Gen Y Uses Mobile Tech to Hunt Down Meals . / Credit: Ordering meal from smartphone image via Shutterstock

When it comes to satisfying the munchies while on the move, Gen Y, the 18- to 34-year-olds of the millennial generation, hasn't evolved all that much beyond its caveman forebears, a new survey shows. They're still a tribe of hunters. The only difference between then and now is that millennials use their smartphones instead of spears to forage for their next meal.

The massive penetration of smartphones into the U.S. market has made the mobile internet a normal part of life for a large chunk of the population, according to eMarketer, a research company.  And one of the key activities is finding their next meal.

While simply searching for a place to eat nearby is the most popular activity for mobile users, young users are far more likely than their elders to associate their mobile devices with food and develop deeper relationships with their food sources, the survey found. Nearly a third (32 percent) of millennials told the Technomic food researchers that they had checked menus on their phones.

Gen Xers, born between the '60s and '80s, were about half as likely to do so, and just 8 percent of baby boomers said the same. A similar generation gap was present for other digital activities associated with restaurants, including following them on social media and checking in via mobile apps.

The top activity for all age groups was looking up menus, probably because it is the most practical activity, eMarketer said. Following restaurants on social media or checking in via mobile apps, while a fun activity, just don't have the same payoff or measurably improve the dining experience.

One activity that does improve the dining experience— and one that's growing in popularity — is the ability to place an order ahead of time via mobile phone, an option most commonly offered by quick-service or fast-casual restaurants. 

Nearly a quarter of U.S. smartphone and tablet users reported having placed an order in this way in a September survey by Prosper Mobile Insights.

More than six in 10 respondents said ordering ahead of time improved their dining experience at least a little bit (including 29 percent who said their experience was “a lot better”).

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.We're also on Facebook & Google+.