Which flavor is your customer?

From kindergarten students to seniors in a retirement home, non-commercial operators have five generations—spanning nearly a century—of customers to cater to.

lollipops

From advances in technology to sustainability and an explosion in food knowledge, consumers in each generation are looking for different menus and service styles in their dining experiences—and non-commercial operators are finding ways to meet those customer service demands across all ages. 


Gen Z

Born after 1994

Defining characteristics

  • Highly connected to the use of communications
  • Like instant gratification
  • Independent
  • Very open book with little concern for privacy

Influence. That’s the common theme when talking about the dining preferences of Generation Z customers, the vast majority of whom are in K-12 schools. For those younger Gen Zers who haven’t come into their own when it comes to making decisions, parents are the main influence. For older consumers, media and restaurants are the driving forces.

“There is a lot of parental involvement,” is how Ruth Arnold, operations manager with Nutri-Serve Food Management for nine districts in New Jersey, describes her current crop of student customers. “There are a lot of emails from parents asking ‘how healthy is this’ to ‘what about allergies’ and ‘my kid doesn’t eat a certain product, what are you going to do about that?’” 

Mary Anderson, supervisor of Culinary Express at Wayzata Public Schools, in Minnesota, agrees. “With parents, it’s a phenomenon,” she says. “You would think that their child is the only one in a district of 11,000. We’re getting, ‘what can you customize to my child?’”

K-12 directors find that in order to meet the demands of their younger Gen Z customers, they actually have to come to terms with millennial desires, which are characterized by college directors as being, I want it my way and I want it now (read more about millennials below).

Much like their millennial and Gen X parents, older Gen Zers want customization. Thanks to the Chipotles of the world, these consumers expect choice. “Our students love the customization they are familiar with due to their exposure to restaurants such as Subway and Chipotle,” says Serena Suthers, R.D., director of school food & nutrition services for Prince William County Schools, in Manassas, Va. “To keep our high school menus interesting we have introduced the Build Your Tray, Your Way Line to give them the opportunity to customize their meals.”

The line rotates on a daily basis with items such as build-your-own sandwiches, burritos, Asian rice or lo mein bowls and pasta meals.

Pages

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
healthcare foodservice coffee

From Smucker Away From Home.

Foodservice operators face a tall order when it comes to managing coffee service efficiently and profitably, not to mention meeting the standards of high quality and variety that consumers demand these days. According to Technomic’s 2018 Beverage report, consumers purchase an average of 3.8 beverages per week away from home; in terms of coffee, 37% of consumers say they are ordering it more now than they were two years ago.

That means there’s a lot of opportunity for foodservice establishments to attract consumers’ coffee dollars. In the...

Managing Your Business
kitchen staff

If noncommercial operators hope to pull job candidates away from restaurant jobs, here’s what they’ll need to offer, according to a flurry of new research.

The data underscore that pay, once third or fourth on most lists of the reasons foodservice employees leave a position, is becoming a far more important consideration for taking or keeping a job. Financial security is particularly important for members of so-called Gen Z, or what’s being defined as young people age 21 and under, according to the study just released by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (...

Ideas and Innovation
tailgate

Not all the rivalry during a weekend of college football is limited to action on the field. Restaurants are intensifying their competition with college and university foodservices for the game day spreads that fans will set up in stadium parking lots and countless living rooms this season.

Operators ranging from Taco Bell to small independents are adding platters and meal packages this fall to capture more of the big-dollar spending by sports fanatics for tailgate parties and “couch gating,” the at-home version. They’re awakening to the opportunity many C&U foodservice...

Sponsored Content
local produce

From The Henry P. Kendall Foundation.

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation has spent more than 60 years investing in people and projects designed to make the world healthier and more sustainable. For the past six of those years, the Foundation has focused on the health and vitality of the food system within its native New England, with an eye toward increasing the amount of locally sourced food that is consumed in the region.

To do that, the Kendall Foundation looked to large-scale institutions, such as colleges and universities.

“By leveraging the buying power of the...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code