A new study from Culinary Visions Panel's Mindful Dining Initiative highlights younger consumers’ craving for human connection when dining out. In the study, 1,500 U.S. consumers, 18 years and older, were surveyed about their attitudes toward ethics-based dining and how it impacts their food choices and purchasing decisions outside the home. The study found that despite their love for technology, younger consumers are using it not to replace human interaction, but to enhance their social experiences when dining out.

"With more and more restaurants and foodservice establishments turning to technology to solve labor shortage issues, it is important to understand the role of technology in consumers' dining experiences. Our studies show younger adults, in particular, enjoy the social aspects of dining out," says Sharon Olson, executive director of Culinary Visions Panel, Chicago. "Today's younger consumers grew up with technology, and their facility with it allows them to use technology to make their lives more convenient."  

For the first time since the project began in 2014, the study included questions on consumer-facing technology, paired with questions related to human interaction.

Here are four takeaways:

Personal touch

Despite the fact that younger consumers like to use technology to make ordering quick and error-free, the study revealed that Millennials and Gen Z consumers are some of the most appreciative demographics, when it comes to quality customer service and positive in-person interaction. In fact, 64% of those surveyed between the ages of 18-34 years said they would love to go to a restaurant where the server calls them by their name. In contrast, 58% of those surveyed between the ages of 35-54 and 54% of those aged 55 and older said the same thing. It seems the pervasiveness of technology has upped the need for quality interaction.  

A way to socialize

Young consumers like to share food, swap bites and are in general more influenced by what their peers order than their older counterparts. The study found that 50% of the consumers surveyed between ages 18-34 said that their ordering decision is influenced by what others are ordering. In contrast, 37% of those surveyed between the ages of 35-54 and 25% of those aged 55 and older said the same thing. Though it may be just a classic generational difference, younger consumers are far more likely to use the group's preferences to shape their own dining decisions.

 Sharing to socialize

Millennial and Gen Z consumers view dining experiences as social experiences that should be celebrated through social media. The study found that 58% of the consumers surveyed between ages18-34 said they like to take pictures to share on social media when dining with a group. In contrast, 44% of those surveyed between the ages of 35-54 and 22% of those aged 55 and older said the same thing. Additionally, 39% of those between ages 18-34 think about whether a restaurant is a good place for photos when going out to eat and 38% say they have dined at a restaurant before with the express purpose of sharing a photo on social media.  

Quick convenience

Younger consumers may be quicker to embrace technology in foodservice because they value quickness and convenience as a generation. Likewise, 48% of those between ages 18-34 say they prefer using kiosks or touch screens to order because it's quicker compared to 32% of those between the ages of 35-54 and only 12% of those ages 55 and older. Young consumers' ease in opting for technology when they need quickness and convenience is a reflection on how they use technology as a tool, rather than as a default.

With a range of 36% across all three demographics, interest in using technology may be the biggest differentiating factor across generations. However, it is not because younger consumers aren't interested in human interaction. Technology enables and facilitates younger consumers’ lives, but they don't want it to replace face-to-face customer service.