Social Media Is Changing The Recipe For How Teens Eat

Teens from every generation have been influenced by peer pressure, and this current crop is no different. Status symbols impact purchase behavior on a daily basis. Just ask any teen if they would rather have a pair of Beats by Dre or Bose headphones (widely regarded as the better product). He won’t respond, because his shiny new Beats will cancel out the ambient noise of adult questioning.  

But now, teens crave more than just cool clothes or the latest gadgets; they are hungry for social currency. Likes, comments, follows and snaps have become so important that they affect how teens spend their money. Before every purchase, they are asking “Is this post-worthy?” 

This pivotal question is changing where and what teenagers are eating, because every meal could earn or burn valuable social media points. While previous generations weighed their meal choices against their wallet, taste buds and belt line, today’s teens are measuring a meal in social statistics.



Mintel reported in 2012 that teens spend nearly half of their money (49%) on food and beverages and roughly a quarter of it (24%) eating out. If restaurant brands want a piece of that pie, they cannot operate under the same old banners of price and taste alone. They have to become socially savvy now, and here are a few tips that can help:

  • Understand and avoid Food Shame
  • Make it sexy enough for Food Porn
  • Invite your fans into the kitchen

Food Shame

Where to grab a bite used to be a relatively private decision. But now, teenagers are set to “overshare”, and every purchase is a reflection of who they are. This means that teens can’t just eat wherever they want anymore. The desire to grab something quick and cheap or to splurge on something unhealthy now has to be weighed against how the post will be received on newsfeeds. 

MomentFeed has identified the most popular restaurants on the social spectrum, and a big media spend doesn’t magically give your brand social clout. For example, 30% of visitors who checked in at In-N-Out Burger shared their experience on Instagram. Compare that to less than 3% of visitors at Wendy’s or McDonald’s. Ad campaigns may be driving people in, but the notion of Food Shame is keeping visitors from sharing.  

These brands and others like them have to start taking measures to upgrade their guest experience and social identity to be post-worthy. Because the shame of having to post from certain restaurants (or wasting a chance to post) is enough to drive a teenager somewhere else.  

Food Porn 

For years, the idea of Food Porn (posting sexy pics of sinfully good food) had been reserved for foodies. Recently though, teens have jumped on the bandwagon (which incidentally is a food truck) and are engaging in the Food Porn frenzy. This isn’t because teens are all foodies, it’s because they post about every activity (including eating). And if they’re going to post about a meal, they’re going to choose something worthy of posting.

Restaurant brands have to shake things up to get teens excited or intrigued. That can look like new product launches (Taco Bell’s famous Doritos Locos Tacos) or packaging innovation (KFC’s new Go Cup). Some brick-and-mortar restaurants are even investing in food trucks to give fans a different experience.

One key thing to note is that Food Porn has evolved for the younger generation. It’s no longer limited to just great-looking photography of exquisite food. Teens are posting about anything that draws their attention or raises an eyebrow. Which means any restaurant can capitalize and cash in with teens – regardless of how their food tastes – as long as they offer something fun and unique. 

Invite Fans In

It’s not enough to just deliver compelling content, that’s only half of the two-way social street. Savvy restaurants are inviting fans into the conversation. The goal is to entice teens to want to connect withthem instead of the other way around. According to a 2013 Forrester study, nearly 60% of kids aged 12-17 engage with brands on social networks. And nearly half of them expect the brand to respond, interact, and listen. By opening up the lines of communication (and caring what fans say), these brands can earn their own social street cred. 

Some brands are catching on and widening the circle. Dunkin Donuts rewards its fans for posting their experiences to #mydunkin by featuring them on Facebook. Whataburger populates its website with posts from its faithful followers and recently changed its All-Time Favorites menu based on social suggestion. Examples like these and others who aren’t afraid to crowdsource ideas and recipes may sound risky, since they involve giving up some level of control. But in doing so, these restaurants are making their products personal to teens. It’s no longer their burger, it’s my burger. 

The Last Bite

The bottom line for marketers is that teens have different purchase criteria than their parents and older siblings did. And the restaurant market is not the only one that will feel the effects. No category is safe from this shift toward socially-driven buying behavior, no matter how commoditized or inelastic the demand may seem. 

Marketers need to stop thinking of their brand as just products or services and start thinking of them as shareable experiences – because that’s how teenagers see them. And if they aren’t worth sharing, then they aren’t worth buying.

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