Grace Dickinson | January 30, 2023, 11:30 PM CST
Is your restaurant on TikTok? If not, now’s likely a good time to put that on your to-do list. Research indicates the video-driven platform may become one of your best marketing tools this year.
Take, for example, a recent study from Google, which revealed that 40% of Gen Z users prefer using TikTok (and Instagram) to Google when searching for restaurants. Another recent study by software marketplace company Capterra, polling 164 retail and restaurant businesses, showed 78% of those using TikTok for marketing received a positive return on investment. Capterra’s data shows at least one in 10 small businesses using the app have gone viral, which brings restaurants before millions of viewers. And among the businesses surveyed that post both organic and sponsored content, 72% say organic TikTok content is “extremely valuable” to their company’s overall marketing performance.
“You don’t have to be active everyday, but at the bare minimum, it’s hugely helpful to have an account and get your brand in that space,” says Samantha Markiewicz, vice president of digital for Bread & Butter, a hospitality-focused social media marketing, public relations, and design company. “TikTok moves incredibly fast, and if a person of influence sparks interest in your business, it could go viral. If you have a Linktree built out to your website and reservation platforms and a little bit of content about what you do, you won’t miss out on that traffic but instead convert it into bookings.”
Unfortunately there’s not one golden formula to get content to trend on TikTok. But on the bright side, you might have a better chance of connecting with new customers than with other social platforms, including Instagram. TikTok’s “For You” page is the first page you land on when opening the app. It’s constantly updated using an algorithm that pulls in posts based on individual users’ in-app interests and behaviors. With the right mix of content, hashtags, location tags, and audio, you’ve got a shot at getting your content in front of people who don’t officially “follow” your account but instead have demonstrated that they’re interested in food and dining. Intrigue them, and they might click through to learn more.
Wondering how to get started? We teamed up with Markiewicz to bring you a list of top tips for marketing your restaurant on TikTok. And if you’re nervous about making videos, don’t worry – that’s where our list begins.
Having to create videos daily, or even weekly, can feel like a lot. But as a restaurant, your best marketing strategy isn’t about coming up with some sort of creative dance or lip-synching video. Instead, it’s about showing off what you’re already doing.
“That really helps take away some of the anxiety about having to come up with ideas,” says Markiewicz. “You can simply say, ‘My vehicle is my phone, and whatever I’m doing is the content people want to see.’”
Real content taken from your kitchen or restaurant will actually help you find the right audience. TikTok values content that falls within niches. Stick to food and dining, and your content will get distributed to others who value that niche.
The first step in signing up for TikTok is creating a username and profile. Try to claim a username as close to your restaurant’s name as possible.
“If you can’t get the actual name, find something close to your brand or play off the actual platform’s name,” says Markiewicz. “One theme of TikTok is that there’s all these niches, like BookTok or KnitTok or RunningTok, so if you’re restaurant’s name is Gracies, it could be GraciesTok, or you could add wherever you’re located, like GraciesLA.”
After choosing a username, set up your bio to include your general location or neighborhood and a Linktree that links out to your website and reservation platform. This allows people to easily identify if you’re in their area and book a table immediately. For your profile photo, choose a logo that you consistently use for your branding. “This is important because people see you so quickly [on TikTok], and you want them to recognize you immediately every time,” says Markiewicz.
Identify your signature dishes, and show them off – a lot. On TikTok, it’s highly valuable to become synonymous with something that people crave. And unlike with Instagram, that means you don’t have to be shy about featuring the same dish multiple times in one week.
“With Instagram it’s more about aesthetics, so if I post the same photo day after day, the people that follow me are going to get bored,” says Markiewicz. “But with Tiktok, people are rarely going to look at your profile. Instead, they’re spending time in their “For You” page, which isn’t curated by followers but by interest, so the more that you post things you want to be known for, the more chance you have to show up in someone’s feed.”
