They’re called the Forgotten Generation, and that certainly seems to be true about Generation X.
Millennials have been the subject of studies, speculation and slander for the past several years. Baby Boomers and their consumer habits have also garnered a lot of attention.
Sandwiched in between these two larger generations, Gen Xers really do seem to have been forgotten.
Who is Gen X?
As we’ve seen when discussing the generations, experts sometimes differ when it comes to the years a specific generation was born between. The consensus is that Gen X was born between the years 1965 and 1979.
At their peak, there were 78.8 million Boomers. A few years back, the Census Bureau counted 83.1 million Millennials. As of last year, there were “only” 65.8 Gen Xers.
And yet, Gen X commands significant influence over Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z. Toward the end of the ‘80s and beginning of the ‘90s, Gen X was the subject of scorn. Members of this generation were labeled “slackers,” much like Millennials have been the past several years.
It may seem odd, but a family-owned flavor company outside of Chicago released an in-depth study of Gen X this year. A closer look at the company, FONA International, reveals that it’s not so strange that they’d be motivated to study tens of millions of consumers.
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FONA was ranked the number three manufacturer in the United States by Fortune magazine last year. That ranking placed a laboratory and manufacturer with just over 400 employees worldwide above multi-billion-dollar food and beverage manufacturing corporation Mars (number four).
Because FONA studies, tests and manufactures food and beverage flavors, it makes sense they want a full understanding of each generation.
Power & Influence
The Forgotten Generation’s purchasing power is an effective argument against any perceived slacking. According to FONA’s data, Gen X wields $2.4 trillion in purchasing power and has higher-than-average household income. Data collected and analyzed by Pew Research indicates that this generation will be the only one to recover investments after the 2007 financial crash.
Further disproving the slacker myth are the facts that the oldest Gen Xers will still be in the workplace for about another decade; the youngest have around three decades of work left; and more than half of leadership roles across the world are held by this generation, according to Development Dimensions International.
That leadership statistic is of particular importance as it speaks to the influence they wield. Members of Gen X, according to Inc., make up 55 percent of startup founders. Larry Page and Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin, the co-founders of Google, were both born in 1973. The search engine giant’s current CEO, Sundar Pichai, was born in 1972. The co-founders of Twitter— Jack Patrick Dorsey, Christopher Isaac "Biz" Stone and Evan Clark Williams—were all born between 1972 and 1976. Elon Musk? Also a Gen Xer, having been born in 1971.
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Just a half-dozen members of Gen X have founded and held leadership roles in but three of history’s most innovative and influential companies. Thousands upon thousands more hold high-level and leadership positions within companies across the globe, including restaurant, nightlife, and hotel groups. And, of course, Millennials may have founded Instagram and Facebook but there are plenty of Gen Xers in management and leadership roles within those influential social media companies.
What Does Gen X Want?
The odds are good that you, the person reading this, are Gen X. That means, by the way, that by 2028, you’re projected to outnumber Baby Boomers. Regardless of whether you’re a Boomer, Gen Xer or Millennial operator, it’s important to focus on more than just Boomer and Millennial guests and employees.
First, as mentioned above, Gen X still has decades left in the workforce. They hold front-of-house, back-of-house, management, and operational roles in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. This will be the case for the next few decades, so it’s important to understand what they want in the workplace.
According to multiple sources, Gen Xers are money-motivated but also entrepreneurial and family-oriented. They want generous family leave, flexible schedules so they can spend time with family, and don’t do well with managers or owners who hover over them. They grew up developing fierce independent streaks and prefer to do their jobs with minimal supervision. Inc. has reported that Gen X appreciates recognition; like bonuses and gift cards for monetary rewards; and believes that competence—not age or seniority—should determine who gets promoted.
As habits go for dining and drinking, Gen X accounts for just under a quarter of all restaurant visits. However, and this is rather interesting, this generation spends more than any other on food and wine. Gen X spends up to one-third more money per year than Millennials, illustrating their spending power.
So, how can operators entice hard-working, loose-spending Gen Xers to increase their visits to restaurants and bars? Convenience, customization, and fulfilling on their food and drink preferences are great steps.
