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86% of Gen-Z Suffers From ‘Menu Anxiety’ When Dining Out, Study Reveals

British restaurant Prezzo conducted a study of over 2000 people and found that 86% of Gen Z experiences “menu anxiety” while ordering a meal at a restaurant.

Gen Z woman looking at menu trying to decide on an order.
Young woman reading menu. Image: Shutterstock/Okrasiuk

British restaurant Prezzo conducted a study of over 2000 people and found that 86% of Gen Z experience “menu anxiety” while ordering a meal at a restaurant.

Though not an actual psychiatric diagnosis, “menu anxiety” is intense stress and uneasiness triggered by not knowing what to order when dining out. The survey found that 67% of overall participants experienced this to some extent, but it was even more common among individuals of younger generations.

In fact, 34% of young adults reported that they felt so nervous while ordering that they depended on someone else to communicate with the waiter/waitress for them. Some cited causes of menu anxiety include high prices, not finding appealing items on the menu and the worry of regretting an order later.

The paradox of choice and other possible causes of menu anxiety

Reddit users also weighed in on the study’s findings and shared their own thoughts on factors that could contribute to menu anxiety. One of these is the concept of “choice paralysis” or “the paradox of choice.” It suggests that though we may believe that an abundance of options gives us more freedom over what we want, it actually limits our freedom by making decision-making more difficult. Deciding on what one prefers becomes harder, and the chances of being dissatisfied with the result increase.

The paradox of choice is a phenomenon becoming of more and more interest in the modern world, where people are constantly subject to endless options. As Barry Schwartz puts it in his book The Paradox of Choice, “Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”

Man standing in a maze, exposed to endless options
Being exposed to endless options on a menu can feel like being stuck in a maze, anxious and unable to decide what path to take. Image: Shutterstock/Torkiat8

In addition to indecisiveness, another factor could be feeling like one has to choose before the restaurant staff arrives at the table. Not wanting to waste the staff’s time or appear indecisive in front of others can contribute to feeling rushed to order, bringing about anxiety.

Is this really a new thing specific to Gen Z?

However, some suggest that this phenomenon has been around for multiple generations, just called by different names. One reason it may have come under more light in recent times, like other forms of anxiety, may be that Gen Z is more vocal about it.

Another possibility is that different generations have different ways to deal with having to order quickly. Older generations seem to be more likely to ask many questions about a single menu item when the waiter/waitress arrives, which also buys them more time to decide. Younger generations, on the other hand, are more likely to wait until they are ready but never really feel ready when the waiter/waitress comes over.

“Menu anxiety” is most likely not just specific to Gen Z because who would want to feel like they wasted their time at a place they didn’t like the food at?

How to deal with menu anxiety

A simple fix to menu anxiety is to remember that there is no real deadline to make the decision on what to order. Fortunately, Reddit users pointed out that “waiter” and “waitress” both contain the word “wait.” Restaurant staff is paid to wait to take customers’ orders. They will most likely have no problem at all with waiting a few extra moments to take an order. You deserve a few more minutes to decide whenever you need it.

Another fix is eating out at restaurants that have a more concise menu with fewer options, which may help with making decisions. It can be especially helpful to look at the menu beforehand and see if there’s anything that looks good. Other ways to narrow it down include deciding on a category of foods first, choosing a plate from a list of specials, or asking the waiter/waitress for recommendations.

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s just a meal, not a major life decision. It will not matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s also perfectly okay to order something that doesn’t turn out perfectly! Remember that you will eat out at other places in your lifetime, and there is bound to be one you like better.

Written By

Hi there! I'm Suhani Singh, a high school student from Redmond, WA. I'm most interested in writing about news and lifestyle. Outside of writing and journalism, I enjoy learning neurobiology and advocating against the commercial tobacco industry.

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