No one on social media seems to be having more fun than the army of creators who use TikTok. The short-form video platform, online only since 2016, has risen to seeming ubiquity in a flash, driven by the energy of its young user base and a pandemic to ground everyone in America onto their phones. More kinetic than Instagram, more upbeat than Twitter, more accessible than Snapchat, TikTok is a natural fit for people who love to make and talk about food. And with a billion users, the platform hosts more than a few accounts that restaurant operators ought to get to know.
You might be using the platform to promote your steakhouse or your taco truck, in which case, check out our tips on how to get into the groove of making videos for your restaurant. But if you really want to thrive, the surest path to getting ideas for your own digital content is to dive into the gazillion or so videos that are making the rounds every day. You’re not going to crack the algorithm overnight, so don’t even make that your goal. Just enjoy and learn, and if you see something that fits your vibe and strategy, adapt it as you see fit.
“The thing with TikTok is that it’s the perfect Snapchat,” said Alvarro Psevoznik, founder of the Foodie Agency, a marketing firm that has worked exclusively with restaurants for more than twenty years. “It shows you exactly what you’re looking for, which doesn’t happen in such a perfect way on Instagram or Facebook. They have a lot of tools, very easy to use, for content creators to become professionals in a matter of weeks.”
Some of the most-viewed TikTok videos are the least complicated. Others can be blowout productions. Most of them contain some element of color, sound, plot, or heart that make them stand out in the sea of online content. Below are a mix of large accounts and small that might inspire you to greater ideas for your own videos … or might just be fun to zone out to for a few minutes on your break.
During the pandemic this Philadelphia chef started demonstrating recipes on TikTok and found a huge audience. The elements are simple: Cho talking straight to camera, telling you what he’s going to make, announcing each ingredient, and then demonstrating its preparation in about one minute. The only tricky part of him showing off dishes such as Broke Boyz Korean Crab Cake or spicy cucumber (2 million views!) is that you’ve got to be able to measure out grams as he leads you on this cheery sprint. You’ll get interjections like “Whooo, look at that color right there, fam” and, to confirm that you’re in Philly, instructions like “Mix that jawn up.” It’s a little masterclass in the power of being yourself, making swift edits, and sharing some useful cooking knowledge.
This Midwestern confectioner has been around since 1996, and in that time has proven a knack for getting media attention, be it from the Wall Street Journal or from the Food Network. That notoriety surely has contributed to its massive 2 million followers on TikTok, but don’t let that discourage you from learning from its simple, effective process videos. Rolling a caramel apple in sprinkles for 11 seconds, while Eminem plays? Boom, 1.3 million views. Making a caramel apple in silence, listening to the oddly soothing sounds of an apple being cored and dragged around a vat of caramel? That’s 6.5 million views for 14 seconds. People love to look at (and listen to) comfort foods.
From the “seriously, do not overthink this stuff” school comes this Philly Water Ice truck that shows off its electric-colored desserts in short, sweet bursts. How about two cups of water ice set to five seconds of Drake? Sure, post it. A customer trying their first water ice? (“I love it.”) Yep, that’s a post. This video of vivid orange ice water landing in a cup racked up 1.2 million views. That’s some sweet ROI right there.
Even if you don’t speak enough Spanish to follow the voiceover, you’ll get the appeal of these sharply edited, playfully theatrical cooking videos from a chef in Mexico. As you’re watching the namesake chef whip up faux spaghetti noodles made of mussels, or fry up some puffy sesame-rice pastries, you’ll find yourself engrossed by the technique and the gastronomy. Look for the small flourishes in the camerawork and the kitchen choreography — including his sign-off of “sexy” at the close of each video.
An excellent account to follow if you want to bake delicious things, and absorb some tips on a more intensive editing style. This home baker in Manchester, England, sometimes goes relatively minimalist, stacking up a tower of tres leches pancakes to 20 seconds of Doja Cat thumping along to a single, straight-ahead shot with quick edits. More often, though, you get a full production of backing music and an amiable voiceover, complete with digressions, while Ash whips through a recipe for sprinkle cake or matcha donuts. “I also ended up adding a cream cheese icing,” he says as he finishes his single-serve cinnamon roll. “I felt the pressure from society to do so.” If your brand is sheer simple charm, here’s your role model.