According to Business Insider and FONA, Gen X spearheaded customization. They know what they want, and they want it to be convenient to obtain it. Interestingly, FONA’s data indicates that what they want isn’t too far out there.
On top of being hard working, Gen X is nostalgic for their childhoods. This generation is smaller than Boomers and Millennials because their parents chose to have less children. Many grew up as latchkey kids, unsupervised after school and therefore more independent.
As a result, they hung out at malls, hitting the food courts and movies. At home, they watched MTV and cartoons, and played video games. Food court hang time meant dining on pizza, burgers and nachos. Gen X would also snack on candy, corn chips, granola bars, and fruit snacks at home, washing it all down with soda.
Members of Gen X who don’t have children are less adventurous when it comes to food than their Millennial counterparts, according to FONA. They don’t feel a need to jump on food and beverage trends, and they don’t need to be the first to try something new. Possibly owing to their current ages, Gen X doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with healthy food options.
FONA has identified the top food and flavor trends for Gen X:
- All-American classics, comfort food, traditional food, pizza and burgers;
- Mexican, Italian, and Chinese cuisines;
- Meaty, cheesy, sweet, fruity, and umami flavors;
According to their research, when compared to Millennials, Gen X is 10 percent less interested in sweet flavors and 25 percent less interested in salty. FONA has learned that Gen Xers are showing interest in bitter, nutty and smoky flavors.
One path to success for operators is to come up with familiar dishes that are prepared and presented in creative ways. Riffing creatively on comfort food and all-American classics won’t require Gen X guests to step too far out of their comfort zones. Such items can appeal to other generations and help develop an interest in new dining experiences for Gen X guests.
Chef Brian Duffy addressed the subject of burgers during the second episode of this new Food Network show Opening Night. Burgers can capture the flavors of innovative and adventurous concepts, staying true to those brands while providing a comfortable entry into their unique cuisine. Guests who may not fully understand a unique concept’s food and menu will appreciate the familiarity of a burger.
While Millennials consume most of the wine in the United States, Gen X spends more money on quality wine. They also visit wineries more than Millennials do, according to Wine Business. The Forgotten Generation enjoys wine and other beverage alcohol on a regular basis.
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In terms of non-alcohol beverages, FONA research indicates that operators may see success with fountain drinks that offer unique mixes; sparkling probiotic drinks; apple cider tonics; kombucha; and cold brew coffee, Bulletproof coffee, and flavored coffee.
There are caveats when it comes to fulfilling on Gen X food and beverage preferences. Members of this generation who do currently have children deviate from their peers in adventurous dining. This is possibly because they want their children to experience everything and learn what they like, which can help them to become independent. Family-friendly restaurants have the opportunity to pull Gen X parents out of their comfort zones and engage with their Millennial and Gen Z children during the same visits.
This generation’s focus on healthy living is expected to increase as they age. FONA is of the opinion that Gen Xers will opt for “a more balanced approach to diet” that will include “complex carbohydrates and moderated fats, with reduced focus ‘high in’ claims (such as high in protein),” along with nutrient-dense food options.
Get Them Through Your Doors
Operators can leverage Gen X tech savviness to increase their visits. Gen Xers aren’t “digital natives” like their Gen Z counterparts, but they did grow up in the digital age. Remember, members of this generation have created Google, Twitter and Tesla, and they’ve helped develop Instagram and other social media and tech companies.
The New York Times has reported that Gen X spends close to 7 hours per week on social media. Facebook is the top social media platform among this generation. They like to other things that operators can leverage: email and a good deal. Gen X engages with email regularly, and Forbes reported that almost 90 percent are members of loyalty programs, while just over 70 percent are members of reward programs.
These revelations mean that targeted Facebook and email campaigns are effective ways forward when marketing to Gen X. Given their spending power—over $2 trillion—those campaigns are worth the effort and money to transform Gen X into the Remembered Generation.
FONA International. (2019, April). Consumer Insight: Generation X.
FONA International. (2019, April). Consumer Insight: Generation X: 2019 Trend Insight Report.
Rampton. J. (2017, October). Different Motivations for Different Generations of Workers: Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.