The meal experience generation

Deborah Homshaw, managing director of CH&CO Independent, explores the impact of social media on food experiences

Tell a pupil that when you were growing up there was no such thing as the internet, wifi, smartphones or social media and you’re met with shock, disbelief and even pity!

It’s easy to forget how rapidly technology has become an integral part of life. We all have an array of devices at our disposal, from laptops and tablets to smartphones and smart speakers (and chances are we’ve more than one of some).

We shouldn’t underestimate the fact that Generation Z, our pupils, have never known a life that isn’t ‘connected’ at every turn. And, we’re beginning to interact with Generation Alpha, the children of the millennials, who are full digital natives with no concept of a world where technology doesn’t exist. They’re literally born with instant information at their fingertips and raised in a smartphone and social media family culture. We’ve learned and adapted, but to them it’s instinctive. There’s a difference, and I believe that to engage effectively with pupils we need to think differently and see technology through their eyes, understanding how they’re using it – not how we are. 

While mobile phone usage in school may be restricted, social media and its influence is never far away – in 2018, 44% of Gen Z checked their social media every hour*. It impacts their ideas, desires and expectations, and quickly.

We must understand that continuous access to information has made pupils food-savvy […] and create uplifting, inclusive experiences that reflect what’s happening on the high street 

In the food industry, we’ve seen this influence first-hand. The avocado craze and rise of sourdough, for example, were both driven by social media.

Love it or hate it, the Instagram culture has increased food expectations and standards – and this can only be a good thing. Sharing food images has become part of the meal experience, so how it looks is as important as how it tastes. 

The food we serve in schools is no different. We must understand that continuous access to information has made pupils food-savvy (from food styles and presentation to nutrition and sustainability) and create uplifting, inclusive experiences that reflect what’s happening on the high street.

Social media is a great resource for our chefs to keep on top of the latest trends. By understanding what’s exciting pupils outside school, we can continually develop menus that engage and inspire a lifelong love of food.

It’s also an effective motivational tool for our teams. External social media shows our talented chefs that what they’re producing is as good as, if not better than, their peers in other sectors of the industry – and that’s a very positive message. We use an internal social media platform that has had the most explosive effect on motivation and how valued people feel. At the touch of a button, our teams across the country can share ideas, best practice and create healthy competition that pushes boundaries – and that’s what we’re all about. This is great news for our business and our clients, keeping employee turnover very low and our creativity high.

Understandably, many people are wary of social media and its pitfalls – especially the generations that haven’t grown up with it. But, managed properly, it’s a powerful tool. It’s important to work with partners that have the expertise to maximise the positives and mitigate the risks.

Whatever side of the technology fence you sit on, one thing’s for sure, it’s not going away. Who knows what will become mainstream next? AI and robotics are fast exploding into our realms of work, but that’s a completely different discussion!

I’m in awe of, yet inspired by, technology and the opportunities it creates. Embrace it and be brave. It can be so effective. That’s how we stay in tune with what children are doing and ensure we don’t underestimate them, allowing us to focus on what we do best, food. You never know, we might find a fabulous solution on the way that we’ve never imagined – now isn’t that exciting?



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