If you make something particularly eye-catching, that’s a good place to start. But even if you aren’t the kind of restaurant whipping up cheese wheel pasta or flaming cocktails, there are still plenty of tricks to add craveability to your dishes. Generally this involves adding movement. For example, maybe you slowly tear open that filled pastry to share the preserves gushing out. Or maybe you use chopsticks to pull noodles from a steaming hot bowl of ramen, or capture the bartender pouring your seasonal rum cocktail from the shaker, zooming in on the fresh-foamed finish. This movement can also be as simple as drawing your spoon through a bowl of creamy soup or twirling your fork through layers of pasta. There’s a lot of room for creativity, but the goal is to showcase different elements, like texture, temperature, and color, that will make the viewer want to experience an element that can never be visualized – taste.
People always love a peek into what they otherwise wouldn’t see. This includes showcasing parts of your restaurant’s day-to-day routines and also the humans behind the brand.
“Honesty and a little bit of grit is more interesting to people than the shiny perfectness of the brand,” says Markiewicz.
Ideas include filming snippets from a trip to the farmer’s market, a bartender mixing a cocktail, a walk through the kitchen, or parts of the R&D process for a recipe. You could also show the camaraderie of staff gathering for family meal and a look at what the team eats before service, or a chef making an appetizer.
Many of these ideas can be turned into a video series, where you pick a theme to execute on a regular basis. For example, have your bartender show off a new cocktail every other week or your chef cooking a different recipe monthly. This gives a baseline from which you can work and helps draw your audience back for more.
In general, try to find ideas that fit within your overall brand, and do your best to shine light onto the people behind the restaurant.
“If you build this type of relationship with your audience, it makes people like you not only in the good times, but it also buys you equity and sympathy if something goes wrong,” says Markiewicz.
Some of the content you put on Instagram isn’t likely to perform as well on TikTok, says Markiewicz, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make use of it in both spots.
“I would include footage of things like the menu, interior design, and even your neighborhood because it tells a bigger story, even if it doesn’t get as much traction as some of your other videos,” says Markiewicz.
TikTok’s algorithm favors videos that use trending audio clips, and a lot of that has to do with how the app first originated.
“TikTok was born out of an app called Musical.ly that focused on people making their own music videos,” says Markiewicz. “On TikTok, audio will begin to trend, and [the videos with] that audio will be pushed into your ‘For You’ page, with the idea that people take that audio and make their own video with their own spin.”
With a quick scroll through your “For You” page, usually it’s easy to pick out a few songs that are currently trending. But you can also turn to TikTok's Creative Center, and click the tab that says “songs” to see the top 100 of the past seven days.
Keep in mind, these songs might not always feel right for your brand. Markiewicz recommends using a trending audio clip no matter what, but you can always turn down the volume.
“It’s about masking the audio with your brand, so you can layer in other sounds, like the chef talking or music in your own kitchen,” says Markiewicz. “Trending audio will help automatically push your video into the newsfeed, but the only way people will even know you’re using it is if they look at the bottom left hand corner [of the video].”
Tagging your location is highly valuable for pushing out your content to people in your local community. You can also use location hashtags to help people find you when they’re searching for restaurants in a specific destination. However, in general, you don’t want to go overboard with hashtag usage.
“The audio makes a bigger difference than hashtags, but TikTok will use hashtags to initially serve your content in one direction or another,” says Markiewicz. “So if I use #BookTok, TikTok is going to say, ‘I need to give this to people who’ve shown they like books’. But if you use too many hashtags in competing categories, you might not perform well in every category, and then you actually decrease your reach.”
If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the trending hashtags in TikTok’s Creative Center. Here, you can sort specifically for "food and beverage" trends.
“The more content you put out there, the more chances you have to go viral, but it’s really dependent on what you feel comfortable as a restaurant operator,” says Markiewicz.
Content generation takes time, which means ideally you’d have a designated team member to run your social channels, or you’d hire a firm to help with your overall web presence, including your TikTok.
“Consumers don’t do comment cards at restaurants anymore,” says Markiewicz. “Even Yelp reviews are going down because people are going to TikTok to share their experiences, and so you have to be able to meld with the times and continue to feed your audience what they want.”
If you or a staff member are doubling as a content creator, set a posting cadence for yourself that feels like a reasonable challenge. A good place to start is working your way up to five videos a week.
