At the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Innovation Summit earlier this month in Dallas, panelists shared interesting insights on a variety of topics relating to innovation in the foodservice industry.

In the coming years and decades, Generation Z will be one of the most influential groups for this industry. At one of the Restaurant Innovation Summit’s panels, four Gen Z consumers (all under the age of 23) shared their thoughts on how foodservice establishments can engage with their generation.

Social media continues to play a major role in reaching younger people. Instagram, in particular, is the best option. Gen Zers use the platform to find where and what their friends are eating, share their own food experiences, and follow their favorite chefs. The panelists recommend that businesses’ Instagram posts match their vibe.

Email is becoming a less popular messaging tool for this generation. According to the panel, most Gen Zers would prefer to get messages through text since they are already on their phones.

Reward programs continue to be popular with Gen Z, as they are with many consumer groups. They recommend that rewards be easy to collect and they like knowing when they are going to get their next loyalty reward.

Virtual reality experience

Meanwhile, another panel at the Restaurant Innovation Summit tackled the topic of technology’s role in improving the dining experience. Jinsoo An, the founder and CEO of startup company Project Nourished, is experimenting with using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to improve consumers’ eating and drinking experiences.

Project Nourished is testing several ways to change perception of these experiences. One way to do that is to create a virtual world around the actual food. Jinsoo An gave an example of using animated jungle animals to play a game that interests diners in eating vegetables.

The startup is also looking into such things as movement, color, and changing shapes to change the pleasure we get from eating and perception of flavor.

Project Nourished wants to helps restaurants collect data on what diners are looking at and tasting, thus helping them to make the right food adjustments and develop new concepts.