Instore - June 2018 - 53
And keep in mind, Blackwell said, that Gen Zers are driven by deals and
discounts and are likely to make decisions spontaneously. That same
spontaneity and short attention span means foodservice purveyors
need to work harder than ever to pull them in. McAlister's, for instance,
will launch a new prototype store this year, Blackwell said, that has a
smaller footprint, a pickup window and grab 'n go options.
One foodservice company that has figured out the importance of value
to the youngest generation of consumers is burger chain Red Robin.
Panelist Michael Buchmeier, vice president of operations excellence for
Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Red Robin, said the company rolled
out its $6.99 "tavern" platform of menu items largely with Gen Z in mind.
"By 2020 they'll account for 40 percent of all purchases, and value is
extremely important to them," he said. When Red Robin, for instance,
ran a TV ad about a farmer who grew potatoes used to make Red Robin
French fries, not that many Gen Zers saw the ad (remember: they
don't watch TV). But a hugely disproportionate number of them made
comments on the chain's social platforms praising Red Robin for telling
them where their food came from.
Sometimes it takes more than low prices to fully get young people's
attention these days. Red Robin is reaching this tech-obsessed demographic with its tabletop devices, which expedite payment and provide
a variety of the "experiences" young diners crave. "They're not so much
about sales as about putting the control of the experience with guests,"
Buchmeier said of the devices. "We ask, 'How can we go to where the
guests are?' A lot of our initiatives are about that."
In addition to putting diners in the driver's seat, the on-table devices
at Red Robin save time, reduce errors and provide a treasure trove of
usable guest feedback, Buchmeier said. "It was in the 7 million range
last year," he said of the number of comments received via the devices.
"That's a powerful amount of data."
Of course, the dominance of those devices means many Gen Zers can
order their food without ever having to step foot in a brick-and-mortar
Generation Z was the subject of a panel discussion featuring Gen Zers and
industry professionals at the National Restaurant Association Show.
restaurant or retail prepared foods department. As a result, chains like
Red Robin are reevaluating the pace at which they open new stores.
"Things are shifting more and more to off-premise sales," Buchmeier
said. "We have to figure out whether opening a 6,000-square-foot
restaurant is the best way to use our money."
Alternate channels, social awareness
Providing a first-hand view on the panel were two Chicago-area
residents who are themselves Gen Zers (and foodservice workers).
Jessica Bahena said that she and her friends "tag" themselves via social
media wherever they go, taking photos, reviewing what they're doing
(or eating). That's how Gen Zers often find out about a new restaurant
or other foodservice venue, and it's what determines whether they
decide to give it a try.
The other Gen Zer on the panel, Joseline Fuentes, agreed. If a restaurant is advertising on TV or through another traditional media
channel, you can pretty much guarantee Fuentes won't see it. "I don't
really watch TV," she said. "And if I do, I fast-forward through the ads.
Or watch Netflix."
Both Bahena and Fuentes agree with the industry veterans that Gen
Zers are highly motivated by political and social causes. "Taking care
of the environment is a big thing for me," Bahena said. Fuentes said she
was strongly affected by a video of a turtle choking on a plastic straw.
Her sister, who also saw the video, will now use reusable straws only.
(Vendors promoting their reusable straws could be found on the NRA
'18 show floor.)
Some old values, however, remain relevant to today's young
consumers. Personal service, for example, never goes out of style. "The
convenience (of the on-table devices) is great, but the server experience is huge for me," Fuentes said. "It's a give and take, a little bit of both.
As long as there's a balance there."
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