Gen Z travelers pick dining out over partying: What it means for QSRs

| by S.A. Whitehead
Gen Z travelers pick dining out over partying: What it means for QSRs

Here's a generational shocker: Current college-age consumers are not that wild about partying while traveling, the top "thing to do" for Gen Z. In fact,  these young adults pick eating out as their No. 1 travel activity, way ahead of partying, which came in at No. 6. 

That's one of the eyebrow-raising findings from a new joint UniDays/Ad Age Studio 30 survey of more than 11,500 college-age (ages 17 to 23) U.S., U.K., Australian and New Zealand college students around their traveling activities and preferences. The report's findings hold significant implications for the restaurant industry, particularly since these young adults wield about $143 billion in spending muscle in the U.S. alone. 

"It's clear that Gen Z seeks out new experiences and has the spending power to check things off their bucket lists. ..." Unidays head of Travel Innovation Stacey Paul said in relation to the survey. "Gen Zers are at a time in their lives when they are just starting to make decisions about how and where they spend their money. ... Brands that attract them now have a chance to create brand affinities that will last a lifetime."

The survey's findings are loaded with details about this generation that do not strictly apply to travel-related businesses. For instance, 62 percent of the Gen Z-ers said when traveling they prefer to eat out affordably with occasional on-the-road splurges. Likewise, the survey found that value options are a huge motivator for this group, with price being a decisive factor in travel option decisions, along with special offers and incentives, for which 59 percent said they would likely check out.  

"Any brand that is not jumping on the Gen Z bandwagon and developing student offers is missing the mark.  Here you have a population that has $143 billion of spending power in the U.S. ... that comprises more than one-quarter of the U.S. population, and — most importantly — has a slew of lifetime value ahead of it." - Unidays head of Travel Innovation Stacey Paul    

In short, these adventure-seeking young adults work hard for the money but then play hard. And when it comes to playing hard, Gen Zers say eating out makes up a good part of the action, as long as they can get good deals on those meals.

In the interest of finding out more about what additional data revealed for restaurateurs, QSRweb chatted with Stacey Paul, Unidays, head of travel innovation, and Alexandra Mooney, head of Innovation, food and beverage. Their responses provide detailed insight into ways brands can attract Gen Z-ers on the road, and retain them long after the trip is just Instagram posts and fond memories.

Q: What kinds of related information did the survey reveal behind Gen Z's overall rejection of the partying life as Priority No. 1 when traveling? 
We asked a related question that probed where students like to travel, and while 36 percent cited beaches as a favorite destination, more than half told us they look for cities or outdoor adventures. Those statistics dovetail nicely with the diminished emphasis on partying and are further evidence that Gen Z is changing its ways.

The movement away from "partying" by Gen Z is indicative of a much larger pattern within the travel industry.  "Experiences" are white-hot in travel right now, with everyone from Airbnb to launching the capability to book tours and activities online.  

It's not about just getting away anymore, it's about getting to know a new culture or location intimately through local, personalized experiences that pave the way for travelers to really dig in.  This trend is affecting the industry as a whole, and things like spring break are becoming a by-product.

Q: If Gen Z thrives on travel, and their No. 1 travel activity is eating out, does that mean they are going higher-end restaurants?  
It depends on the type of travel. A weekend road trip to see friends at a neighboring college calls for fast-food, however an adventurous European getaway with friends will call for more "experiential dining." Essentially, we see dining becoming a destination, not just a point of convenience when Gen Zs travel.

Q: What opportunities do these findings around eating out present for QSR brands hoping to engage Gen Z? 
It presents the opportunity for national QSR brands to develop loyalty among Gen Zs. If the student institutes loyalty with a brand it means they know they can count on the same level of quality, convenience and service no matter where they are located.

On the same thread, price point will be an important issue, if the student is not participating in the "occasional splurge" they expect convenience at an approachable price point.

What we do see as important is the ability for the QSR to reach the consumer at all touch points. I think more opportunity might exist among creating experiential packages, (like) QSRs and travel brands teaming up to create an all-inclusive package to satisfy both cravings. For example, a NYC hotel package plus an exclusive Shake Shack deal. What 20 year-old wouldn't love that?

Q: What opportunities does their fondness for value present QSR brands?
Any brand that is not jumping on the Gen Z bandwagon and developing student offers is missing the mark.  Here you have a population that has $143 billion of spending power in the U.S. ... that comprises more than one-quarter of the U.S. population, and — most importantly — has a slew of lifetime value ahead of it. Curating special offers with Gen Zers in mind means a much higher propensity to generate loyalty as they age.

Q: As you previously mentioned in your example of the New York City-restaurant brand travel package, do you think these kinds of travel-connected promotions are "ripe for the pickin'" so to speak, with QSR brands?
Yes, definitely.  And in fact, that's a great idea. There's some debate as to whether existing travel loyalty programs resonate with Gen Z since those programs were built with corporate travelers in mind. Tweaking them to layer in other, non-travel related brands could make for an interesting evolution.

To be clear, the opportunity you're suggesting exists today since you can rack up credit card points which you can then use for travel. But, since credit card adoption is relatively minimal among Gen Zers, they tend not to be high point earners.

Photo: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Display Technology, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Online / Mobile / Social, Trends / Statistics

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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