Prof. Scholz, you were one of the first to use the term “Generation Z”. Who are they?
Generation Z are young people born after 1995. When exactly they were born isn’t the important thing, though. What really matters is that these young people think differently. Not that “everything” about them is different, of course – it’s more like there are a few central differences that we need to be aware of. Basically, it’s about recognizing patterns: companies need to be able to see how young people’s values and behavior patterns have changed. One such change is that they’ve radically turned away from “work-life blending” – more and more of their private lives are being absorbed by their careers. Both are important to Generation Z, but there’s a time and a place for each. Other than that, I always talk about Generation Z in terms of four main characteristics: structure, security, well-being, and self-realization.
So Generation Z are today’s trainees, basically. As a restaurant owner, how can I accommodate them most effectively?
Structure means, among other things, clarity when it comes to scheduling and working hours. Generation Z wants to know what they’re supposed to be doing when, why, and how. A lot of that needs to be communicated in advance, because the restaurant industry has the reputation of being pretty inexact with working hours and expecting a great deal of flexibility from its employees. Security refers to contracts and probability of being offered a full-time position. Well-being and self-realization are ideas companies need to be explicit about supporting. The hospitality industry is a fascinating field, but that fascination isn’t something that can just be communicated sort of indirectly or intuitively. It needs to be addressed explicitly. The first few days on the job are extremely important in that regard, and companies need to prepare for them a lot. One thing that’s often very well received is a short employee manual, just brief and to the point. It may seem paradoxical now, in the digital age, but it can be helpful to give employees a little A6 notebook and pen on their first day, with the most important information already in it, and then make sure that employees always have it with them.
“I think that adapting our thinking to Generation Z will lead to a new business culture, one that will be good for the restaurant industry in a lot of different ways.”
-Prof. Christian Scholz:
It won’t be long before those trainees become my employees. What will that mean for my business?
First of all, that’s a huge opportunity: Generation Z is often very easy to motivate, and because they’re less ambitious career-wise, they don’t change jobs on a dime. That has nothing to do with loyalty, though – Generation Z doesn’t have loyalty. But they’ll stick around if the job conditions are right. Unfortunately, that very thing has always been a problem in the restaurant world, at least in terms of work scheduling… and that’s becoming an even bigger problem for companies with Generation Z, who expect consistent, structured working hours more than previous generations did. There seem to be two main camps here. Some are all about globalization, digitization, increased flexibility, and they expect their employees to be on call practically all the time. Others emphasize stable shift plans and scheduling, which gives employees a lot of planning certainty. One idea might be a two-month schedule, with another week added on every Monday. That’s just the short version, though. Generally, it’s important for companies to do solid, professional work on what scientists call their “Employer Value Proposition” – a well thought-out, well-communicated promise of what I can expect as an employee.
And someday, we’ll have Generation Z bosses as well. Will that mean restaurants will be run completely differently?
That’s a good question. I think that adapting our thinking to Generation Z will lead to a new business culture, one that will be good for the restaurant industry in a lot of different ways. One aspect of that new business culture will be a new leadership culture that combines elements of Generation Z’s “We” culture with the extremely clear communication that’s typical of their generation.
Generation Z already makes up some of today’s customers. How can I offer those customers an ideal, enjoyable experience that will make them want to return?
Generation Z is all about feeling good, so the ambiance has to be spot-on – in my view, that’s really number one on the list. Chairs, tables, lights, plenty of places to charge a phone. Generation Z also wants to eat healthy, which will make things somewhat difficult for fast food and chain restaurants. Generation Z wants security – although they’re a little less price-sensitive than previous generations, they need clear indications of what those prices are. Generation Z wants structure – so we need a small menu where one part is always the same, and the other part offers an element of surprise. That’s one idea I would definitely play around with as a restaurateur.
Any final thoughts?
Generation Z is difficult for the restaurant industry… Like Salzburger Nockerln, something else you can’t just put together by intuition. So we need professionalism. As long as that’s in place, I definitely see Generation Z as Generation Future – including, in particular, in every aspect of the restaurant world.