Engaging and Retaining Generation Z in Your Restaurant

In this #snack we’ll unlock what makes Gen Z different and explain the best ways to engage and retain this new generation of hospitality talent.

Millennials are leaving the hospitality sector in droves, with almost 210,000 exiting the industry since December 2019. This has added fuel to the roaring fire of shortages in the industry. 

The good news is that a new type of workforce is entering hospitality. 

Generation Z, defined as anyone under 25, are taking up more positions than ever before. 

But what are the challenges with Gen Z? 

And how do you develop them into a successful part of your team? 

Let’s dive in.

Meeting the demands of a new generation

Between December 2019 and October 2021, Millennials in the fast food and casual dining sectors declined from 51% to 43%. At the same time, Gen Z increased from 26% to 38% – a big increase!

Clearly, Gen Z are entering fast food and fast-casual at a rapid pace. 

But who are they? 

A common mistake made when defining Gen Z and Millennials is grouping them together as “young people”. 

And while there’s a few overlapping similarities between the two, there’s also significant differences. 

Leading jobs site Indeed.com put together a useful guide to explain this. According to them, Millennials value things like teamwork and input from co-workers. Gen Z on the other hand are highly entrepreneurial, more competitive and focused on individual success. 

To manage Gen Z and develop them into kick-ass members of your team, you need to know what makes them tick.

A flexible work/life balance

One consistent value shared by Millenials and Gen Z is they both desire a healthy work/life balance. Flexibility is crucial to keeping Gen Z engaged and motivated. 

Influencing this is the emergence of the gig economy. FastCasual.com reported on the findings of a study from The Workforce Institute that found that over 55% of Gen Z are drawn to gig work that allows them to work their own schedule.  

One third made it clear they would never tolerate an employer who gave them no say over their work schedule. 

Look, the day to day reality of running a restaurant means you can’t let employees drop in and out whenever they want. 

But, by adopting some aspects of the gig economy culture – namely flexibility and independence – and combining it with the stability of regular employment, you have a greater chance of appealing to Gen Z recruits.

A progression driven culture 

In-N-Out Burger regularly places sky high on Glassdoor and Indeed for best places to work. Around them are Google and Lululemon, two companies famed for their employee centred culture.

You’re probably thinking it’s odd to see a fast-food chain founded in 1948 among globally recognised tech and lifestyle brands right?

If you dig deeper though, you’ll find that In-N-Out has created a culture where employee development is a huge part of who they are. In this environment, passionate employees are fully supported in the pursuit of progression from entry-level to leadership roles. 

Progression and individual success are important factors that appeal to Gen Z and to retain them for longer, you need career progression as part of your culture.

A modern and digital workplace 

Technology is rapidly shaping the way a business operates in every industry. It’s no different in hospitality, where platforms are available to manage nearly all aspects of running a restaurant. 

Gen Z are the first generation to be raised in front of a screen. Millennials experienced a time before high-speed internet and smartphone tech, while Gen Z are online from an extremely early age. 

They’re digital natives even before the take their first steps. 

So if you’re still tacking company announcements and rosters onto staff room bulletin boards, it’s time for a re-think. 

Millennials have some expectations of a digital-first workplace but Gen Z demands it. They need to access training, task management and employee communication through their phone to fully engage with their role. 

Empowering Gen Z to succeed 

So how do you get the best out of a Gen Z workforce and maximise their potential?

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of areas of the business you may need to work on. 

Create a engaging and meaningful culture 

Gen Z value a vibrant and engaging culture they can really buy into. As we’ve discussed, progression is a major attraction and should be embedded in your company culture. 

Alongside progression, another important value for Gen Z is social responsibility. According to a study back in 2018, social responsibility ranked high in what Gen Z looked for in a hospitality role. 

Culture sometimes can be easier said than done. It’s important you clearly define what your culture is and then make sure it’s being put into action every day across your restaurant.

Schedule smarter 

As we’ve mentioned previously, Gen Z are turned off by long, inflexible hours. Scheduling them, especially at times when there is too many staff on, can lead to boredom and disengagement. 

Use smarter scheduling to ensure you have the right number of staff on at the right time. By forecasting the busiest times during the week, you’re better able to bring staff in at the right times to maximise the quality of your service and give employees a reason to be there. 

Another aspect of this lies in listening to your Gen Z employees. Some may actively want more shifts to pay for things like college and holidays so try and fit this in too. 

Tech-driven training

A lot of aspects of how you run a restaurant are digital and this requires more familiarity with how digital technology works. For Gen Z, an online onboarding process will appeal more as they are tech-savvy and able to pick up ideas quickly.

And, when it comes to training Gen Z on how to use Point of Sale and software systems, there is an expectation from them that the tech will be intuitive and easy to use.  

Overly complex software systems will be a turn off as most tech they use day to day is simple to engage with. 

Recognise their value 

According to ehotelier.com, lack of recognition contributed to 44% of employees in the hospitality industry changing their careers. If you hire people across any age bracket who are passionate about what they do it’s important to communicate to them their value to your restaurant.

Regularly champion your Gen Z workforce in internal or external company communications such as social media, newsletters or internal chat groups.

Focus on picking out achievements from newer staff members which will boost their confidence in those uncertain early weeks. 

Wrapping up 

Labour shortages across the hospitality industry, combined with the mass exit of millennial workers, have caused untold issues for the industry as a whole.

However, Gen Z workers are now entering hospitality in greater numbers, which comes with its own unique set of challenges but also opportunities to develop the next generation of superstars for your team. 

By learning about the needs and expectations of this new generation, you’ll be in a better position to motivate and develop them in the long term.