The celebrity chef and restaurateur calls himself “the leading voice for eating super well, super easily,” and his minute-or-so instructional videos stay true to that mission. It’s easy to find stunty accounts that will treat the kitchen like an episode of “Jackass.” Ming tilts more PBS as he explains how to cook his house rice (a blend of white and brown) or offers a three-step clinic on how to hold a kitchen knife. You might decide to show off universal kitchen techniques in your own videos — or simply get pointers from a former Iron Chef, your call.
Hot Chi claims to be Chicago’s hottest chicken joint, and its hottest video (with more than a million views!) was simply 11 seconds of a back of house staffer eating chicken tenders, interspersed with cuts of the chicken being prepped. If you employ the sort of prep cooks who don’t mind giving a thumbs-up with dipping sauce oozing down their cheeks, you may have a viral star in the making. Give your staff a chance to shine, put some popular music behind them, and see where the algorithms take you.
This isn’t strictly a food account by any stretch. Van Arsdale, a veteran and artist who sells spray-painted beach and universe images on Etsy, is foremost a dude doing dude things. But his food videos take off, whether he’s planting potatoes or pan-frying filet mignon. If you watch this and think, “I could do that,” well, yeah, you probably could. Which is the point. This platform can bring tasks you perform every day to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom will appreciate that you are not, in fact, trying overly hard on their account.
You don’t get to 6.2 million followers simply by whipping up colorful sweets to dangle in front of people, though that obviously helps. Rather, the success of this candymaker’s behind-the-scenes videos relies on showing off the dramatic pouring and shaping and cutting of candies, as well as the family dynamic of the mom-and-pop shop. Don’t force a maudlin story if you don’t have one to share, but if you have a tale as good as theirs, let people into the room with you. They might become fans from halfway around the world.
Don’t let anyone tell you your establishment isn’t fancy enough for Tiktok. You can be downright country and blow right up on this platform if you want. This down-home Georgia buffet spot has amassed half a million followers by essentially just having a staffer or a cook walk you through the menu of the day, item by item: chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, barbecue chicken, meatloaf, panko-crusted fried fish, fried okra, baked cabbage, collard greens, green beans, butter beans, dressing, brown gravy, turkey gravy, squash casserole, caramel-glazed yams, bread pudding, sweet corn muffins, peach cobbler, and on and on and on and nom nom nom.
It amounts to a one-minute picture menu on your phone, punctuated with lines like, “Everyone’s all-time favorite, folks — I’m gonna scoop that mac for y’all this morning. Ooooooh, it is creamy. Look at that, y’all, look at that. You can’t say that ain’t creamy.” Go ahead. Try. You can’t say it ain’t.
Some people geek out on food videos for the rich sounds and calming colors. Don’t believe this is a thing? Scope out the ASMR offerings from this account that does little more than pick and cut open fruit. If you can’t get excited to see someone rip open a fresh jackfruit with their bare hands, why even have the internet?
When a Vietnamese street food vendor in Texas racks up more than 6 million views simply by showing off a giant tray of churros, fries, tacos, wings, and dipping sauce, you have to wonder what magic they’ve tapped into. Only the algorithm knows why this one went so gangbusters, but their everyday formula is awfully solid: show off heaping plates of freshly made food, set it to music, and add a heaping of hashtags before you post. This truly isn’t rocket science here. If you’ve got a dish that can make people hungry, find some nice lighting and let it speak for itself.
You like seeing pizzas slide into an outdoor brick oven, right? Yeah, you and everyone else on the planet. This account for a pizza joint at a cricket club has accumulated half a million followers by doing little else, in fact. Fire. Meats. Sauces. Carbs. Seven seconds of ogling a Margherita pizza while Dean Martin croons in the background? A cool 76,000 views. Forty seconds of seeing pies cross hot bricks, set to ABBA? Nearly 4 million views. No need to sweat this project when you have the goods.