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By Katherine Pendrill
As a restaurateur in the 2020s, you know that social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram play a huge role in building awareness of your venue and driving diners to your door. Chances are, you’re already using these channels to connect with customers.
But have you considered trying newer platforms like TikTok to expand your reach online?
It can be tough to know when a digital marketing tactic is a trend worthy of your time and effort, or just a passing fad. And if you’re a parent, turning to your kids with the question might not get you anything more than an eye roll. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to TikTok marketing for restaurants.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about TikTok marketing, including:
You’ll be a pro in no time. Let’s dive in!
Restaurant social media trends evolve rapidly, and keeping up can feel like a full-time job on top of running a busy business. The thought of adding another platform into your marketing mix might seem daunting, but it’s worth your while if it will help you boost sales. So, let’s take a quick look at what TikTok is all about and the research that shows how it influences diner behavior.
TikTok is a social media app like Instagram or Twitter, for example. One key difference is that while content creators primarily share photos on Instagram and text on Twitter, they share short-form videos on TikTok (15 second videos, to be exact). Creators can add sounds, songs, special effects, and filters to their videos, and users can like, comment on, and share the content.
What kind of video content are we talking about?
If you think of TikTok as a dance app, you’re not alone. The platform was initially known for its viral dance videos, but it’s grown to feature so much more than fancy footwork. TikTok trends for restaurants have become all the rage – and for good reason, the research shows just how effective it can be.
Some things just pair perfectly together, like burgers and French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, and smartphones and TikTok. The social media platform is currently enjoying its heyday, beating Google for the top spot of the internet’s most popular website in 2021.
TikTok has 1 billion users worldwide, with 65 million of those in the U.S., where they spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the platform. The best part? These users are actively engaging with content on the app.
“In 2021, the average TikTok engagement rate for the profiles analyzed was 5.96%. By comparison, the next-closest of the other platforms was Instagram, at 0.83%. Facebook (0.13%) and Twitter (0.05%) trailed even further,” according to data from Socialinsider published on MarketingCharts.com.
Not only does TikTok boast higher engagement than its more established social media counterparts, but engagement on the platform actually increased by 0.85% in 2021. In contrast, engagement on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter decreased during the same time period.
So, what does this mean for you specifically? Exploring TikTok marketing for restaurants is a smart move. Here are a few reasons why, based on a survey by the marketing agency MGH:
The numbers don’t lie – TikTok has achieved mainstream popularity online. So, let’s walk through a few of the advantages of leveraging this social media platform to help you surpass your restaurant competition.
Gone are the days when restaurateurs had to rely on expensive newspaper and radio ads to drive new business. Today, you can reach thousands of potential customers online with a 15-second video created on your smartphone. As the research we’ve covered shows, TikTok has been proven to help restaurants bring in new guests.
Of course, there are a few tips you should follow when creating video content for TikTok that will help you put your best face forward for potential customers. We’ll dig into those TikTok ideas for restaurants in the next section of this guide.
More than ever, customers want to support local businesses. And as people start to travel again, visitors want to have authentic experiences when they arrive at their destination, including trying local food. TikTok can help you capitalize on these trends.
The social media platform recently added a location tagging feature, which makes it easier for you to show up in restaurant searches if you’re based in the U.S. All you have to do is tag your restaurant’s location when you post a video on TikTok to improve your chances of users in the area seeing your content.
It takes time to figure out what to post on social media, create the content, and share it with your restaurant’s followers. Which is why it can be so disappointing if no one engages with your posts – it can even make you question your marketing strategy.
That’s why it’s important to focus on platforms like TikTok, where you don’t have to “pay to play” – in other words, platforms where people are more likely to engage with your content for free. In contrast to Facebook, where you typically have to put advertising dollars behind your posts to generate engagement, TikTok’s users are highly engaged with content shared on the platform, allowing you to reach them without spending a dime.
Marketers often suggest that you should “borrow other people’s audiences” to expand your reach online. In the case of TikTok, this is easy to do by connecting with micro-influencers.
What exactly is a micro-influencer? It’s someone who has a small but highly engaged following – someone whose recommendations, including restaurant recommendations, carry a lot of weight with their followers. Getting the seal of approval from a micro-influencer on their latest meal at your restaurant could mean turning some of their audience into customers, too.
You now have an understanding of what TikTok is, plus some of the main benefits of TikTok marketing for restaurants. Now it’s time to talk about TikTok trends for restaurants to give you some creative inspiration for your first TikTok video.
Before we get started, let us be clear: you don’t need videography equipment or a script to create content for TikTok. All you need is your smartphone and a willingness to try something new! But by all means, get as fancy as you like if that’s on-brand for your restaurant.
