Restaurant TikTok: When Social Strategy is More Crucial Than Food
Restaurant TikTok: When Social Strategy is More Crucial Than Food

Restaurant TikTok: When Social Strategy is More Crucial Than Food

Over the tumultuous course of COVID-19’s arrival in 2020, the food industry suffered quite a blow. Between lockdowns, social distancing guidelines and operational restrictions, restaurants struggled—and it’s believed that around 90,000 US eateries closed during this time. A lot of those that didn’t shutter are still scrambling to make up for months of lost business and looking for a low-cost way to drum up interest among new and existing customers. Enter: TikTok. The social media app has become a tool for boosting visibility and creating hype around not only the food these establishments create but also the vibe they offer. 

Restaurants that go viral on TikTokhave reported incredible rates of demand for their product—which is mostly a good thing. For example, New York’s Lafayette Bakery crisp croissants were the must-have pastry this summer, despite a steep $9.25 price tag. The flaky and flavor-packed croissants are messy, but that also makes for great TikTok fodder. Lines to secure one of these breakfast treats had wait times up to 45 minutes and demand was so strong, customers were limited to buying only one at a time. 

The TikTok viral crisp croissant from New York’s Lafayette Bakery.

Restaurant TikTok Marketing Stats

Here at Social Studies, we think TikTok is an essential marketing tool for any type of restaurant or cafe. Not only can you create brand awareness with audiences that are local and global, but it’s another way to effectively engage with your customers and build a direct relationship with them.

And we’re not alone in that stance. The hashtag #food has over 379 billion views on TikTok, proving there’s a rabid audience for anything culinary-related on the app. To back that stat up, a 2021 study from MGH, a marketing agency, discovered that 36% of TikTok users either visited or ordered takeout from a restaurant after seeing them represented on the app. Though it’s unclear how many of those users were actually hungry before they started scrolling. That same survey also discovered that 55% of users visited a restaurant they saw on TikTok because they simply thought the food looked appetizing and 51% visited after learning about a unique menu item. This may make the case for investing in the photography of your food—as the better it looks online, the more alluring it may be for future customers.

BTS Access & TikTok Trends Draw Younger Consumers

Alexandra Lourdes, the owner of Café Lola & Saint Honoré Donuts in Las Vegas, has made her local eatery a nationwide TikTok sensation by bringing a lot of personality and behind-the-scenes action to her feed. Her 922K followers can get a sneak peek at the Halloween donut that customers are obsessed with and learn why a visit to Staples is key to the cafe’s seasonal menus. Alexandra even shares her very honest opinion on customer drink orders, making her feed feel much more friendly than your average business account trying to sell a product. It’s not only Lourdes’ authenticity that draws an audience but the fact that this business owner posts on TikTok on a daily basis, mixing regular updates with tidbits of unique content.

One key to TikTok’s success in this space is the app’s high engagement with younger consumers. Getting younger generations interested in a product or a destination will not only help build interest among their peers (and hopefully go viral) but it could help establish a strong emotional bond that could increase the lifetime value of these consumers. Plus, it’s hard to overlook the app’s continued rate of growth compared to the decline of Facebook and Instagram.

It’s also surprisingly easy to go viral on TikTok, thanks to the algorithm that doesn’t rely on follower count to push content out to larger audiences. Restaurants can easily hop on trends to promote their food, using sounds, songs or even formats that draw eyes and likes. Viral menu items can also appeal to those who have FOMO or those who always want to try the coolest new thing.

A TikTok screenshot of Sweetgreen's Ceasar salad.

There’s also some benefit in turning your restaurant’s meals into recipes that anyone can make at home. Sweetgreen has become a leader in this space, offering step-by-step instructions for their Caesar dressing and Spicy Cashew dressing. The fast-casual destination also uses its TikTok as a platform to show off the ingredients in its newest salad launches (while jokingly mispronouncing almost every ingredient) and custom creations that have become customer faves. 

Restaurant Tip: Team Up with TikTok Influencers

Want some tips for success? Follow Lourdes’ example by posting on a regular cadence. It’s well known that the TikTok algorithm favors creators who consistently post engaging content. A daily post from your account will result in greater exposure and it will help build a community that will actually start looking forward to your videos.

If your budget allows for it, team up with relevant TikTok influencers to creatively promote your fare. Dunkin did this by partnering with mega TikTok star Charli D’Amelio and allowing her to create a custom drink for the coffee chain—a post where she orders the drink for the first time racked up 12.5 million likes. The day after her caramel swirl cold brew with whole milk drink dropped, Dunkin’ reported a 20% uptick in sales.

A TikTok screenshot of @charlidamelio wearing a Dunkin' Donuts branded onesie.

This ongoing partnership has yielded insane numbers, like this teaser from D’Amelio’s account that generated a cool 2.2 million likes and a merch collection that brought the caffeinated collab into wearable form. This was a particularly smart alignment since D’Amelio was a huge Dunkin’ fan before her partnership and has continued to post about her iced coffee addiction long after the buzz for the collab died down.

With the ability to customize content to best highlight any sort of food business—whether it’s the actual food or the values of the brand—TikTok has proven to be an invaluable tool to create demand, broaden brand awareness and build a busy business.

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