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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Which for many means socializing with friends and family, often heading out for a meal to mark the festivities.

The only problem is, around any given mixed-generation table there may be some who are acutely uncomfortable with the situation. Gen Z, who are currently aged between 11 and 26 years old, lost out on large gatherings for a handful of the formative years because of COVID and lockdowns, with many still suffering social anxiety as a result.

Studies have found that this has exacerbated itself in professional settings, for example a 2023 report revealed nine in 10 graduates say they avoid in-person work events because of social anxiety, and nearly a quarter are uncomfortable speaking up in team meetings and sharing their ideas.

But this social anxiety is also impacting young people’s social life—according to a recently published study it’s even stopping them enjoying eating out.

The study, conducted by British restaurant chain Prezzo, asked more than 2,000 people about how at ease they felt while eating out. The group that reported the most ‘menu anxiety’ was Gen Z, with 34% of 18 to 24 year olds admitting they ask other people at the table to speak to waiters on their behalf, because they are too nervous to talk.

That’s a significantly higher figure than the average level of anxiety felt by customers, with the overall average of those who feel awkward speaking to waiting staff standing at 21%.

Younger diners said they also wanted to be prepared for the situation. Although around half of customers said they’d check the menu before going out for dinner, almost 40% of Gen Z customers said they simply wouldn’t go out for dinner if they couldn’t check the menu first.

This could be to help combat some of the commonly-listed fears survey recipients had when it came to eating out: being overwhelmed by the amount of choice on the menu, mispronouncing an item and feeling embarrassed, or fearing they would order the wrong thing and regret their purchase in comparison to peers.

Inflation bites

Another factor making customers anxious is, perhaps understandably, the total on the bill at the end of the meal. Inflation rapidly increased between 2021 and 2023 meaning many people emerging out of locked-down countries got a surprise when they returned to eating out.

Indeed, according to the research almost a third of people aged between 16 and 24 said they were nervous about the cost of the bill at the end of the night, compared to just 18% of those aged 55+.

Increased dining out prices are one of many reasons Gen Z are spending more time in their own kitchens, according to Bank of America’s 2023 Better Money Habits report, which surveyed over 1,100 Gen Zers. The October report found the majority (73%) of Gen Zers are changing their lifestyle habits in a bid to cut down on spending on items like gas and groceries.

While 40% decided to spend less on clothes, and 33% pulled back their grocery shop to just the necessities, almost half (43%) also reported cooking at home more than going out to eat this past year, and the majority of these frequent chefs are planning to continue this habit into 2024. 

But Gen Z’s anxiety about food and eating isn’t purely down to social or monetary interactions, it’s also a part of their wider concerns about the world and how they want to participate. For example, a study released this summer found 61% of Gen Z have felt pressured about what to eat since childhood, so as a result feel anxious about the subject.

The report from Ketchum Food Research adds 62% of Gen Z think their eating pattern is “wrong” because it doesn’t align with health or social values, creating an uncomfortable gap between their beliefs and their actions.

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