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Restaurants: Get to know these Gen Z trends before the holidays

by Jacqi Levy
    UNiDAYS x AdAge: Gen Z Marketing Playbook

    What's on the menu for Gen Z this holiday season?

    Whether it’s turkey, tabbouleh, turmeric, or tofu, Gen Z has room in its heart (and stomach) for all of it this holiday season—and beyond. 

    Gen Z gets into the spirit of the season by celebrating with their squads. Restaurants can tap into this trend by offering creative holiday menus and festive events.

    Some of Gen Z’s favorite restaurants sit atop the list of brands we love, not just because of the food, but because of the experiences they provide. This is especially true during the holiday season. Following in the footsteps of Millennials, Gen Zers have jumped on board with newly popular traditions like Friendsgiving and Friendsmas, placing equal importance on celebrating the holidays with friends and with family at this time of year. 

    In this especially food-centric and festive season, restaurants have a unique opportunity to capture Gen Z’s attention. Let’s take a look at some of the ways restaurant brands can bring Gen Z to the table for the holidays. 

    Friendsgiving is a fave

    Gen Z loves having face-to-face interactions with their friends, and any excuse will do: a scavenger hunt, pub trivia, game night, and even a traditionally family-centric holiday like Thanksgiving. Fun fact: Friendsgiving actually evolved from an unfortunate circumstance—a way to get celebrate even when you can’t make it to your family gathering—to what it is today: a bonus event just for friends.

    It’s worth noting that younger generations have a different view of what family means. To them, the family isn’t just your blood relations, but also the friends, co-workers, and couples with whom you share strong connections. And they’re all invited to Friendsgiving. Gen Zs actively plan around this new holiday using all of the tools you might expect from a digital native, like Google sheets for planning a potluck meal, Uber Eats to order in food and kitchen tool-lending libraries

    Because it’s often a supplement to Thanksgiving, a Friendsgiving gathering doesn’t necessarily focus around traditional fixings. Restaurant marketers would be wise to differentiate their brands by recognizing that Friendsgiving is its own unique holiday and by creating experiences that Gen Zs can rally around and celebrate together. For example, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants donates a portion of their holiday sales to No Kid Hungry, giving Gen Zers the opportunity to gather with friends while also supporting a good cause.

    Friendsmas is festive

    There is also plenty of time between the official holidays to keep things merry and bright. This is where Friendsmas comes in. Unlike traditional Christmas celebrations, Friendsmas is not necessarily about shopping until you drop, but about creating experiences together—and, of course, eating.

    Gen Z friends might rally around festive pajamas, holiday cocktails, and ugly sweaters, or they’ll host secret Santa or white elephant gift exchanges. Remember: By the time mid-December rolls around, people are tired of cooking, which is why many restaurants see an uptick in December sales. People have been to or hosted parties already, and they have eaten a million Christmas cookies, so something a little different is certainly welcome at this point. Consider fondue, donuts or tacos—or whatever your restaurant’s specialty is.

    Restaurants, get into the holiday spirit

    Taco Bell, Great American Cookies, Krispy Kreme, The Melting Pot, and 99 Restaurant are just a few of the brands that have special menus or promotions to celebrate Friendsgiving. Similarly, food publications, such as Chowhound and Taste of Home, have released Friendsgiving host guides. Try these tips if you want to follow in their festive footsteps:

    Make a menu

    Every year Taco Bell creates a Friendsgiving-inspired menu filled with recipes for a Friendsgiving gathering. It’s not just the regular menu made easy for groups; it’s equal parts easy and elevated, both surprising and familiar. It allows Gen Z Friendsgiving crews to create their own unique experience, which is exactly what they want. 

    Of course, not every restaurant can craft a dedicated holiday menu, but luckily, this isn’t the only way to generate buzz during the holidays. Adding seasonal touches to your regular menu is another great way to get on the list of Gen Z’s favorite restaurants. Starbucks is a great example of how hyping up a holiday menu (and the swag associated with it) can help a restaurant bring in more business during the holidays. 

    Use data

    Because celebrations like Friendsgiving and Friendsmas aren’t official holidays, they don’t have prescribed dates, making it difficult for brands to plan marketing around them. Some brands have taken it into their own hands. For example, McCormick Spices harnessed the power of Google Data to put Friendsgiving on the calendar in 2017. The brand found that, overtime, Google searches for Thanksgiving recipes haven’t fluctuated much during the week of Thanksgiving. However, searches during the week before Thanksgiving had increased by more than 300 percent each year. Wit that, McCormick dubbed the Saturday before Thanksgiving the most likely day for Friendsgiving.

    Using a similar approach, Jack Wills, a popular fashion brand in the UK, spotted a trend among its twenty-something customers. It saw that young adults who live away from home were celebrating Christmas with their friends the week before the official holiday. Recognizing an opportunity to capture this new market, the brand officially declared the third Saturday of every December to be “Friendsmas.”

    Perhaps there’s a new holiday tradition hiding in the data. Will your brand be the first to find it?

    Do some good

    For many Gen Zs, Friendgiving is about more than giving thanks; it’s about actual giving. Aldi and Venmo recently teamed up to facilitate the giving spirit by launching a Friendsgiving campaign aimed at providing one million meals to families in need. With that, Venmo tapped into Gen Z’s love for communicating through images and created a custom “Turkey Hand Friendsgiving” emoji. Every time the emoji was used on the Venmo app, Aldi donated ten meals.

    Gen Z connects with brands that address social issues and partner with charities. As a restaurant marketer, you have an opportunity to attract this buyer group and do some good at the same time.

    Get festive for the holidays

    Becoming one of Gen Z’s favorite restaurants doesn’t necessarily mean a major brand overhaul. Make the most of the holidays (including the unofficial ones) to reach this important market sector. Remember that Gen Z’s unique sensibility doesn’t take time off over the holidays.

    Read more about how restaurants can cater to Gen Z in our restaurant report.

      UNiDAYS x AdAge: Gen Z Marketing Playbook

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