Gen Z – a very different prospect for the pub

Those in Generation Z of Legal Drinking Age are taking a very different approach to alcohol when out socialising as a new report on their activities and social aspirations indicates. We take a look at what Gen Z has to say in this report.

Strong evidence is emerging that Ireland’s drinking habits are changing with people of all ages drinking more moderately, drinking less.

According to a Drinks Ireland-commissioned research report into Generation Z’s drinking trends from cultural insights agency Bricolage, many may be surprised to hear that alcohol consumption is at its lowest level in 20 years, having plummeted by about 33% since its peak of 2001 according to data from the Revenue Commissioners.

The Bricolage study, entitled Irish Gen Z Socialising Trends and compiled last June, focussed on Irish Generation Z-ers aged 18 to 25 and aimed to conduct a qualitative deep dive into how Legal Drinking Age Gen Zs in Ireland – as well as young Millennials – view their relationship with drinking and how they socialise.

The ethnographic research sought to delve into how young people in Ireland over the age of 18 are socialising, to understand what “better socialising” means to them.

When those LDA Gen Zs and young Millennials choose to have a drink these days they prioritise enjoyment and moderation over quantity.

For many younger people, social occasions centre around conviviality and no longer centre around alcohol, found the report.

The young people interviewed here cited “outdoor” and “active” the most when talking about the desire to engage in new activities.

While being more health-oriented, these experiences also give them a sense of achievement, the research found.

Events and occasions are no longer centred around alcohol and are often more daytime-focused and about extending the weekend.

“Each generation has its own version of socialising – including the consumption of alcohol, food and other categories as part of this,” it notes.

“This generation has grown up completely integrated into social media,” explained Kate Dingwall, a food & drinks contributor @Forbes.com, one of the interviewees cited in the study, “The thought of going to a party and having everything filmed or photographed while being intoxicated isn’t appealing as they’re so constantly aware of their online presence”.

Ciara McNulty, a dietician & content creator, also cited in the report, agrees. She points out that, “Younger generations do tend to be more aware of negative consequences of drinking or going out and it leads to picking and choosing your moments of going all out and being a bit more conscious to not go overboard”.

Anyway, sitting around drinking makes for a dull Instagram/TikTok post and this has inspired Gen Z to capture more “active/interesting” social occasions.

A Dublin-based music photographer interviewed for the survey sums it up: “The next generation of musicians just don’t drink as much as previously, they’re not into the Sex, Drugs+Rock’n’Roll in the same way at all. They’re not indulging in drinking or even other substances as much”.

Post-Covid attitudes

The confinement of young people during Covid definitely wrought a new attitude to what they couldn’t do – socialise – and how they’d set about it in a post-Covid world.

“With constraints on socialising in place, along with others Gen Z explored new ways to socialise that involved less alcohol-centric spaces,” observes the report.

For example, current socialising with a high appeal among LDA Gen Z might involve events like Bingo Loco in Cork which makes use of comedy hosts, DJs, music, various competitions and prizes during the night (ranging from international holidays to lawnmowers). Bingo Loco is described as “a premiumised multi-level and engaging night out”.

Such events appeal to Gen Z because this “gamifies” a night out, it offers multiple experiences available at once and there’s a party atmosphere where drinking is not the main activity.

Others aim to socialise in healthier ways such as meeting for a game of football instead of watching it in the pub. That’s not to say that others wouldn’t be happy to visit the pub – but only under certain conditions.

“No queues on entry, on toilets and on bars would be it for me,” commented Amy E, a Gen Zer from Limerick, “And better weather in the sunshine in an open top terrace beer garden.”

The respondents were clear that for them, better socialising meant that alcohol was not the focus, but an ‘enhancer’ rather than a ‘prescriber’.

Katie, a Millennial from Limerick, commented, “Better socialising is a night you enjoy with friends and that you can remember afterwards. A lot of people tend to associate socialising with alcohol. I believe that we should redefine socialising to a planned meeting of friends. I have had some very fun nights where I was the designated driver. I danced the night away just drinking Sprite and Heineken0.0”.

However another commented, “The protests in support of the Cobblestone show how much cultural spaces mean to Irish people. Also, clubbing is culture”.

The respondents were clear that for them, better socialising meant that alcohol was not the focus, but an ‘enhancer’ rather than a ‘prescriber’.

The respondents were clear that for them, better socialising meant that alcohol was not the focus, but an ‘enhancer’ rather than a ‘prescriber’.

Gen Z & better drinking

The Bricolage report points out that drinking norms have shifted for Gen Z audiences as cultural observers see Gen Z drinking differently.

In the report, journalist Kate Dingwall points out, “This generation has grown up completely integrated into social media. The thought of going to a party and having everything filmed or photographed while being intoxicated isn’t appealing as they’re so constantly aware of their online presence”.

Gen Z sees ‘better drinking’ as prioritising taste and enjoyment through a wider range availability (including lower alcohol options) and having a level of moderation in alcohol consumption through ‘responsible drinking’. There’s an appetite among Gen Z to be “in control” in regard to alcohol consumption.

To this cohort, knowing how much they’ve drunk is important to avoid ‘binge drinking’.

In summary, “I went drinking” seems to be on the way out for this generation in favour of more varied activities taking place “where alcohol is present”.

When it comes to health choices, Irish Gen Zers tend towards balance over extremes, healthier over healthy choices and cutting down rather than cutting out. Nevertheless, there’s an unwillingness to compromise on taste.  Generally though, alcohol is seen to be less of an area in which to make changes than diet or exercise.

“The drinks industry welcomes the shift to ‘better drinking’ and ‘better socialising’ among younger generations, as seen in this research,” says Cormac Healy, a Director with Drinks Ireland, “We believe this is something that policy-makers and all stakeholders should seek to better understand.

“We know that alcohol consumption is now at its lowest level in 20 years, having declined by about 33% since the peak of 2001, according to data from Revenue and we can see that young people may really be leading the charge here.

We’re seeing a trend in the market of choosing quality over quantity, which has been facilitated by great innovation in the drinks industry in recent years. From craft beer and cider to Irish whiskey, there’s never been more choice for Irish consumers to follow the “less is more” mantra.

“Many may still have outdated views about Ireland’s drinking culture and we hope this will help inform future policy, to ensure we further drive these positive trends in the best possible way.”



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