Folks in the marketing business are professional mind readers. Well, not really, but they wish they were. Since telepathy is not a gift granted to most (if any) of us, marketers do the next best thing: they crunch every bit of data they can gather—and there’s plenty of it nowadays—to better understand their customers’ needs and desires.

In the 2020s, the demographic group they most want to understand is Generation Z. Loosely defined as anyone born between the mid- to late-1990s and the early 2010s, Gen Zers are the children of Generation X or the youngest Baby Boomers. They were also the first generation to grow up with the internet and smartphones.

And, from a marketing perspective, they’re certainly the most closely scrutinized demographic in history. That’s in large part due to their buying power, currently about $360 billion a year—and that figure will just keep growing.

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Gen Z is a foodie generation, fond of bigger, bolder and more international flavors. They’re more willing than previous generations to try new dishes and beverages. Nonetheless, they are a lot like their parents and grandparents in one sense: According to a February 2023 analysis from Morning Consult, they love a good pie.

“When given a blank space to name their favorite foods, roughly 20% of Gen Zers mentioned pizza,” that analysis stated. Meanwhile, 13% preferred chicken, while 11% named pasta as their No. 1 choice. For pizzerias, then, two out of three ain’t bad. (And if you factor in chicken-topped pizzas, it’s a grand slam.)

The trick, of course, is to get Gen Zers to try your pizza and pastas and fall in love with your brand. A recent study of Gen Z by Ath Power Consulting (APC) made five significant points about Gen Z’s brand loyalty preferences.

1. Gen Z demands authenticity. If you’re just bombarding them with “sell” messages, they will tune you out. They want to know the story behind your brand, what motivates you to do what you do and what you care about. They want to know that you support your employees and your community. In short, they want to believe in your brand.

2. Gen Z thinks “phygitally.” Younger customers crave experiences that blend the physical with the digital (the current buzzword for that is “phygital.”) After all, they are the first “digital natives.” They’ve got plenty of apps on their phone and they’re not afraid to use them. But does your pizzeria’s app engage them? Do you make it easy to pay online, including the ability to complete the purchase with Apple Pay, Pay Pal or Google Pay? Do you contact them with promotions, special offers and discounts through location-based push notifications? How do you make your app fun to use?

3. Gen Z seeks experiences. Every visit to your pizzeria needs to feel like an “experience” for Gen Z. As Marisa Upson wrote for recently, Gen Zers “want this experience to start before they even enter your restaurant. They want to be engaged on social media, drawn into your sustainable practices, and see numerous positive reviews….When they get to your restaurant, they want to be inspired by locally and sustainably sourced food with authentic flavors, eco-friendly practices and shareable cuisine…Innovative and interactive experiences that bring lasting memories and an Instagram post call to this younger generation.”

4. But Gen Zers want experiences tailored just for them. At the same time, the APC study found, these experiences must be tailored and customized toward the individual, not the masses. Or, as E.J. Kritz, an executive with APC, explained at the 2023 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, “Gen Z will demand, and hold you accountable, to deliver an experience that has been customized specifically for them. Because they have grown up expecting it, they’ve grown up with things that have been tailored to them.”

5. Gen Z wants rewards that matter. Rewards programs, when combined with a memorable experience, will win Gen Z’s loyalty and repeat purchases. Although these young people are not cheap, they appreciate value just as much as their parents and grandparents. Use your loyalty program to stay in touch with Gen Zers and make them feel like members of an exclusive club. Offer sneak previews of new menu items and impromptu specials created just for them. Invite them to special events created with them in mind. For Gen Zers, these rewards should feel like they matter, so think carefully about what you choose to highlight in your loyalty program.

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This is a Portrait of three smiling female friends having a bottle of beer and pizza.

Getty Images

So that’s five ideas to keep in mind when developing a pizzeria marketing strategy for Gen Z. Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Industry offered five more:

1. Gen Z seeks partners in meal prep. Younger customers see restaurants as collaborators in their home-cooked meals. “It’s no longer a simple binary choice between a restaurant meal and home cooking,” the NRA report states. “More than half the adults surveyed…say they are more likely to incorporate restaurant-prepared items into meals made at home than they were before the pandemic. This is particularly popular with Gen Zs and Millennials, with more than 70% indicating increased reliance on mixed meals.”

2. Gen Z is often in a hurry. According to the NRA, 66% of Gen Zers say takeout and delivery is “essential” to their lifestyle. The vast majority use third-party delivery, although they “indicate a slight preference for ordering directly from a restaurant.” Another report, by the way, found that about 46% of Gen Z workers have two jobs, so they’re more prone to dashboard dining—that is, eating in their cars. Twenty-four percent of limited-service meals purchased by Gen Zers are eaten in the car compared to 17% for all other generations.

3. They like their alcoholic drinks to go, too. Thanks to the loosening of alcohol-to-go laws during the pandemic, more than three-quarters of Gen Z adults (age 21 and up) say they included an alcohol beverage with a to-go order in the previous six months, compared to just 10% of baby boomers. “Alcohol-to-go has emerged as a selling point with the younger crowd,” notes the NRA report. “Seventy percent of Gen Z adults and 62% of millennials say the option of including alcohol with a takeout or delivery order would make them more inclined to choose one restaurant over another similar restaurant.”

4. They want convenient new sales models. Gen Zers, along with millennials, like trying new purchasing methods, including restaurant subscriptions and pre-paid house accounts. About 80% say they would likely purchase a subscription for a specified number of meals in a month if that option is offered to them by their favorite restaurant, and three out of four are inclined to open “house accounts.” The latter sales model “provides a discount for prepaying,” the NRA notes. “For example, a customer who pays $50 gets $60 added to an account to spend at the restaurant.”

5. Gen Z is intrigued by high-tech transactions. Even most Baby Boomers have embraced online ordering, but young folks are “adapting newer approaches, with 69% reporting that they would likely order through voice-enabled platforms like Amazon Alexa or the iPhone’s Siri.” The NRA report continues: “Technology-enabled transactions could change the face of tableservice dining. Eight out of 10 millennials and Gen Z adults say they would be likely to use a tablet for ordering at the table, if offered by a restaurant they patronize. Given a choice between sitting in a restaurant section offering traditional waitservice or a section with tablet/smartphone ordering, slightly more than half of Gen Z respondents opted for high-tech ordering. This could signal the need for fewer servers as Gen Z becomes a larger consumer segment.”

Finally, keep in mind that, for Gen Z, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are the new Google. They use these platforms as a discovery tool for new restaurants. Do you only post when you think about it? Are you still just posting your daily specials on social media and assuming that’s good enough? Well, you’re not thinking like a marketer. Again, Gen Zers want to feel engaged by your brand. That means creating fun, lively content (both video and text/photo posts) that celebrates your employees—especially other Gen Zers—while emphasizing your locally grown ingredients, your relationships with farmers and other community businesses, and your positive company culture.

In case you’re wondering, Gen Z’s successors have already been given their own label—Gen Alpha. Whether that name will stick or not remains to be seen, but, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about them just yet. Give it another 10 or 15 years.