Published in Jul-Aug 2023
I eat out at McDonald’s or KFC all the time; my whole class does,“ laughs a seventh-grade Grammarian. An A’ Levels student from Nixor nods. “KFC is just five minutes away, so we go there every week,” she says.
The fast food joints that have long dominated our food landscape are still the go-to place for a quick get-together for school-aged Gen Zers. However, hot pot places, Test Kitchen by Okra and a slew of new restaurants are not far behind for fancier meet-ups, especially for those who are slightly older.
Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z are social media natives. According to some estimates, they spend up to four hours on their mobiles daily, scrolling through posts and reels. So how can restaurants attract Gen Z traffic in the plethora of content available? Aurora reached out to influencers and talked to Gen Zers to answer this question.
No Love for Star Power: “Unlike previous generations who were receptive to celebrity content, Gen Z crave authenticity. They do not believe in star power because celebrities are paid to endorse a product. They want authenticity and that the person reviewing the product has actually tried it,” says 31-year-old Zulekha Ahmed, a food content creator on Instagram whose page Karachi Food Adventure has about 50,000 followers.
Influencers are careful about recommending products they genuinely believe are of interest to their followers. If they do not like a restaurant, they will not trash it, but neither will they promote it in order to maintain their overall credibility with their followers. Conversely, no teenager I talked to believed any influencer to be truly authentic. Although interested in recommendations, they are unanimous in the opinion that it is all paid content and the endorsements are not genuine. Influencers are seen as a source to learn about new places but not as a trusted source of information, which is why there appears to be limited loyalty, making it very easy to swipe to the next reel.
Twenty-Second Windows: “Gen Z have very short attention spans,” says Ahmed. “When I first started blogging, the content was mostly photo-based, now it has turned to reels.” Reels are not linear videos but multiple videos of one second each, edited for a coherent narrative of 20 to 30 seconds. Each reel has to start with a hook, without which a Gen Z-er will simply swipe to the next one. With so much content, if the reel doesn’t engage them within three seconds, they will just go on to the next one. Novelty is an important factor in driving traffic.
Standing Out: “Gen Z want to eat something beyond what is cooked in a typical Pakistani household,” says Iman Aib, who runs the Instagram page Foodiemaniac_ and has 217,000 followers. “They are not so different in taste and more in mindset and perspective. The pasta and biryani are the same that have been eaten for generations, but the way it is presented has to be different.” She adds that pasta reviews can go viral, but a biryani review will garner fewer views.
It is the novelty factor that is a huge hook and the reason why every teen I spoke to was a regular frequenter of a hot pot place. Should the local cable operator ever run a targeted advertisement for a new restaurant offering a unique experience, Gen Z would be up for trying that as well.
Embracing Collaboration: Instead of hiring professional photographers and videographers to advertise, brands hire bloggers to cross-platform share. “When I started blogging, I created picture content for KFC using my own family and settings to create a realistic feel,” says Ahmed, illustrating how fast food franchises are using the power of influencers and micro-influencers to reach out to Gen Z. She has also collaborated with brands such as National Foods and Knorr. Cross-collaborations mean multiple influencers working together and sharing content across platforms; in this way, influencers share followers and engagement, boosting their own popularity and benefiting the brand as well.
The Snowball Effect: Although influencers are a popular way to get news about the latest hangout and new products, Gen Z trust their own circles the most. The way it works is that an influencer posts a reel about a new hangout which attracts the attention of a group of friends. The group will then go to the new hangout, take photos and post them on Instagram, thereby reaching out to a wider audience who see the photos and the cycle will repeat itself and eventually snowball.
Instagrammable Vs Legacy: The content must always be Instagram-worthy. While female influencers post pictures and reels of pretty places with glam groups shots, male influencers prefer street dining or out-of-the-way places that tend to be dark and a bit ‘creepy’, but have a history of serving traditional dishes such as nihari, biryani, paratha and barbecue.
Value Conscious: Gen Z are value-conscious across socio-economic groups, partly because of an inflation-struck economy and partly because they are students or just starting out in their careers. They tend to gravitate towards deals, which is why most pizza places have buy-one-get-one deals. They are also fickle. They love trying new things, but when the new becomes old or tried and tested, they move on to the next best thing. This is why most restaurants and influencers have to be constantly on their toes in their quest to engage with an audience who gets bored easily and wants value for money, authenticity and novelty all in one package.
Fatima S. Attarwala heads Dawn’s Business & Finance desk. firstname.lastname@example.org