Study: Gen Z Flocking to Fast-Casual Restaurants

Gourmet Chicken Sandwhich

These days, members of Gen Z are flocking to quick-service restaurants.

In the 12 months ending July 2022, Gen Z consumers made 5 billion total restaurant visits, and 4.3 billion of those visits were to QSRs, according to a new study from The NPD Group. While overall quick-service traffic was flat compared to a year ago, Gen Zers’ fast-casual visits were up 4% year-over-year.

NPD said its findings indicate that Gen Z skews toward QSRs, particularly fast-casual establishments, that balance value with a strong brand persona and focused menus. Although price matters to this group of young American adults (aged 18-24), the group tends to favor businesses that provide the items they want, with messaging that reflects their interests.

“Customization extends to their food choices, as well. It’s no secret that the reason many QSRs, … allow you to build your own meal has been heavily influenced by the Gen Z generation,” Barbara Casey, the CEO at Mobile High 5, told The Food Institute.

Today’s young adults also expect the restaurant chains they choose to reflect their interests, like organics and sustainability, according to NPD’s study. Many Gen Zers are also seeking more from their restaurant foods and beverages, including local, low-calorie, organic, sustainable, and plant-based options.

Traditional QSR menu items like burgers and chicken options that are unique, craveable, and can’t be replicated at home, also appeal to Gen Z. Chicken sandwiches are especially valued by this group, particularly those with value price points or a spicy profile, noted NPD, which recently merged with Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

Meanwhile, snack-oriented foods, bottled water, and non-carbonated soft drinks are also gaining favor with young adults, according to NPD’s findings.

“Restaurant operators can differentiate their brand with Gen Z by focusing on creative spins on classic foods, engaging relevant messaging, and generating value beyond price,” said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor, in a statement.

Additionally, “Gen Z consumers grew up with choices, and they’re open to trying new restaurants,” Peter Boivin, VP, Head of Industry, Restaurant at Vericast, told The Food Institute. “According to a Technomic Segmentation Study, 44% of Gen Z consumers are motivated to try a restaurant they have never visited if they have an incentive.

“Therefore,” Boivin added, “brands have a significant opportunity to increase market penetration with this desirable market segment by using incentives.”