As restaurants deal with changing guidelines, reduced capacity, and even lockdowns, for many, social media has been a saving grace, a way to engage with consumers and communicate when we can’t connect physically.
One social media platform, in particular, thrived during the pandemic – TikTok. The app allows users to create short video clips set to popular sound. During Q1 of 2020, TikTok had 315 million downloads and in June 2020 was downloaded 87 million times worldwide (with 7.5 million from the U.S.).
In five years, the app has grown to over one billion users with 60 per cent of those being Gen Z and 29.5 percent of TikTokers aged 20-29 years old. The average user spends 52 minutes per day on the app, with 9 in 10 using it multiple times a day.
With an ever-increasing base of millennials and a loyal and active user base of Gen Z, TikTok allows brands to interact with two generations that yield serious buying power, which begs the question are restaurants missing out on this gold mine of opportunity?
What is TikTok and how does it work?
TikTok’s main selling point the ‘for you page’ boasts a stream of personalized content powered by the world’s most sophisticated artificial intelligence. The majority of the app’s videos are just shy of the average person’s attention span (12 seconds) meaning that by Leveraging human behaviour, you’ll never be bored.
Influencer Mahi (@heytorontofoodie) shares that the aesthetic of TikTok caters to real people and experiences, which fosters a community of inclusivity enticing the next generation. Social media marketing agency, Let’s Snack TO agrees stating that the app appeals to individual users, the platform isn’t saturated by businesses in the same way as other social media platforms, providing small businesses with greater opportunities.
Who is on TikTok and why?
“We started a TikTok account because it’s an increasingly important part of the social ecosystem that allows us to connect with guests in a completely new way,” said Youri Hollier, Social and Digital Lead at Tim Hortons. Youri continues “we use it for all sorts of content, from jumping on real-time trends to recipes and more.”
Chipotle Mexican Grill was an early adopter of the app, Tressie Lieberman, Vice President, Digital Marketing and Off-Premise at Chipotle, shares, “we wanted to be an early mover and start understanding how to best use the platform.” Leveraging TikTok to discover new influential fans and key trends paid off, with TikTok becoming their biggest social media platform with more than 1.5 million followers and 27.6 million likes.
Let’s Snack TO convinced their clients to jump on to the app early too, growing black-owned, Toronto-based ice cream brand Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream from zero to 120K followers in five months. Getting on to the app before the pandemic meant that Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream were able to see their efforts pay off in real-time, hosting a pop-up the brand discovered that the majority of consumers who visited found out about activation through TikTok.
Discussing the decision to join the platform, Trevor and Kelly at Let’s Snack told us that at the time the app was exploding, and it provided Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream, with the opportunity to expand the brand’s demographic into the next generation of consumers. It’s clear that TikTok’s opportunities are endless, so why is it taking so long for those in the restaurant space to transition beyond the world of Instagram and Facebook?
Does TikTok make sense for your business?
Finding time to create content on TikTok can be seen as a drawback, especially if you’re a small restaurateur, with invoices due and customers to serve, who has the time to learn about the app? Can the benefits of TikTok outweigh the costs?
If you’re looking to expose your restaurant to new people then TikTok is the place for you to be. Dre Pao (@dreapaoofficial) who has 150K followers on the app gives his recommendations “small businesses can benefit from TikTok in a major way by becoming a respected voice in their niche […]. If you’re a restaurant, show your audience easy-to-make recipes that they can make at home, promote fun facts about the cultures that inspire your cuisine, or showcase fun food or kitchen hacks. I’ve also seen some successful restaurants on TikTok create secret TikTok menu items. For example, a unique dessert, inspired by a culturally relevant topic, that isn’t on the menu, but is available upon special request.”
Brands like Chipotle have found this to be one part of their recipe for success on the platform stating “we’ve found success in giving our fans an inside look into how their favourite Chipotle recipes are made with real ingredients that people already have in their homes”.
So you’ve downloaded the app, what’s next?
Influencer Mahi says that restaurants need to do the research as that will help businesses to get more familiar with the app and find trends to capitalize on. Let’s Snack TO agrees explaining that it’s important to do your research as the app’s algorithm and trends are constantly changing. With new trends emerging daily, the team shares that businesses should aim to capitalize on a trend within 3-10 days if they want to be part of the conversation.
When describing how best to use the platform, our experts all say similar things – be funny, be personable, provide value to your customers, post regularly (once-twice a day) and most importantly enter the conversation when it comes to topics relevant to you that are trending.
Speaking to those who have succeeded on the app, it’s clear that TikTok is an ever-evolving space that can be leveraged by restaurants. With thousands of restaurants closing since the beginning of the pandemic, TikTok gives restaurants a chance to humanize their brand and reach consumers in a new authentic way. For the food industry, TikTok can inspire not only the next generation of restaurateurs but its consumers too, so what are you waiting for?
Advice from the experts
“Be ready to pivot,” says Chipotle.
“You’ll see the most success if you develop content that makes sense for you” shares the Tim Hortons team.
“Do your research” notes Let’s Snack TO.
“Be consistent” advises Mahi and “don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside of your comfort zone” comments Dre.