Putting Gen Z to work in restaurants

New report shows what this demographic wants from a job and potential employers.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Nearly 20% of millennials and Gen Zers working in the restaurant industry leave their job to start a new career once they finish school. Almost a quarter (22%) leave because they aren’t making enough money. And three in 10 leave for “something better.” In an already tight labor market, operators cannot afford to keep losing workers to other industries. So what would make them stay? A competitive income and a good manager, according to a new report from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) and the Center for Generational Kinetics.

From exploring their first job and expanding early work experience to building the foundational skills they need to succeed in life, the restaurant and hospitality industry offers unique opportunities for young adults. And, while the industry is a popular “good first job,” it also has the distinct opportunity to inspire novice and often transient employees to choose long-term careers, particularly as it expects to add 1.6 million jobs in the next decade.

To discover the prevailing attitudes that millennials and Gen Z have toward restaurants, NRAEF and the Center for Generational Kinetics conducted research to explore the relationship between younger generations and the industry. The results show how the desires of these generations overlap with what the industry has to offer.

Now is the time for the industry to develop a deeper understanding of these generations and to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity they present. Gen Z and millennials are intrigued by positive aspects of the industry and are set to become its next generation of leaders.

Our new study shows that we have the opportunity to purposefully foster longer-term relationships with Gen Z. We need to make sure every young person who works in our industry has an overall positive experience to encourage them to stay. —Rob Gifford, Executive Vice President, NRAEF

Mentorship as a driver
More than 40% of Gen Zers said mentors help build the confidence and professional skills necessary to advance their careers.

Reputation matters
Gen Zers want to be part of a restaurant or business that has high ethics, appreciates diversity and has a positive reputation in the community.

A different job hunt
Word of mouth from family and friends is still highly effective in determining where Gen Zers apply to work, with social media being an additional key resource.

Ideal work environment
Gen Zers look for work environments that keep them active, where they get to work with a variety of people and where they can be creative and try new things.

Advancement at warp speed
Over half of millennials and Gen Zers expect to advance their careers by being promoted within a year, and to be making more money (through higher tips and salary) within the first three months.

Gen Z and millennials present an exciting opportunity for the restaurant and foodservice industry. This research presents a peek into their world, including what they want from a job, how they judge a potential employer, what they expect once they join the team and what makes them stay. The research, conducted online with 1,606 Gen Z and millennial respondents, found remarkable consistency in their desire for a fun work environment. For the full report, visit

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


The eatertainment business shows signs of wear

The Bottom Line: The food-and-games concept Chicago WhirlyBall filed for bankruptcy last week as companies like Dave & Buster’s and TopGolf show sales weakness.


This is why the restaurant business is in a value war right now

The Bottom Line: Same-store sales have slowed markedly for the past year as customers shifted to other options. And now operators are furiously working to get them back.


Saladworks-parent WOWorks is shopping for new brands to buy

The platform company is almost finished assimilating its existing six brands. Now it's time to add to the family, said CEO Kelly Roddy.


More from our partners