Dining through the ages: what food trends resonate with each generation

A Technomic session at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show shed some light on what food trends were popular with each generation of consumers.
Technomic's Lizzy Freier speaks with onsite chefs during her panel at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show. | Photo: Benita Gingerella

What should be on your menu if you want to attract a specific generation of diners? A session at the 2024 National Restaurant show, held earlier this week in Chicago during May 18-21, attempted to answer that question.

The session was led by Lizzy Freier, director of menu research & insights at Technomic, a research and consulting firm that caters to the food industry. During the session, Freier shared data from a survey that asked consumers how likely they were to purchase certain limited time offers (LTOs) from restaurants based on their name and description.

Afterwards, Frier spoke with a handful of chefs representing different segments of onsite dining to find out what menu items were popular in their respective segment.

Here’s what food trends are popular with each age group.

Gen Z

Restaurant items with indulgent descriptions like the Loaded Beef Nachos from Taco Bell were popular with Gen Z.

“Obviously, “loaded” implies excess. So, excess seems to be very appealing to Gen Zers from a purchase intent perspective,” says Freier.

At Chartwells Higher Education, a food management company owned by Compass Group that caters to college and university foodservice, SVP of Culinary Joe Labombarda has noticed that when it comes to indulgence, there are often two meanings for Gen Z.

“It could be indulgent where you're eating something that's unhealthy, like, double fried fries or whatever, but it also could mean something healthy, like a really good green bowl, something that’s nutrient dense,” he says.

Another trend that speaks to this generation is mashups. The Strawberry Cheesecake Crepes at Village Inn, for example, are popular with Gen Z, Freier points out.

Labombarda has also noticed mashups taking off in C&U foodservice, where dishes like a Nashville Hot Chicken Bao have struck a chord with diners. Operators have to be careful, however, to still be transparent about what they’re serving.

“We have a very educated food customer that that will call you out on social media if you're not good or authentic,” says Labombarda.  “So, it keeps us honest.”


Four of the top 10 items in the survey listed as favorites for Millennials featured cookies, including Cookie Monster Ice Cream at Baskin-Robbins. Many of those items also featured well-known brands like the Oreo Cookie Cheesecake found on the menu at Perkins Restaurant and Bakery.

“Millennials are very loyal,” says Freier.  “They want to see brand mentions and get little bit of that transparent information about what it is that they are consuming.”

Millennials expect transparency while dining at the office cafeteria as well. Einav Gefen SVP, culinary innovator and head of culinary for Restaurant Associates, a B&I food service provider that is also under the Compass Group umbrella, places a lot of focus on educating diners about their food.

“I will tell you one of the most important things is telling the story. Not just throwing something on a menu,” she says. “My diners want to know what is it? Why are they eating it?”

Gen X

French fries, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and spuds in other forms were listed as popular for Gen X diners.

Many of those dishes, like the Loaded Baked Potato at Longhorn Steakhouse or the Buttery Garlic Parmesan Fries at Del Taco, also include indulgent descriptions, another Gen X trend.

“Similar to Gen Z consumers loaded descriptors are also very appealing to Gen X consumers,” says Freier.

Baby boomers

Menu items with names or descriptions that include the word “classic” were popular with Baby Boomers like the Classic Fish and Chips served at Kona Grill or the Have-sies at Burger King that is described as being served with, "half classic fries," Freier says.

Another trend specific to Baby Boomers is ribeye. “We've got ribeye served by itself served, with another protein and served in handheld form,” says Freier.

Randy Emert, chief culinary officer and SVP of operations, safety and QA at CCL Hospitality Group, a division of Compass Group that serves retirement communities, also says that this generation of diners enjoys a variety of global fare.

“They've traveled the world, and they want to have those experiences that they've had all over the world,” he notes.


The oldest generation alive today shares trends with some of the younger generations, according to the Technomic survey data.

Similar to Gen X and Gen Z, indulgent menu items with descriptions that include large portion sizes were popular with matures.

“We have a number of portion size call outs like two 16-ounce bone in ribeyes. We've got a 10-ounce house cut prime rib,” says Freier. “And then, we have this pulled pork sandwich that's described as ultimate and described as having a generous portion of full of pork.”

And, just like millennials, matures also value transparency. Menu items that included preparation call-outs in the name like the Braised Angus Beef Comfort Bowl at Lemonade ranked as popular with this generation.  

“This is something that's a quality indicator and very appealing for mature consumers,” says Freier.

Technomic is a sister company of FoodService Director.



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