of
consumers in the history of the U.S. But successful businesses cannot simply wait for Gen Z to
“People think teenagers don’t have money and don’t tell mom and dad what they want, but they
are significantly engaged,” Bruton says. “The money they receive from family and jobs is
expendable. They can use it on going out every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”
Teenagers have buying power now, and misunderstanding or ignoring this group is a costly
mistake that restaurants cannot afford to make.
By Peggy Carouthers
SkoolLive is the first nationwide, on-campus digital network. At zero cost to schools, SkoolLive
installs 7-foot tall digital kiosks that look like giant iPhones in high traffic areas on high school
campuses. The schools use the center section of the kiosk screen as a digital bulletin board to
improve school-to-student communication. SkoolLive advocates for the schools, selling digital
advertisements on the top and bottom sections of the screen. Ad revenues are shared with the
participating schools. SkoolLive is a technology based, digital Media and Advertising Company.
SkoolLive’s focus is understanding and engaging with youth culture.