Why You Should Market Your Restaurant or Bar on TikTok (and How to Get Started!)

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As a restaurant or bar owner, you understand the power of social media marketing. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have proven themselves to be cost-effective and engaging methods of increasing brand awareness, driving business, and connecting with customers.

So what could TikTok, a social media company famous for its twerking teens and twentysomethings, do for your business? If you want a hip and trendy spot catering to Millennials and Gen Zers, then TikTok can offer quite a lot.

According to TikTok, it now has over 1 billion monthly active users. This makes the platform one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. As Forbes noted, TikTok surpassed one billion users in almost half the time it took Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Not only are more and more people flocking to TikTok at a record-breaking rate, research shows that Gen Zers prefer it to Instagram, and data shows that users spend on average 30 minutes more per day on TikTok than on the ’Gram.

Love it or hate it, TikTok is here to stay. The video sharing app seems perfectly suited for our 21st-century attention, forcing the industry to react with similar products like Instagram’s Reels and YouTube’s Shorts. As more millennials download the app, and as Gen Zers grow older, the importance of TikTok will likely grow as well.

Where does that leave the busy restaurateur or bar owner? Luckily, if you’ve kept up with social media trends, you aren’t starting from scratch. Even if you’ve never used Facebook or Instagram, you can run a successful TikTok. Here are a few tips to help you get your account up and running, and a few ideas for creating those first videos.

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Your Account

Creating an account for your restaurant on TikTok is simple. After downloading the app, you will log in with your phone number and email. The app will walk you through the process of uploading a profile photo and adding a bio.

For maximum search engine optimization, your profile name should match your other social media handles. If your business is something like Phil’s Bar, it’s unlikely this will be available. Hopefully you’ve found a way to include your location to create a memorable username, something like @PhilsBarIndianapolis.

That’s it. You’ve created a personal account. You’ll likely want to switch from a personal account to a business account. Both types of accounts have pros and cons, and just because you’re using your TikTok for business doesn’t necessarily mean you need a business account. But for the newbie, the business account is a good start.

First, a business account allows you to add your website to your profile right away. If you have a personal account, you have to amass 1k followers before you can add a website. Another drawback to a personal account is that you can only receive messages from your friends, meaning customers won’t be able to contact you unless you are friends, or unless you have a business account. Finally, TikTok’s Business Suite offers more data, which isn’t something you’ll likely use right away, but it might be helpful for understanding engagement with your content once you’re more familiar with the app.

A business account can also keep you from copyright infringements that could come from TikTok’s music library. The business account only has access to royalty-free sounds. However, this limits your ability to reach larger audiences with trending music. This has led some businesses to use personal accounts and trending music, despite the potential copyright infringement, all in hopes of going viral.

From your profile page, select the three parallel lines in the top right corner. Then click “Settings and privacy,” followed by “Manage account.” You’ll find a number of options on this page. Select “Switch to Business Account.” Now you will have access to TikTok’s royalty-free sounds, Business Suite tools, and advanced messaging features.

After you’ve created your business account, you’ll want to register it with TikTok. On your profile page, select the three parallel lines in the top right corner, then select “Business suite” followed by “Business registration.” The app will walk you through the process. Now you will be able to link your website to your profile. While you’re at it, don’t forget to link your Instagram.

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Before Your First Post

It’d be a good idea to familiarize yourself with what content works and what doesn’t. While Instagram is perfectly suited for #foodporn of your famously enormous cheeseburgers, that won’t get you far on TikTok. Instead you might try a short video of your chef making the burger, or a customer offering a short review of the burger.

There’s more than one way to maintain a successful TikTok. It’s a creative and evolving platform. You should search TikTok for restaurants and bars you admire, and see how they use the platform. If you need help, here are a few accounts to get you started.

The Red Chickz went viral during the pandemic. They’ve perfected their short-form content with video after video of impossibly large chicken sandwiches. Give their TikToks a watch and see if you can keep from drooling. They use their video comments to create new content, replying to comments with even more videos of chicken sandwiches, creating an account that’s prolific and in-touch with its audience. See any recent video for an example.

The Beverly Hills steakhouse Nusr-Et went viral because of its outrageously expensive steaks and its eccentric owner nicknamed Salt Bae. The account has 14.6 million followers, and it’s filled with videos of Salt Bae feeding his guests enormous cuts of meat, twirling knives, and working out. The account is anything but boring. Here’s a recent TikTok of Salt Bae in action.

At 75k followers, Sweetgreens leverages the colorfulness of their ingredients to make short, simple, and visually appealing content that shows off the freshness of their dishes. They also use TikTok to share recipes. Recipe videos are popular on TikTok and can generate a lot of buzz. Checkout this TikTok to learn how to make Sweetgreen’s chimichurri vinaigrette.

Speaking of recipe videos, follow @tiffanyrobo’s bartending account for cocktail recipes, reviews, humor, and lots of inspiration. Her videos are straightforward, simple, and effective. For an example of one of her more popular recipes, see her Baileys and Amaretto milkshake, which has racked up 188k views. Milkshakes are popular on TikTok right now. By using #milkshake, this creator has ensured that her video gets a lot of views.

