There’s no hospitality handbook when it comes to unpicking the puzzle that is Gen Z, but diverse brands like Wingstop, Humble Crumble and Bubba Oasis are emerging as flagbearers for this much misunderstood demographic, writes Tom Gatehouse of Egg Soldiers 

Wingstop - youth culture - 2024

There’s no hospitality handbook for unpicking the puzzle that is Gen Z.

But like with any generation, young or old, a good starting point when considering strategies would be to understand the macro-level viewpoints of this disruptive demographic of 12-27-year-olds.

It’s common knowledge of course that Gen Z are the very definition of ‘tech savvy’.

Topped for youth only by the fledgling Gen Alpha, we’re talking about a cohort of digital natives with only the highest standards for tech-based integrations within hospitality, from self-service ordering to app-led marketing & loyalty.

From an environmental perspective, having grown up in the era of climate consciousness, Gen Z have an eye for changemaking motivations and design.

This ties seamlessly into their social approach, namely keeping community and honest interaction at the core while embracing innovative leisure models and next-gen business perspectives.

And the Gen Z financial situation? Cautious, considered, and growing in relevance.

So, with these macro-level pillars in mind, what are the effective strategies for hospitality operators seeking to attract spend from this progressive, youthful group?

For me, the words ‘relatable’ and ‘relevant’ should act as north stars.

Gen X, Boomers and Millennials are arguably more concerned with quality, delivery and choice in a hospitality environment.

It’s the experience that matters, filtered naturally depending on generation, without necessarily speaking directly to the individualism of each demographic.

With Gen Z, it’s about authenticity and alignment, from brand ethos right through to food philosophy.

Wingstop UK is the obvious case study.

Youthful and energetic disruption is a fundamental of the US chicken brand’s manifesto.

The brand leverages Gen Z-centric topics and culture hot spots across fashion, music and social media for its high-draw marketing campaigns, with on-trend influencers and Tik Tok key vehicles.

It’s a strategy that’s been employed by the brand since launch in the UK in 2018, driven by its Gen Z-led marketing division, helping it really nail ‘authentic’ perceptions.

But Wingstop is really winning by blurring lines between food and lifestyle.

Regular injections of youth culture through tie-ups with the likes of rappers and fashion names keeps the brand at the peak of cultural relevance. This organically aligns its sharp, streamlined menu with the energies of aspirational and relatable movers across retail and on-trend media.

That menu, which prioritises customisation over overall range size, is built around a cooked-to-order mantra and 10 innovative flavour options for its wings and tenders.

Running with a version of the ‘single format’ concept has been another win for Wingstop. Backed up by a single burger, fries five ways, slaw and churros, the brand’s wings have always been billed as game changing.

Indeed, that essence of ‘game changing’ is what it all boils down to with Gen Z. It’s a generation seeking bold, new, immersive business models that look to break free of status quo.

And Wingstop is just one hospitality example.

Look at Humble Crumble, which is set to open its fourth site in the capital - in the West End no less.

humbe crumble

Peddling artisanal riffs on the classic dessert, the brand was launched in 2018 by the then 23-year-old Kim Innes, who was recently named on Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ entrepreneurs list for 2024.

She effectively modernised - or made relevant - a timeless staple of British culinary culture, bringing it to a new, youthful audience with a blend of genuine quality and trend-led, Insta-worthy designs. Yes, they do have a Tik Tok account.

Humble Crumble’s flagship store in Spitalfields is an example of considered design, flying in the face of standard dessert parlour perceptions. And the operation is underpinned with a commitment to sustainable, transparent practices.

You could say its run by Gen Z, for Gen Z.

Then there’s Bubba Oasis, who can be described as a game changing hospitality destination.

Bubba Oasis

Another London-based operation, and again run by a Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ entrepreneur, Bubba Oasis is a fine example of the burgeoning ‘lifestyle hospitality’ movement.

Its two neighbourhood clubhouses combine elements of casual dining, hot desking, music, entertainment and art.

The brand is something of a culture provider, pushing beyond normal hospitality constructs to offer a more modern, entirely relevant, hybrid structure.

Considering their focus on reshaping the hospitality landscape, innovation should be a given with Generation Z. That’s why my ears prick at something like Ziki, a tech-minded chain of food trucks serving Greek Mexican fusion cuisine in Texas.

Vehemently anti-seed oil, the brand has a razor-sharp focus on delivering higher-quality, sustainably led food without comprise, with a feta-fig smash burger and beef tallow-fried aubergine bites just the start of the Ziki offer.

There’s no hospitality handbook for Gen Z. But, if you join the dots, that’s really the point.

The game is changing.