Why TikTok Can Actually Help Restaurants Find Success

During the pandemic, restaurants and TikTokers became close friends, as observed by The Washington Post. According to ShortStack, the fast-growing app keeps users more engaged than any other social platform, and cooking-related videos have become one of the top ten most viewed categories. In 2022 alone, the hashtag #food reached over 300 billion mentions, followed by #foodie and #cooking, with more than 85 billion and 84 billion each, respectively (via eDigital). Hootsuite believes TikTok's unique algorithm is what holds users' attention, with continually updated videos tailored to both individual preferences and interests.

While TikTok hacks often showcase amateur chefs preparing food, the videos are not necessarily edited by a professional. Rahim Mohamed, a bodega manager in Brooklyn, catapulted to TikTok fame with roughly-cut videos of his sandwich creations, and was even featured by NYT Cooking. His isn't the only bodega that has gained a reputation through TikTok either (per The New York Times). With over 42 million views on TikTok for "restaurants in Manhattan," TikTok users are clearly hungry to discover more new eateries in the Big Apple. Choose another location, like San Francisco (29 million) or Chicago (129 million) or New Orleans (262 million), and you'll get similarly impressive numbers. 

But does a restaurant's TikTok popularity translate into real-world business?

A business equalizer

A survey conducted by MGH Advertising showed that 36% of TikTok users visited or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing a video about the restaurant — and the video wasn't always from the restaurant itself, but from another TikTok account. New York City's Kam Hing Bakery estimates a 20% increase in business after customers began uploading content to the social media platform (via Eater NY). Even TikTok itself has been inspired to enter into the food industry, announcing a partnership with Virtual Dining Concepts to deliver viral recipes — like baked feta pasta — to homes across the United States (via Bloomberg).

Bar & Restaurant advises restaurants to use TikTok to connect with customers and build stronger brands. Restaurants can display special items, partner with influencers, and advertise specials. Using a similar approach, Chipotle became the most followed food brand through branded hashtag challenges and strategic partnerships, according to Insider.

The benefit for restaurants is that even with a small following count, an uploaded video can go viral — an ideal promise for smaller shops with limited resources. CEO of AMR Digital Marketing Analiese Ross confirms the possibility, telling Insider, "... you can have 200 followers on TikTok and have a video go viral, and it gets a million views and it completely changes everything for you."

Sometimes, starting small is better than nothing at all.