Beyond TikTok: 5 ways to attract Gen Z to your restaurant

Imagine someone knows a restaurant’s menu inside and out, relishes their favorites, and looks forward to trying fun specials. These dishes make regular appearances on their social media feeds. However, this diner has never set foot inside the dining room. They may never have laid eyes on the sign or looked in the window. They check out the restaurant’s website from their phone, order delivery, pay, receive the meal, enjoy it, review it, and tell their friends about it without ever leaving their living room.

This is a common dining experience for Gen Z, many of whom are coming of age during the pandemic. Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is the first truly digital-native generation, having grown up with the internet and social media. They have different values and expectations for restaurants than older generations. Here’s what you need to know to attract their 8-second attention span and turn them into superfans.

1. Polish your website to a high shine

For most Gen Zers, their first impression of your restaurant will be online. A whopping 77% of diners check out a website before deciding on a restaurant, according to Restaurant Dive. And the website must be mobile-friendly because people will probably be looking at it on their phones. According to research published at Perficient, 61% of visits to websites in the U.S. were made via smartphone in 2020, and this percentage is only going up.

If you’re planning to build in online ordering functionality, make sure it’s also intuitive and user-friendly because 36% of people report being discouraged from ordering from a restaurant whose website is not easy to use on mobile, according to a survey conducted by marketing firm MGH.

In short, if a restaurant’s website doesn’t instantly engage Gen Z, they’ll likely never become a diner. They’ll simply keep tapping to find something else. The good news is it isn’t too onerous to make your website feel modern and easy to use.

2. Offer digital ordering and payment

During the pandemic, the rise of contactless ordering and payment was driven by sanitation and public health concerns. But for Gen Z diners and many others, it’s something they now prefer.

According to, 65% of Gen Z consider contactless payment a must-have. They want to handle as much as possible by tapping and swiping their phones, without touching cash or credit cards. Restaurants can benefit from this shift, too. Amid the ongoing labor shortage, digital ordering can free up your team to spend more time hosting and offering hospitality instead of taking orders and processing payments.

Providing this hands-off option is easier than it used to be. QR codes are now ubiquitous and make it easy to view paperless menus, and digital ordering makes it a snap to order up a meal without having to talk to anyone. Payment can also happen with the tap of a button—no credit card wrangling required.

3. Provide menu options

Gen Z is more concerned with health and the environment than older generations. When they’re previewing the menu and making decisions about what to eat, these factors are top of mind. A recent Aramark study showed that 65% of this generation wants to adopt a more “plant-forward” way of eating and 79% of them are looking for meatless meals at least once a week.

When revising or updating the menu, make it clear which items are vegan, vegetarian, and suitable for people with dietary preferences or on special diets. Remember: more than three-quarters of people are checking the website first. And if there aren’t many options on the menu for these health-conscious diners, consider adding dishes to appeal to them.

4. Engage on social media

According to a PEW study, Gen Z is all over most major social media platforms (specifically Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok). 85% of them use social media to get to know brands, and 36% of TikTok users are willing to place an order with a restaurant after seeing them there.

You probably didn’t need studies or statistics to know that Gen Z spends a lot of time on their favorite social media platforms. But it can be overwhelming to create authentic content that connects with them and share it on top of everything else a restaurateur needs to do. Luckily, getting up to speed is not as difficult as you think.

5. Create superfans with loyalty programs

They may seem old-fashioned, but loyalty points and rewards programs are very big with young people. According to Bond’s Loyalty Report, 62% of Gen Z says these types of programs influence their buying decisions. OpenTable’s loyalty program and Bonus Points are modern reward programs that can help welcome this generation to a restaurant and turn them into regulars.

There are clearly differences between generations of diners, and the qualities and preferences that give Gen Z its own special character are still coming into focus. Meanwhile, every generation is becoming more digital. Options for digital ordering and payment are popular across the board. Ultimately, engaging Gen Z will help reach more diners regardless of their generation.