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Gen Z’s favorite restaurants are satisfying their appetites in near-real time

by John Wheeler
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    When it comes to meeting Gen Z’s food cravings, fast delivery isn’t a “nice to have.” It’s an absolute must.

    In 1900, a columnist from The Boston Globe tried to envision what his city might look like in the year 2000. Boston, according to Thomas F. Anderson, would be a city where “airships” would breeze their way across the skyline as a form of mass transit. “Moving sidewalks” would get Bostonians from place to place, and baseball games would actually get played “at night. LOL.

    But it gets better. In fact, it sometimes gets eerily prescient. His prediction that “by means of wireless telegraphy the citizen may communicate with any city or town in the land” does sound like a premonition of the internet age. Moreover, his prediction that a “pneumatic tube service” would eventually let people receive “ready-made lunches…at the touch of a button” does kind of sound like a food-delivery app.

    Sure, we’re not all hopping on an airship during our morning commute quite yet, but give Mr. Anderson some credit. His predictions about the rise of instant food delivery in the restaurant industry are fast becoming our reality. The market for on-demand food delivery has the potential for being worth $210 billion, with 60 percent of that opportunity being simply for pizza. A new study from Technomic further reveals how 49 percent of consumers “aged 18 to 34” are ordering food online more often than ever.

    Stats like these dovetail nicely with what we already know about Gen Z’s ravenous prioritization of internet delivery. The results of a recent UNiDAYS study of 1,800 US students speak for themselves: 78 percent of students responded that they spend a majority of their money on food (apart from tuition and rent). Another report from Piper Jaffray shows that today’s Gen Z teens are spending 20 percent more of their dollars on food options than their millennial peers did back in 2003.

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    To put it plainly: Gen Zs expect near-real time service when it comes to satisfying their real-time hunger pains. Restaurant owners and delivery platforms unwilling to meet this new generation’s demand for immediacy need to step up their game – or step out of the way.

    The data that’s available shows a portrait of a generation that isn’t willing to sit patiently for the kitchen stove to reach a boil. Recent findings by Marchex show that 60 percent of 18-to-24 year olds will hang up a phone immediately if a business doesn’t answer right away. And if that doesn’t convince you of the need for speed, 39 percent of today’s Gen Zers are clamoring for one-hour delivery by drone, according to at least one marketing study by RR Donnelley. “Let that sink in”, as they like to say these days.

    In all fairness, plenty of businesses seem to be answering the call for faster food service with appropriate, five-alarm vigor. YUM!, the multinational food conglomerate that owns the Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut quick-service food franchises, recently announced a partnership with GrubHub that would “test and roll out online ordering for pickup and delivery to thousands of participating U.S. restaurants' menu items," according to QSR.

    Chances are this is only the beginning. With the upsurge of food delivery platforms like HelloFresh and Seamless (to name just a few others than GrubHub), there may well come a time when nearly every restaurant brands nationwide–or even worldwide–is available at the touch of a button.

    Of course “speedy delivery” isn’t the only factor restaurants need to consider when engaging Gen Z. Dig a little deeper into the research and you’ll uncover some interesting tidbits: While Gen Zers are more price-conscious than Millennials, they’re also mindful about healthy eating choices with just as much potential for  spending power. As reported by Nielsen, Gen Zers are likely the most health-conscious food consumers in American history. Indeed, as it turns out, Gen Zers are fueling a market for tofu, seitan and other types of “fake meat” –a market expected to climb to $5.2 billion by 2020, according to Business Insider.

    To meet the younger generation's imperative for healthy, delivery platforms would do well to offer transparency into the nutrition content of their food, especially when it relates to college students. Transparency is as valuable a commodity as it ever has been–if not more so. 

    So what does this all mean? Not only are baseball games played at night, but near-instant delivery of food is becoming a reality. If he were living today in Silicon Valley, Mr. Anderson might well forgo his occupation as a journalist, and become an investor backing the burgeoning cadre of food delivery platforms. 

    Consumer expectations will only accelerate as the development of faster delivery systems continues to evolve. (Think of those 39 percent of Gen Zers looking to the skies for their one-hour drone delivery service.)

    Maybe there once was a time in ancient Rome when emperors were willing to wait patiently for their servants to return from the mountains with fresh snow to make their gelato. But those days are long gone. Today’s college kids don’t have time for that sh*t. Anyone who expects Generation Z–with its average online attention span of eight seconds–to wait for an hour while their gelato melts... might as well be sweating it out in ancient Rome.

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