Sharing videos of your latest culinary creations is an excellent tactic for promoting your restaurant on TikTok. There’s no better way to get customers excited about your new menu items or daily specials than by showing them how delicious the food looks.
Northern Ontario, Canada restaurant The Breakfast Pig leverages this trend by posting a video of its new waffle breakfast poutine. Mmm, comfort food!
@thebreakfastpig This new menu is just hittin’ different #fyp #foodtok #bruncktok #foodie #foodietiktok #restauranttok #thesoo #northernontario ♬ original sound – F̸o̸o̸t̸b̸a̸l̸l̸ k̸i̸d̸
A big part of content marketing, which includes sharing videos on TikTok, is about helping your audience learn new things so they’ll see you as a go-to resource for information. This keeps your brand top of mind with your social media followers and can even turn them into customers.
Teaching your audience a simple technique, like the salad chain sweetgreen does in this TikTok video about prepping asparagus, is a great way to build a relationship with your followers while promoting your menu items. Notice how sweetgreen mentions their chimichurri bowls in the video description?
@sweetgreen Asparagus is our ⭐️ ingredient in our chimichurri bowls. Chef Kat is giving us quick hack on how to properly prep the vegetable for any occasion. #sg #sweetgreen #fyp ♬ original sound – sweetgreen
TikTok is a visual medium, so it presents a fantastic opportunity for you to give your audience a peek at everything from your food to your dining room. This will help give viewers a feel for the vibe of your restaurant in a way you can’t achieve with a photo alone.
Asian-themed chain P. F. Chang’s does exactly that in this TikTok video, which begins in the restaurant’s entryway and ends on the patio, showcasing the food, bar, and decor in between.
@pfchangs Taking myself out on a solo date #solo #date #eatingout #lunch #treatyoself ♬ original sound – alex🐛
We’ve already discussed some of the benefits of influencer marketing. It can be especially helpful when your restaurant is new to TikTok and still growing your audience, but it’s also used by restaurants with follower counts in the six figures.
In this TikTok video, Texas-based chain Whataburger teams up with Austin blogger @rachellately for a lighthearted video about how getting her Whataburger fix upon returning to the Lone Star State after traveling has her “feeling like herself again.”
@whataburger Whataburger is a personality type. @Rachel | Austin Texas Blogger #whataburger ♬ original sound – Whataburger
Running a contest is a great way for your restaurant to increase awareness and drive engagement on social media.
Shake Shack got creative with a recent giveaway on TikTok by sharing a video of an empty food tray and tossing a $100 gift card onto the tray. Then, they asked viewers to follow the restaurant on TikTok and comment on the video with their orders for a chance to win the gift card.
@shakeshack Reply to @user129695186 To enter: follow us and comment your order. T+C’s in bio. Winner announced 4/25. #shakeshack #giveaway ♬ Throwing roses – Rickie
Recently launched a new loyalty program or app? Use TikTok to get the word out about it!
Outback Steakhouse tried this tactic when it launched its app in 2021. This TikTok video shows both the restaurant’s user-friendly app and the ever-popular Bloomin’ Onion dish.
@outback_official NEW Outback App = More Convenience! @Laleh #fyp #bloominonion #foodtiktok ♬ original sound – Outback Steakhouse
Adding special effects and music to your restaurant’s TikTok videos can help “stop the scroll” and get your content noticed amidst a sea of competition from other creators.
Even household name brands are getting in on the fun. In this Valentine’s Day-themed video, Pizza Hut shows off its playful side by superimposing eyes and a mouth onto a heart-shaped pizza and calling it “the hottest thing in the room.”
@pizzahut Awww stop 😊 #valentinesday #galentinesday #love #pizzatiktok #pizzalover ♬ original sound – Pizza Hut
New trends emerge regularly on social media (does anyone remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?), and TikTok is no different. One such recent trend is known as “The Photo” and simply involves showing off your best photos or videos.
The Cheesecake Factory got in on this trend in a recent TikTok video of freshly baked bread. They used the popular “#thephoto” hashtag, which has received 1.9 billion views to date.
@thecheesecakefactory This photo’s a real bread winner📸 #brownbread #thephoto #foodtok #cheesecakefactory ♬ "The Photo" – </3
There’s no doubt that TikTok is a powerful digital marketing channel for restaurants. It can also be a lot of fun to try different ways to connect with your customers on the social media platform. What video ideas will you try? Connect with us on TikTok at @touchbistroo and let us know.
Katherine is the Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, where she writes about trending topics in food and restaurants. The opposite of a picky eater, she’ll try (almost) anything at least once. Whether it’s chowing down on camel burgers in Morocco or snacking on octopus dumplings in Japan, she’s always up for new food experiences.
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