Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Maeve Webster
April 17, 2023

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In partnership with foodservice consultancy firm Menu Matters, Flavor & The Menu fielded a national survey asking consumers between the ages of 18 and 26 to share their current behaviors, needs and drivers when interacting with restaurants. The findings are telling and dismantle a number of assumptions made about Gen Z and their foodservice behaviors, while also providing contrast with the actions and attitudes of Millennials.

Frequency of visits by Gen Z respondents at both limited- and full-service restaurants is reported to be greater now than a year ago. Of particular interest are the drivers that motivate this younger demographic. What Gen Z respondents like most about restaurants is that they eliminate the need to cook and allow them to get their favorite foods and beverages without having to think much about it. Whether ordering on- or off-premise, Gen Z diners expect value for the money and consistent, reliable quality in both food and beverages. It’s worth noting that while customization is critical to Millennials, Gen Zers appear to consider customization as a nice-to-have versus a need-to-have option.


53% of Gen Z are ordering from quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants MORE OFTEN than a year ago, and 24% are doing so MUCH MORE OFTEN.

43% of Gen Z are ordering from/visiting full-service restaurants MORE OFTEN now than a year ago, and 29% are doing so SOMEWHAT MORE OFTEN.

As is true with this age range regardless of generation, limited-service restaurants play a larger role than full service. Keep in mind, however, that much of this generation has either started college or are launching careers, so full-service restaurants will begin to play a more significant role moving forward.

VALUE FOR THE MONEY is the biggest driver in Gen Z’s selection of restaurant for on- or off-premise dining.

66% say value is biggest driver for OFF-PREMISE restaurant selection

Other top drivers for selecting a restaurant for ordering OFF-PREMISE:

  • Quality of the food/beverages (58%)
  • Consistent quality/reliability (49%)

59% say value is biggest driver for ON-PREMISE restaurant selection

Other top drivers for selecting a restaurant for ON-PREMISE DINING:

  • Quality of food/beverages (56%)
  • Consistent quality/reliability (48%)
  • Variety of items on the menu (40%)

Gen Z may be dazzled by bright colors, unique options and customization, but value, quality and reliability drive how they select places to dine. This is not surprising for a generation that is said to place significant emphasis on the growth of personal wealth and other economy-driven priorities.


What Gen Z LIKES BEST about restaurants:

Top restaurant MUST-HAVES for Gen Z patronage:

For Gen Z, restaurants provide a transactional service by eliminating the need to prepare food at home. But as retailers up their game with higher quality and more variety in prepared foods, plus refrigerated and frozen offerings, restaurants must ensure their hospitality produces greater value than mere convenience. While the assumption is to focus on uniqueness and customization to drive Gen Z engagement, food and beverage variety is the more compelling factor at play here.


For Gen Z, the most unfamiliar cuisines include:

  • Scandinavian (54%)
  • Filipino (46%)
  • Caribbean (46%)
  • Vietnamese (42%)

Of cuisines that are less familiar to Gen Z consumers, Scandinavian and Caribbean are the most appealing for new trial.

It’s not surprising Scandinavian cuisine is the most unfamiliar, as this cuisine has not gained the same traction in U.S. foodservice as other global cuisines such as Korean or Indian. Given Gen Z’s responses that they are most likely to try the two cuisines that are among the least familiar, it confirms this generation is open to new experiences and interested in exploring new foods and beverages.

Gen Z is open to several menu categories containing experimental, unique or unfamiliar ingredients:

  • Appetizers (45%)
  • Pasta/noodle dishes (40%)
  • Sandwiches (37%)
  • Burgers (37%)
  • Pizza (36%)
  • Cold beverages (35%)
  • Hot beverages (21%)

While beverages have been the focus for many restaurants in appealing to Gen Z, food may have been given short shrift. Attention here can offer restaurants key opportunities for innovation to engage this demographic.

Photo Credit: Moxies

Moxies, a Canadian-based chain with U.S. locations, focuses on handcrafted signatures, including colorful beverages with and without alcohol; both strike a chord with younger consumers.


81% of Gen Z like global flavors in burger builds.


86% of Gen Z like creative flavor combinations on the beverage menu.


Despite being digital natives, 46% of Gen Z do want some combination of tech and waitstaff interactions. Only 17% prefer to interact only with technology.


71% of Gen Z enjoy watching videos/reels about foods and beverages on social media.
37% of Gen Z will seek out restaurants with food/beverage items seen on social media.

Source: In partnership with Flavor & The Menu, Menu Matters fielded the survey in March 2023 online to a nationally representative sample of 722 consumers between the ages of 18 and 26.

About The Author

Maeve Webster

MAEVE WEBSTER is a leading consultant and thought leader for foodservice manufacturers, operators and other professionals. She has spearheaded hundreds of major industry studies during her 20-plus years as a foodservice specialist. Today, Maeve focuses her consultancy on helping manufacturers, operators, commodity boards and marketing firms understand, prioritize and leverage food and consumer trends. Key areas of focus include consumer behavior, trend analysis, product design/testing and menu optimization. Maeve specializes in helping her clients not just to understand data but to also pull out the most critical threads and stories within the data that can inform both tactical and strategic decision-making. In addition to running her Menu Matters consultancy, Maeve owned and operated a café in Bennington, Vt., for four years. It was awarded “best coffeehouse” in Bennington each of the years it was in operation. She has an MBA from the University of Illinois Chicago and a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. She is a regular speaker at industry events and a contributor to major media outlets and industry publications, including Flavor & The Menu.