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2 Charts Show What Drives Young People’s Restaurant Choices

Price is always a top factor, but the restaurants they frequent really have food they love…


TL;DR

  • Young people are eating at fast food restaurants more than any other kind
  • Millennials are using their bigger budgets to support local restaurants
  • If price didn’t matter, Gen Z would try fine dining, but still love the chains they eat at now

Young people today are “treat yourself” generations—they believe in spending on themselves when they want to, and they see little luxuries and indulgences as a part of their overall mental wellness. But, they’re also budget-conscious, so their definition of a splurge purchase or a “treat” is different from the gens before them. Where older generations may have treated themselves to a luxury piece of clothing or a night at a restaurant, Gen Z and Millennials are taking an unnecessary trip to Target and getting their “starbies” on the way. 

Their day-to-day lives are already expensive though, so experiences like dining out are impacted by their need to stay on a budget. YPulse’s newest trend report The End of Foodie Culture (As We Know It) shows that many young people view food as something they look forward to. And while Gen Z is not taking pics of their dinners for their food Insta the way Millennials have, it doesn’t mean they don’t also love a good meal. But, when they’re dining out, where are they going? We asked 13-39-year-olds where they typically eat when they go out from a meal, out of different six categories of restaurants, and these are their responses:

Young people are dining out at fast food restaurants the most

More than half of Gen Z and Millennials tell YPulse that when they go out to eat, it’s typically at a fast food restaurant. You might assume they’re only doing this to keep within their tight budgets, you’d be surprised to know that’s not their leading reason. When YPulse asked young people who typically eat fast food why they do, 62% say they like the food, more than those who chose price as a factor. This is a trend across industries, too; when it comes to where they shop, our Mass Merch Mentality trend report shows Gen Z and Millennials prefer to shop at budget-friendly big box stores. But, while price is a top priority, they also say they like the items, particularly clothing, they find at these stores, and deem them high quality. So, unlike the gens before them in so many ways, these gens also have different views on what can be considered high quality, and are more than happy with the options that suit their budgets. 

Another reason they have such an affinity for fast food dining is that these restaurants have stepped up their game in recent years, especially in the marketing department. Many fast food restaurants have made the smart decision to team up with influencers and celebrities that young people love and trust. YPulse data shows that food / beverages are one of the top items young people are buying based on influencer recommendations, which is the driving force behind the most successful collabs. McDonald’s alone has expertly attracted young people with the approval of celebs, which is one of the main reasons it’s their favorite fast food spot. Between the Travis Scott Burger, Saweetie and BTS meals, their partnerships with professional musicians have set an example for many other fast food brands. Dunkin’ on the other hand has tapped online influencers like Gen Z sweetheart Charli D’Amelio to great success, knowing that choosing online celebs means even easier buzz on social media, especially TikTok. 

Millennials are more likely to spend more on dining out at a local restaurant

Being that Millennials have more room in the budgets than young Gen Z, it’s natural that they’re willing to spend more on dining out. They’re more likely than Gen Z to say they typically go out for a meal at every restaurant category other than fast food. Most significantly, 54% of Millennials say they typically eat at a non-chain local restaurant, as compared to only 39% of Gen Z. This was their second most popular answer, behind fast food, meaning Millennials are choosing local restaurants slightly more than casual or fast casual options. Their affinity for small, local businesses was amplified during the pandemic, and appears to be a habit that stuck with them. As “shop local” became a popular slogan among young people who wanted to uplift their struggling communities, a study by CITE research found in 2021 that 51% of Millennials say “they purchased from small businesses more than before the pandemic.”

Gen Z would try fine dining if price didn’t matter

Though young people do enjoy the quality of the food they’re getting at the fast food restaurants they typically eat at, they tell YPulse they would choose a fine dining restaurant if price didn’t matter: 

Over half of Gen Z say they would eat at fine dining restaurants if price wasn’t an issue, showing that there is interest around more high-end experiences. But at the same time, nearly half of Gen Z, choose casual dining, like chain restaurants. This shows that while they would like to go to restaurants that are typically far out of budget, they still enjoy the classic spots they frequent already. Millennials feel the same, and it shows in the conversations they’re having online. It was recently debated on social media, but many young people stand up for their favorite chain restaurants for their quality as much as their price accessibility. 

Knowing how much young people actually enjoy fast food, more than one third say they would still choose to eat out at those restaurants if price were not a factor. YPulse recently told you that with inflation continuing to impact young people, and a potential recession on their mind, dining out would be the first thing cut from their budget if it came down to it. But, fast food restaurants can likely anticipate young people remaining customers even if they need to scale back, because the quality for price will meet all the young consumers’ needs. 

YPulse paid users can access the full The End of Foodie Culture (As We Know It) report and data here.

Don’t have a YPulse paid account? Find out more here.