The Beginner’s Guide to TikTok Marketing for Restaurants

The Beginner’s Guide to TikTok Marketing for Restaurants
Samantha Fung

By Samantha Fung

Can a single customer bring a restaurant chain to their knees? In the age of social media, anything is possible.

In July 2022, TikTok user @wyaleena posted a now-deleted video about a hack to get a Chipotle burrito for $3. She ordered a single taco through the app with toppings and a tortilla on the side. The hack spread like wildfire, so much that Chipotle removed the option from the app, citing poor guest and staff experience.

That's all to say - TikTok is powerful. It can boost unknown musicians to stadium performers. It can fast-track the growth of emerging cookie brands. And one video is enough to cause panic for a QSR giant. It's not just for dancing teens anymore.

The Platform

How is TikTok different from other social media platforms?

While TikTok is no longer home to just Gen Z, it certainly has its own culture. TikTok users know when they're being sold to. They want authentic, relatable content from real people. It's great news for small businesses and those who don't have a lot of resources.

Why You Should be on TikTok

Vertical short-form video has quickly become a popular way to consume content, and TikTok is likely to blame. The platform has joined the ranks of sites like YouTube and Pinterest, where users socialize with others and search and discover. This discoverability makes reaching a wider audience easier when you don't already have a following (compared to other platforms like Instagram or Facebook).

Take East 81st Street Deli in Cleveland. The owner, Wael Herbawi, posted a 15-second video of his friend eating their chicken salad. It went viral, with TikTokers and celebrities using the clip's audio for duets and lip-syncs. With 24 million views, Herbawi has seen the deli's sales triple.

@81stdeli

♬ original sound - Vinny and Moe

TikTok's growth isn't slowing down anytime soon—it's expected to hit 1.8 billion monthly active users by the end of 2022. 38% of users have visited and/or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing it on TikTok. Posting videos to TikTok could unlock millions of eyes on your restaurant. If you're ready to get on the platform but unsure where to start, read on.

Create Your TikTok Account

  1. Download the TikTok app for iOS or Android.
  2. In the app, click Profile in the bottom right.
  3. Sign up for an account using your phone number, email, Google, Facebook, or Twitter.
  4. Enter your birthday.
  5. Choose your username (keep it consistent with your other social media accounts).
  6. Edit your profile to upload a photo and add your name and bio. You can also link your Instagram and YouTube.
  7. You're done! Try following some accounts and liking some videos related to your cooking or location.

What to Post on TikTok

The beauty of the platform is that anything can go viral. While it can be hard to predict what type of posts will perform well, here are some best practices.

Sound

If you scroll the For You page for 10 minutes, you'll hear the same sounds across different videos. Using trending sounds is an excellent way to be discovered. These include lip-syncs, popular songs, and trending themes.

Popular Songs

Songs that go viral on TikTok often top real-life music charts. You can use them as background music, but they can also have a 'trend' component. A classic example is a short dance choreographed for a song. Another version is where users create videos with similar themes and visuals. Here are a few examples:

The trend below used on-screen text to show a pledge that someone made and then broke. It was set to a snippet of “Hope” by Twista ft. Faith Evans.

@sweetgreen raise your hand if you're having the harvest bowl for the 100th time 🙋‍♂️ #sweetgreen #harvestbowl #sg ♬ original sound - sweetgreen

Another trend used a snippet of “It's Corn” to illustrate something people like and why. (The song originated from a viral video of a child talking about his love for corn. The Gregory Brothers then autotuned it into a song.)

@yogurtland For me, I really like #Yogurtland 😬 #itscorn #frozenyogurt #froyo #dessert #toppings ♬ original sound - Tariq (Korn Boy)

Note: If you have a business TikTok account, you'll only be able to use sounds without a copyright. That rules out commercial music, but you can use most user-generated sounds.

Trending Sound Bites

Songs aren't the only audio that can blow up on TikTok. A strange or memorable statement can take the app by storm. Typically, these quotes are applicable to numerous situations so other users can remix them with their own spin. For example, what you say to a kitten could also be said to a cookie.

Voice-overs

You can record a voice-over on top of your video to add a personal touch. Say you want to post a video about the process of making guacamole. Instead of explaining what you're doing while you chop avocados, you can film first, then record the narration afterwards.

How to Find Sounds

The easiest way to find trending sounds is to scroll your TikTok 'For You' feed. When you find one that you like, or one that you hear multiple times, click the text under the caption after the music note. Then you can see all of the other videos that use that sound and add it to your favorites to bookmark for later. The number of videos that use the sound indicate how popular it is.