Influencers are one of the greatest tools you can use to expand your audience.
“Depending on the business, teaming up with influencers is as valuable as creating your own content,” says Markiewicz. “These influencers generally have an audience they built on YouTube or Instagram that they’ve taken to TikTok, and their video [of your restaurant] is more likely to go viral than when you’re starting from zero followers.”
The process of partnering with an influencer typically starts by simply doing a little research – i.e., browsing TikTok accounts and looking for people with sizable followings who frequently post about restaurants. Identify those local to your area. If there are plenty, narrow it down to individuals whose voice and style resonates with your brand. Many influencers share an email (or direct message instructions) in their profile. From there, it’s about creating a relationship between you and the influencer that’ll effectively benefit both parties.
“Typically when we’re launching a new restaurant or menu, I’ll put together a list of important people that we think we should invite for an experience, whether it’s a preview or a tasting menu,” says Markiewicz. “I ask them to post if they liked the experience, and I’m really clear that I don’t want them to feel pressured to post if they didn’t have a good experience because that’s not going to do anything for my brands.”
Some influencers work in exchange for a free meal, but others ask for a small fee. Make sure to address the details upfront. Also specify in the deliverables that you want a TikTok video that includes your restaurant’s name and location. “The messaging needs to be brief because you want it to feel as organic as possible, while still getting out the key information,” says Markiewicz.
Everyone who takes time to comment on your content or create their own video about your restaurant deserves a response. A response to someone else’s video can be as simple as, “This looks amazing. You captured our dessert perfectly! Glad you celebrated with us.” Or you could say, “Thank you, we’re so glad you enjoyed your experience!” Responses to comments will depend on the topic, but aim for a tone that shows appreciation for their time and love.
As with Yelp or Google reviews, this shows customers that you care and that you’re paying attention to feedback. Always address negative comments, too. Try a response like, “Sorry you had a bad experience. This is not typical. We’ll DM you with a contact. Please reach out so we can make this better!”
“TikTok’s a place for listening to public discourse about your business,” says Markiewicz. “People aren’t shy on TikTok, and if they’re giving negative reviews, that can be a tool to gauge response to products being put out.”
Listening to your audience is bound to strike new ideas. You can even pose a question in one of your posts asking, for example, what kind of behind-the-scenes content people want to see next. Markiewicz loves the TikTok option to respond to a comment with a video rather than just a written note.
"Let’s say someone comments, ‘Why are you cooking with coriander?’, and you respond with a video that says, ‘Coriander is awesome.’ and shows you using it again,” says Markiewicz. “That can be super powerful because it shows you’re really engaging.”
To reply by video, tap the comment, and then tap the camera icon that pops up to the left of the text field. Once you record your response, the video will post both in the comments section and to your account, bringing you the added benefit of fresh content for your feed.
How you market your TikTok handle may depend on your brand. But including it within email campaigns, printing it on the menu, and adding it to your website and Instagram bio are all ways to help customers find you on the popular app.
“Have the handle somewhere visible in the restaurant because then a customer can take a photo while they’re there and tag you immediately without having to search around,” says Markiewicz.
If it’s not easy to find your handle, customers might push off posting and end up forgetting to tag you or even post at all. That’s an opportunity missed for free promotion.
You can also take opportunities to remind customers to post or to at least give you a follow.
“You can do a quick e-blast that says, ‘Hey, we’re happy you dined with us. If you want more, we’re on TikTok. Thanks for following us.’ And then you can continue to tell your story to them to transform them back into a customer again,” says Markiewicz.
Hiring or staffing someone who knows how to tie all of your web presence together and transfer your audience is how you’ll get the most ROI from platforms like TikTok. But again, the important first step is to get on there, claim your name, and add a post or two so that others can tag you and spread the word of their experiences at your restaurant. Challenge yourself to take that first step, and build from there.
Grace Dickinson is a reporter at Back of House. Send tips or inquiries to email@example.com.
[Photo courtesy Cottonbro Studio]
About The Author
Grace Dickinson is a staff reporter at Back of House. Prior to joining Back of House, Grace worked as a features and service reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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