These Are Gen Z's Favorite Restaurants

The most popular chain restaurants among American adolescents and young adults.

We keep a close eye on dining trends, because we've learned that the way people eat sometimes changes the shape of the world around us. In partnership with Nation's Restaurant News, food service insights company Technomic recently released a list of Gen Z's preferred dining chains, and the list indicates just where younger tastes are headed as they enter into the workforce, spending their own hard-earned cash at certain restaurants above others.

Gen Z’s favorite full-service chains

Nation's Restaurant News ranked Gen Z's top restaurant chains in two categories: full-service (i.e. sit-down spots with a server) and limited service (where you order at the counter or drive-thru). The rankings indicate the percentage of recent guests who gave the restaurant the highest possible score.

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Gen Z's top full-service chains are:

  1. Seasons 52 (59.9%): Grill and wine bar
  2. First Watch (57.3%): Breakfast and lunch cafe
  3. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (56.8%): Steakhouse
  4. Cracker Barrel (55.4%): Southern-American homestyle food
  5. Chuy's Tex Mex (54.4%): Tex-Mex cuisine
  6. Carraba's Italian Grill (54.0%): Italian-American
  7. Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen (53.0%): American comfort food
  8. Chili's Grill and Bar (52.4%): American food/sports bar
  9. The Brass Tap (52.1%): Brewpub

Aside from the fact that I haven't been to seven of these chain restaurants (jeez), there are some interesting details here. Most of the food in the above list is standard American chain restaurant fare, with the exception of Chuy's Tex-Mex (and maybe Carrabba's Italian Grill). It seems that even young people seek out what's familiar to them.

It's also noteworthy that a breakfast and lunch chain sits so high up on the list; as we've seen, breakfast dining is starting to pick up some serious steam.

Gen Z’s favorite quick-service restaurants

The limited-service restaurants that Gen Z enjoys most include a mix of drive-thru and counter-service chains, with a heavy emphasis on specialty beverages. Here are their favorites:

  1. Dutch Bros Coffee (62.7%): Coffee chain
  2. Tropical Smoothie Cafe (57.8%): Smoothies, bowls, and wraps
  3. Torchy's Tacos (56.2%): Unconventional/fusion taco chain
  4. Newk's Eatery (55.9%): Cafe with sandwiches, pizza, mac and cheese, and similar fare
  5. Smoothie King (55%): Smoothies
  6. Cold Stone Creamery (55%): Ice cream
  7. Jamba (54%): Smoothies
  8. Rubio's Coastal Grill (54.0%): Mexican-style seafood items like tacos and burritos
  9. Jason's Deli (53.6%): Counter-service deli sandwich chain

Four out of the nine chains listed above specialize in beverages, particularly coffee and smoothies. Who knew Gen Z loved smoothies so much? Notably, some of America's top chains, Starbucks and Dunkin', don't even make an appearance.

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Similarly, both Torchy's Tacos and Rubio's Coastal Grill are Mexican-inspired, while a heavy-hitter in that category, Chipotle, didn't make it on the list (perhaps unsurprisingly). The fact that Cold Stone Creamery made the rankings, meanwhile, confirms Gen Z loves ice cream as much as any generation before it.

I haven't been to six out of nine of these chains, either, which tells me that my geriatric millennial preferences (sigh) are significantly different than the youngest spending generation. Do any of the restaurants on this list stand out to you? Are you surprised to see some of your favorites snubbed?

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