Using sounds in TikTok videos

Original Content

While posting trending content can help users discover you, you should balance them with original content. Yogurtland's TikTok videos consist of mostly original ideas like asking viewers to guess the flavor or the heavier cup. Get creative with this - you can hold a brainstorming session with staff to gather fun and unique ideas. Here are a few to get the juices flowing:

  • Staff talking about their favorite menu items
  • Recipes of menu items
  • Most popular menu items
  • Preparing and packing an order
  • Plating 101
  • Menu orders of different personality types / movie or TV characters / generations
  • Day in the life of an employee
  • Recapping an event
  • The restaurant's origin story
  • Experience as a customer
  • Inventing a new item that's not on the menu
  • Menu hacks
  • Things customers do that you like or dislike
  • Blind flavor taste tests
  • Food ASMR
  • Taking requests from your audience

Other Factors to Consider

Niche

The TikTok algorithm personalizes each user's feed. That means if you're a vegan Asian fusion restaurant in Sedona, it's easier to reach your target audience through TikTok than on a billboard. You can experiment with niche, unique filming or editing styles. Milad Mirghahari grew his six million TikTok followers by preparing Subway sandwiches with a camera strapped to his chest.

Consistency

Users who see something they like in one of your videos will expect to see or feel something similar in another. Like Milad, Dylan Lemay films with the camera on his chest for his 11 million followers. Each video has a voiceover, and since TikTok videos loop, he does a seamless transition from the end of the video back to the beginning.

@dylanlemay #cake #icecreamcake ♬ original sound - Dylan Lemay

Engage with viewers

Like most social media platforms, you should use two-way communication. Listen to your audience as much as you announce things to them. Respond to comments and messages and ask followers what they want to see.

How to Use TikTok and Post a Video

Film

You can film your video in the TikTok app or upload clips and photos from your phone library.

  1. Click the + icon at the bottom of the screen and choose a 15s, 60s, or 3m duration.
  2. Click the red circle to record or the 'Upload' option in the bottom right to use clips from your phone. Make sure you film in portrait (vertical) mode!
  3. If you need some time to get into position, use the timer to count down 3 or 10 seconds before recording begins.
Filming a TikTok

When filming food, try angles like directly above, up close, or from the side. (Take tips from food photography). Keep the camera steady. In this situation, it's okay to play with your food. Stick a fork in it, twirl it around, drizzle on sauce, or eat it.

Add Sound

  1. Click “Add sound” at the top of the screen.
  2. Browse through recommended sounds or navigate to your saved favorites.
  3. Click the scissor icon to drag the audio to the section that you choose. Note that you can't delay a sound to start later in the video - if you want to do that, you'll have to edit out of the TikTok app.
Add Sound in TikTok

Lip Syncs

Your hairbrush shower concerts have come in handy. Lip syncs are when you mouth the words to an audio, but it's not your voice. People usually lip sync to songs or someone else talking. They can tie into TikTok trends, but they don't have to. Find a sound that relates to something in your restaurant (a menu item or a customer service experience), film a lip sync to the audio, and use on-screen text where needed.

Effects

Similar to Snapchat and Instagram, TikTok has filters you can use to ride in a boat or look at whatever these are. The most commonly-used are green screen images and videos, where you can upload media to play behind you. Apply them to make it look like you're somewhere else or upload a screenshot and react to it. Find the effects in the bottom left hand corner of the recording view. You can also bookmark effects from the For You page (FYP) to use later.

Effects in TikTok

Duets and Stitches

Remixing other user's content is highly encouraged on TikTok. As mentioned, you can use another video's sound. You can also duet and stitch TikToks. Find them by clicking the Share icon.

Duets & Stiches in TikTok

Duetting a TikTok will allow you to record your video while the original is playing. The original video can be next to, above, or below your video. It can also play on a smaller screen while your video is full screen, like a Facetime call. The last option is to have the original video play in the background while you are in the foreground. You can use a duet to react or respond to the original video. You can also duet a duet - like a TikTok musical and more.

Stitching a TikTok will play part of the original video first, then you can film your video. They're typically used to respond to the initial video.

Replying to Comments with Video

TikTok allows you to respond to comments with a video, which then gets posted to your profile.

  1. Click the comment and a keyboard pops up.
  2. Click the camera icon to film your response. The comment will appear on top of your video and link back to the original video.
  3. When editing, move the comment or click on it to set its duration.
Replying in TikTok

Edit

A rule of thumb with short-form video is to get your audience hooked in the first 3 seconds. If the algorithm sees people stick around on your video, it's more likely to show it to more users. “Hook” viewers with an exciting clip, voice-over, or title text teasing what will happen in the video.