This is only a start. It’d also be wise to think locally by searching for your competitors’ accounts. You can see what content has worked for them. Additionally, the more time you spend on the app, the more TikTok’s algorithm learns about what you like, and the more you’ll find it on your “For You” page. If you find a bar or restaurant account you admire, checkout what restaurants and bars they follow. More than likely they’ve learned from other accounts, and you can too!

Popular and Easy TikTok Ideas

Now that you’ve created an account and followed others for inspiration, it’s time for your first few posts. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Come up with an idea, film it, and post it.

If the possibilities are overwhelming, here are a few easy ideas to get you started.

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1. Offer a Virtual Dining Experience

This is an easy one. It doesn’t require a script or fancy editing. The goal is to tease your followers with a virtual experience that leaves them wanting more.

Your video could be very short, like this five-second whirlwind TikTok of Dallas’ Uptown Shake Shack location. Or it could be longer, like this minute-long foodie tour of an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant with over 12 million views. Both make for engaging content, depending on whether you want to highlight a new dish or a complete dining experience. For your first video, a short one might be easier for learning the app and getting started, while a longer one might offer more marketing opportunities.

2. Take Your Followers Behind the Scenes

If you’ve kept up with social media trends, you’ve probably already done this kind of video on your Instagram. The principle is the same, though the editing tools of TikTok offer more creativity.

Show your kitchen in action, prepping, cooking, and plating one of your signature dishes. For inspiration, watch folks at Finney’s Crafthouse whipping up chicken and waffles. Keep the TikTok short, with plenty of cuts to the most appealing parts of the process. You can use voice over, like Finney’s does, and depending on whether you use a personal or business account, you could incorporate trending music, like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).”

Source: forbes.com

3. Teach Your Followers a Recipe

This is a popular TikTok for restaurants and bars. For whatever reason, people love to watch others cook and bartend. No matter the account, they’ve probably taught their followers a recipe or two, like Sweetgreens and their chimichurri vinaigrette.

Bring your wildest, attention-grabbing dishes or drinks. If you have a tenderloin that’s larger than the plate it’s served on, or a fish-bowl cocktail you light on fire, have your chef or bartender walk your followers step-by-step through the process of making it. If you want to try something different, think about creations that have already gone viral. Things like #tiktokpasta, #tortillahack, or #cornribs are hashtags to build on. You can use these and other #foodtrends as the basis of your own unique dishes, proving your restaurant to be that trendy TikTok hotspot.

For ideas, give @thecozymeal a follow. The company’s TikTok is filled with trendy recipes like #cornribs that can help you make your own viral videos.

4. Use Trends and Effects

Understanding and using trends on TikTok can help you quickly garner attention. Whether it’s a specific hashtag, song, effect, or filter, spending time on the app will help you understand its culture. If you see a lot of users doing something similar, more than likely you’ve found something that’s trending.

For example, coinciding with the latest season of the reality tv show Love Island, creators on TikTok began using the voice of the show’s host to create ironic viral videos like @corporatenatalie’s with 220k views. If you make your own videos featuring whatever is trending, it can make landing your video on a potential customer’s feed more likely.

If you don’t have time to spend scrolling, you can find websites online that have done the scrolling for you. A quick Google search will find dozens of sites and blogs that can keep you up-to-date on what’s hot on TikTok.

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5. Run Contests

TikTok offers nearly limitless contest opportunities. You can encourage guests to create content inside your restaurant or bar, or with your food and drinks, by entering followers who post into a contest to win anything from a free appetizer or dessert to free branded swag.

Or you could take a page from Shake Shack’s playbook by asking your followers who they think deserves a gift card. Anyone who comments on the video can be entered into a drawing to win a free gift card.

If you want to get more creative you could encourage your followers to make videos recreating their favorite dish or cocktail. This pairs well with TikTok’s duet feature, which allows users to create a similar, split-screen video, or a reaction video, to a previously posted TikTok. For inspiration, see how @echosmith uses duet to recreate @faithsfresh’s buffalo cauliflower tacos.

Promote Your TikTok

Don’t forget to promote your account in your restaurant! If you don’t promote it yourself, you’ll have to rely on the algorithm to get your content to your guests. But why leave it to an algorithm?

QR codes are the simplest and fastest way to get your guests to your account. By linking a QR code right to your homepage, you remove as many obstacles as possible for your guests, making it easy for them to find you and follow you. Why not incentivize it too? A buy one, get one promotion, or a free dessert, or a certain amount off of their bill are surefire ways to drive your customers to your account, grow your followers, and increase your marketing reach. If you need QR code ideas and help, try this QR code tool.

Your menu is also a great place to promote your TikTok. Why not offer a little blurb on your menu, complete with your TikTok handle, a QR code, and information on any TikTok contests and promotions you might be running. If you aren’t a graphic designer, or if rewriting your menu sounds time-consuming or intimidating, menu design services like MustHaveMenus make it easy to get started with free, customizable menu templates for every kind of restaurant.

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Go Viral (or Not)

While TikTok is a marketing tool with lots of potential, don’t take it too seriously. For your restaurant or bar, it’s not about going viral or racking up millions of followers. It’s about driving customers to your restaurant.

The app is about creativity and fun. Creativity and fun will get you much farther than slick editing and polish. This is only the beginning of your TikTok journey. There’s a lot to learn. As you know, a good restaurant or bar isn’t built in a day, and neither is a good TikTok. So don’t worry about perfection. The video you post is much better than the video you are still perfecting.