Focus on QSR: Gen Zs crave customization for deeper self-expression

Think of the typical quick-service restaurant experience. What comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the menu board, the cafeteria-style counter, or the moment when you take that first bite of your favorite meal. Gen Zs experience QSR (Quick Service Restaurants) completely differently.

Whether their favorite fast food meal is at McDonald’s, Taco Bell or Chipotle, many Zs may never even enter the brick-and-mortar restaurant. Next-gen consumers increasingly experience QSR brands as one-to-one, bespoke, and customized to their liking. This reflects something Zs are craving across industries. While previous generations of teens and twenty-somethings often aimed to fit in, Gen Zs aspire to stand out—and they’re constantly finding new ways to express their individuality. For the QSR industry—one that’s built on standardized meals and experiences—the time has come to innovate, as Zs demand a new era of consumer experience.

And that’s not the only factor for consideration here. In the same way that Gen Z is fluid when it comes to gender, politics and sexuality, they’re disrupting the notion of food genres too. Burgers, pizza, tacos; it's all on the same menu as demand for customization and deviation from traditional offerings increases. According to our Culture Next study, 77% of Zs like it when brands are able to connect with their different sides.1 With fluid personalities that can change by the day (or the hour), Zs offer QSR brands the opportunity to connect with them by mixing and morphing preconceived expectations.

For more on how Spotify can help QSRs connect with Zs and tap into Gen Z food trends, we spoke with Spotify’s Category Development Officer for QSR and CPG, Justin Faiber...

Q: How is Gen Z changing the landscape of quick-service restaurants?

“The style of consumption among 15- to 25-year-olds—and really the immediacy that they expect—has radically shifted the consumer dynamic. We know that the speed of service, and the ability to meet consumers’ demands are very important. It used to be that 10 out of 10 trips to McDonald’s were actually trips to McDonald's. There was a customer service aspect, and there was a signature smell to the fries. Now, with the demand created by delivery apps and first party apps we’re seeing ghost kitchens—like DJ Khaled’s Another Wing— and delivery becoming the norm for eating at these established brand restaurants. Therefore we are seeing some consumers that don’t even know the actual location where their food is made anymore but are expecting a brand experience that is one-to-one versus one-to-all.”

Q: It’s so interesting to consider how apps have changed the experience. So, what does the new QSR experience or visit look like for this generation?

“Gen Z consumers are now accustomed to bespoke brand experiences. This generation wants everything to be unique for them—even better if it ties in an element of self-expression so they can tell everyone how unique they are. They don’t want to always order a classic Big Mac off the menu or standard coffee off of a Starbucks menu board; they’re looking for menu items that are also social currency: the limited-time only Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks, the Animal Style Double-Double burger off the In-N-Out secret menu, the chicken Big Mac, or the viral Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich. Now, QSRs like McDonald's and others are embracing customization as a must-do—and the personalized brand-consumer relationship Zs have come to expect is what’s keeping them loyal to some QSRs and less engaged with others.”

81% of Zs like when brands let them customize their products, and 82% say they like to have something rare or unique that no one else has.¹

Q: How can QSR brands leverage digital streaming audio to connect with Zs?

“When we think about delivering bespoke individualism, it’s a very similar concept to the way Spotify engages with Gen Zs. No two Zs want to have the exact same playlist—and that synergy compliments the brands we work with.

Spotify provides brands with the ability to reach beyond the counter and join cultural conversations where and while they’re happening. For example, Pizza Hut ran an audio-first campaign to keep delivery services top of mind for pizza lovers listening on Spotify. Using Spotify Ad Studio’s precise demographic and interest targeting, the Hut reached hungry Gen Z sports fans and gamers during major sporting events in the U.K.

There's also a lot of runway in podcasts for advertisers to talk to young listeners in a way that feels authentic. The intimate, one-to-one podcast environment is extremely valuable from an advertising perspective. It’s a safe space where trust is built between hosts and listeners, and where brands can reach Zs and be a part of the cultural conversations that matter to them.”

For more on how brands can connect with Gen Zs, check out the full Culture Next 2022 report.

  1. Spotify Culture Next survey, MAR-APR'22

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