You can edit your video within the TikTok app. The menu on the right has multiple editing options. Click adjust clips to trim, speed up, and reorder your clips. You can also overlay media from your phone on top of the original video. Hootsuite recommends a video length of 7-15 seconds for TikTok.

Editing in TikTok

Adjust Sound and Voice-overs

Find the volume in the right-hand menu. If you added a sound from another video, you can adjust the volume of the added sound and your original sound. You can also record a voice-over with the audio editing button. For the best results, record in a quiet area with an external microphone (like a headset or Airpods). Try not to sound too scripted. For a laugh, use an audio effect to change the sound of your voice.

TikTok will automatically add closed captioning of your voice-over. You can toggle it off when publishing, but we recommend you leave it on for accessibility.

Voice-overs in TikTok

On-Screen Text

An easy way to introduce your video's topic is to add title text. In the first 3 seconds of the video, add a title like “How to Sear Ahi Tuna” so users understand why to continue watching. If you hate the sound of your voice, you can also use on-screen text to represent what's happening in the video. There's also a text-to-speech feature to have an AI voice narrate.

  1. Add text using the button in the right-hand menu.
  2. Choose the font, color, and alignment.
  3. If you want to use text-to-speech, click the head icon.
  4. Move the text or click on it to set its duration. Make sure to avoid putting text near the bottom or far right of the screen so it doesn't get covered.
Text on screen in TikTok

Visual Effects, Stickers, Filters

There are overlays you can add to spruce up your video, but don't go overboard. Stickers work similarly to the ones from Instagram stories, but it's not common to use them.

Publish

Congratulations, you're almost done with your video! To post it, click Next. There are a few things to add here.

Caption

Stay in your brand voice, but avoid sounding overly corporate or formal. Use slang if you understand it. A couple of emojis are encouraged!

You can signal what your video is about with relevant hashtags. As you type a hashtag, TikTok will show you how many views have been created from videos using each hashtag. Try to use a blend of popular hashtags (millions of views) and niche ones (less than 100k views). As always, test to see what works!

Video Cover

Customize the video preview when a user looks at your profile. Choose a visually interesting frame from the video as your cover photo and write a short title to inform people what the video is about.

Video cover in TikTok

Posting Cadence

Unlike email or Instagram marketing, you can post to TikTok multiple times a day without irritating your followers. In fact, TikTok recommends posting 1-4 videos a day. The algorithm doesn't play videos in chronological order, so your followers won't see all of them at once. You can even share multiple videos with the same topic, trend, and clips. The Ritz-Carlton in Montreal often reuses clips - and no one's the wiser.

Using TikTok Influencers

Using influencers for TikTok marketing in a restaurant can be an effective way to reach their established audiences. Influencers have a large following on the platform and their endorsement can help boost the restaurant's credibility. Additionally, influencers can create engaging content that showcases the restaurant's food, atmosphere, and ambiance, which can help to attract potential customers and drive more traffic to the restaurant.

Step 1

Identify relevant TikTok influencers in your local area. You can do this by searching for hashtags related to restaurants and food (like #austinfoodie) and checking for a high amount of followers and engagement on users' profiles.

Step 2

You aren't able to message TikTok users that don't follow you, so look for an email or another social media profile linked in their bio. You can also comment on their videos to reach out. Pitch your restaurant to them, highlighting any unique or interesting aspects of your food, ambiance, or location that would make for good content.

Step 3

Offer a complimentary meal or other incentives in exchange for featuring your restaurant in a video. If you would like to promote specific menu items, offers, or hashtags, ask the influencer to mention them.

Step 4

Engage with the influencers' content by commenting, liking, and sharing.

Step 5

If you notice good feedback or more foot traffic after the videos are posted, rinse and repeat! You can also build ongoing relationships with the receptive influencers and invite them back periodically.

Conclusion

There's no playbook you can follow that will guarantee your TikTok will blow up. The key is to post videos frequently and consistently with a wide range of content until you find what your audience likes. While it is possible for a small account to go viral, don't get discouraged if traction is slow at the start. Keep it light and fun - don't overthink it.

If you already have great video content from social media marketing on Instagram or YouTube, try posting that to TikTok as well. Or do the reverse - repost your TikToks to Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.

Lastly, use these factors as guidelines, not rules. The platform changes all the time, so be creative. TikTok is a weird place - don't be scared to experiment!

Other Restaurant Marketing Resources

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Samantha Fung
Samantha Fung

In a past life, I was a cashier, server, and restaurant marketer. Now I help with content. Find me with my nose in a book or my head in the clouds (mostly full of useless pop culture trivia).