Chartwells Symposium: How Do We Feed Generation Z?

I had the pleasure of spending two days last week with the Chartwells team in Charlotte, NC at a focused symposium structured around the question, “How do we feed Generation Z?”   The question was posed by Chartwells, a division of the global food conglomerate The Compass Group, who specializes in food services for colleges and universities across the country.  Their motto, “Feeding Hungry Minds,” speaks well to their core competencies, and they continue to experience unprecedented growth throughout the food service industry. 

The purpose for asking themselves the question, “How do we feed Generation Z?” is the start of an in-depth study to understand how Chartwells can continue to stay relevant and competitive in the ever-changing marketplace of student dining.  And perhaps more interesting, the symposium focused on the likes and dislikes of Generation Z, the amenities race that colleges find themselves locked into as they try to attract potential students, and what the future of student dining might look like. 

Generation Z are the cohort of people born after the Millennials. The generation is generally defined with birth years ranging from the late 1990s through the 2010s.  A significant aspect of this generation is its widespread usage of the internet from a young age. Members of Generation Z are typically thought of as being comfortable with technology, and interacting on social media for a significant portion of their socializing.  They are sometimes referred to as the generation that is over-connected and under-related, and while they make up only 25% of the US population, they are setting the trends that shape the world for all of us.

Perhaps some of the more intriguing attributes of Generation Z is that they are ‘experience-focused’ and crave customization.  It is no wonder than that the three most successful brands, Chipotle, Panera and MooYah, have menus that are completely customizable.  Additionally, Generation Z holds a very different concept of when something may be considered ‘old’ or ‘dated’.  A typical lifecycle for a Millennial may be 7 years before something in their mind becomes antiquated.  When you ask Generation Z to weigh in on this - their response is typically as short as 2 ½ years.  That’s right, just 30 months and something in Generation Z’s world is considered passé or yesterday’s news!

Designing for Generation Z remains a real challenge.  How do you allow for complete customization, create an interesting and engaging experience, all wrapped up in a design that must completely transform itself in as short a period as 30 months? 

As one of the Compass Group’s lead Architects, Phase Zero Design is collaborating directly with the Chartwells team in the design and social engineering of such spaces that will support the demands of Generation Z, and feed the future college masses.  It’s an incredibly interesting and engaging process, and while we don’t yet know where this effort will lead us, we are certainly up for the challenge.   At Phase Zero Design, perhaps it is a good thing that we begin before the beginning!

In the next blog post, we will be discussing designing for Generation Z and addressing the question “How do we feed Generation Z?” in more detail.  Subscribe to our blog for updates!