As a kid of the late 1980s, it was standard for the family to congregate on birthdays and certain special occasions at a restaurant. There was one in particular – The Brown Derby – which served as the destination for most Mother’s and Father’s Days.


Industry news has been rife with restaurants reducing the size of dining rooms, and even non-commercial feeders such as hotels are discontinuing in-house room service and instead promoting DoorDash or UberEats.


As Generation Z continues to get their food when, where and how they want it, the lore of hospitality and special occasions cherished by previous generations, has become cumbersome to this group.


The Family Meal is Disappearing


The “new hospitality” means receiving a restaurant-style meal at any time of the day at any location a group of friends or family might desire. 


What is happening is the decline of the family meal with busy schedules and families constantly working around soccer games, recitals, baseball games, non-traditional working hours and a greater independence of children with mobile devices. We can now track our children and loved ones by the minute and transfer money to Venmo accounts in an instant. . Our latest data showed that only 38 percent of Gen Zers who are now adults report that their family ate together regularly growing up. 


Fewer Americans sit at the dining room table as a family unit for breakfast or dinner as they may have consistently up until the 1980s. My own childhood household was so regimented that we were summoned to drop everything and sit down by 5:30. There were no options for a different cuisine or time change that might fit a family member’s whims. 


Special Occasions Are Rarely in a Restaurant


What I’m trying to illustrate is that the same habits that once led us to restaurants – birthdays, dates, graduation, holidays – have been impacted by (well, Covid, and) the changing habits of at-home meal preparation. Family therapist Anne Fishel says only about 30% of families regularly will eat dinner together in 2024, despite family meal time being hugely beneficial for kids.Contrast that with nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Americans age 50 or older report that they had family meals every day during childhood. 


Have a son graduating college? Why drive to a varied menu full-service restaurant, wait to be seated and contend with an over-attentive server when that same meal can be served at home? At the club pool? Hockey rink? At a park shelter? There is no commute or waiting for a check.


The Impact on Food, Packaging and Beverage Suppliers


What this means for manufacturers and suppliers is manifold:


  • Offer items that travel well and can hold well for 30-45 minutes.
  • Create food items that are ready-to-eat or par-baked to speed up delivery times and reduce labor requirements.
  • Keep close attention on food safety and handling instructions with fewer full-time kitchen staff trained on handling foods for delivery.


Push restaurants to invest highly in durable, attractive packaging for each specific menu item – salad, fries, proteins, appetizers, frozen drinks, ice cream – or consumers will blame the restaurant for poor service.


Will restaurant dining rooms disappear in the next ten years? In my opinion, they will be harder to find and more difficult for operators to fund as the next generation of diners define hospitality 2.0. 

Tim Powell is a Principal at Foodservice IP. 

Foodservice IP is a professional services firm based in Chicago, aimed at delivering ideas for managers to guide informed business decisions. To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.

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