Coffee Break: The power of Gen Z restaurant employees

Your 5-minute Monday morning read on: The Gen Z workforce.

4 min read
Coffee Break: The power of Gen Z restaurant employees

By Katie Parsons | Editor, The Prep

Welcome to the Coffee Break, a weekly deep dive into a single topic influencing the restaurant industry.

 This week we've done our research on the role of Gen Z in the modern restaurant landscape. Who are they as consumers – and what does that mean when recruiting, hiring and retaining Gen Z workers?

We've compiled what we learned here, so enjoy that cup of coffee and read on.

Focus On: The Gen Z Workforce

Here's how Gen Z restaurant habits influence employment

 Restaurants are a traditional entrance point to the American workforce. The National Restaurant Association reports that 1 in 3 Americans have worked at a restaurant at one time or another, often as a first job.

But while younger workers are a staple of the restaurant industry, Generation Z has a different approach to restaurants than their predecessors.

 These employees, born in the late 1990s through 2012, are now teenagers, college students and young people building their families and careers. They are the first generation of “digital natives” with no experience in a world without the internet.

Understanding Gen Z’s own restaurant habits, and what they expect from employers, can help restaurant owners and managers address labor shortages – and develop strong employees who want to be part of their restaurant’s culture.

So what can restaurants do to recruit, hire and retain Gen Z workers?

Understanding Gen Z’s relationship with restaurants

Convenience and value lead Gen Z’s attraction to restaurants – much more than the experience. In fact, Gen Z patrons are eating out 11% less than Millennials at that age,  according to NDP Group, and 76% of Gen Z’s monthly food budget goes toward groceries.

But when they do eat out, they want technology to lead the experience.

 The Culinary Edge reports that 55% of Gen Z has more food delivery apps on phones than streaming services, with 54% as monthly active users of the Big Four 3rd-party delivery services. 

 Yet, while Gen Z consumers are often associated with being tech-centric, they are more cautious about use of robots, drones and AI than Millennials.

 The 2022 Technomic Takeout & Delivery Consumer Trend Report surveyed Gen Zers and Millennials and found the following:

 💠  37% of Gen Z respondents found drive-thru AI tech in restaurants appealing, compared to 47% of Millennials.

 💠  30% of Gen Z respondents said that restaurants using facial recognition technology were appealing, compared to 48% of Millennials.

  💠 32% of Gen Z respondents said that a robot who could deliver food to their table was appealing to them, compared to 48% of Millennials.

The same survey found a drop in Gen Z’s concern over the significance of customer service, food aesthetic and clean bathrooms when it came to what restaurant to frequent. 

It’s clear that Gen Z as a consumer group want a combination of tech for convenience and meaningful human connections – and on their terms. So what does that mean for Gen Z as a restaurant workforce? 

Who are Gen Z workers?

The stereotype that Gen Z is chronically online may be mostly true – but they are also a hard-working group. A presentation given at The National Restaurant Show in 2023 by CocaCola showed that 46.5% of working Gen Z employees have at least 1.5 or 2 jobs.

Toast guide on understanding Gen Z consumers and workers discusses the fact that this generation is less interested in simply making money. Working places that they enjoy top their list of qualifications for a job and they also want to work for businesses that care about the environment and their employees. 

The top three considerations when it comes to hiring Gen Z include:

💲Competitive pay and benefits. Offering even slightly higher per-hour rates for your employees will draw in more talented employees and give your restaurant a competitive edge. And while it may not be possible to offer benefits like health insurance to part-time employees, having third-party options is a start. Other benefits that attract Gen Z include free or discounted meals, paid time off and other incentives, like gift cards or simple recognition.

 📅 Out-of-the-box scheduling. Flexible scheduling that allows staff the opportunity to seek out other interests, or potentially work other jobs, is key to keeping Gen Z happy. Rigid scheduling requirements are out; use technology to allow for more fluidity in Gen Z worker scheduling. 

♻️ Community responsibility. Gen Z workers prioritize working for socially-responsible restaurants because they seek alignment between their personal values and their employment. They are drawn to workplaces that prioritize sustainability, ethical sourcing, and community involvement. For them, contributing to a cause they believe in is as important as earning a paycheck. 

Gen Z is the “now” of the restaurant workforce – are you doing enough to accommodate them?

Here at The Prep, we'll keep following the workforce shifts impacting local bars and restaurants. Understanding the "why" of these trends informs the "how" of your operations – and we're here for it. 

 Want to read even more from us on the biggest issues impacting your restaurant? Check out our exclusive Hidden Menu articles.

What do you think? Are Gen Z workers essential to your restaurant? Email