While fine dining and fast-casual restaurants track trends and spending of Millennials, quick-serve establishments will do well to turn attention to a younger crowd: Gen Z—and soon, Gen Alpha—is the driving spending force for QSRs, and their tastes and habits are shifting from what this segment of the industry has been accustomed to.
Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), recognizing this spending swing, recently published a blog post about Piper Sandler’s semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” survey. The 46th annual findings for Fall 2023 have been released, and they include teens’ proclaimed favorite QSRs. Over 9,000 U.S. teenagers (average age 15.7) cast their votes for favorite fast food, and here are the results: “Chick-fil-A is the favorite restaurant brand with 16% of the demographic’s vote.At No. 2 is Starbucks, with 13%, then McDonald’s at 9%, Chipotle at 8%, and Raising Cane’s at 3%,” reports NRN.
Chick-fil-A has held the number one spot for the last several years, but both McDonald’s and Raising Cane’s rose in the ranks, and NRN experts submit that this is directly related to new marketing efforts that target Gen Z and Gen Alpha. “McDonald’s has gained a significant amount of traction this year – 6% in the spring to 9% now – likely driven by the company’s intensified focus on marketing toward younger consumers through its Famous Orders, by leveraging the Grimace Shake Challenge on TikTok, and with collaborations with brands like Cactus Plant Flea Market,” the blog post states, going on to address the increase in McDonald’s digital business efforts.
Raising Cane’s has taken a more pop-culture approach, beating out previously ranked favorites Olive Garden, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Taco Bell. “Raising Cane’s appearance could be driven in part by its recent partnership with musician Post Malone, who has received multiple awards, including American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards and an MTV Video Music Award.”
It is important to note that these survey results come during a notable dip in teen spending. “Our survey points to initial signs of a slowdown in teen spending. Inflation reached its highest mindshare in terms of political and social issues, right behind the environment,” Edward Yruma, senior research analyst, said in a statement. According to NRN, teen spending is “is down 1% year-over-year to $2,316,” which is the first decline pre-Covid, and teenagers are concerned about inflation, which was their second biggest concern behind environmental issues.
This demonstrates that Gen Z and Gen Alpha are forward-thinking spenders. Being intentional with their money suggests they will reserve spending for those brands which speak their language. This supports McDonald’s and Raising Cane’s rise in numbers. Nearly 90% of teens own an iPhone, says NRN, and QSRs willing to step into the digital age will benefit reaching the newest wave of customers more directly.
Richard Weil, principal and owner of National Restaurant Consultants believes, “The transition for Gen Z and Gen Alpha to impact fast casual and full-service casual restaurants is on the horizon.”.
Your restaurant should take stock of guest demographics and determine if marketing efforts and menu design adequately represent your target audience. Working with a restaurant consultant can streamline your menu and marketing into the most successful messaging.