What does it mean for a restaurant to go viral in 2023? It means an incredible amount of free publicity, hopefully, positive free publicity. From food that looks like artwork to operators showing immense compassion, all it takes is one post, tweet, or TikTok video that attracts the masses to reach viral status.
In response, your restaurant can go from doing normal covers to doubling or quadrupling almost overnight.
But how do you gain access to this free and incredibly beneficial marketing tool? Is there a specific strategy, unique mathematic equation, or AI solution? Unfortunately, no. Those who have harnessed the power of TikTok and Instagram and ridden a wave of success may achieve it with a five-minute video or hours of painstaking drama.
Some restaurants have developed marketing teams that devote half their time to brainstorming content and trends. Others are gaining attention not from their own doings, but from reviews made by restaurant critics who have created massive followings of people who trust their recommendations. Like all social media, not even crystal balls or soothsayers can clearly see when a video will go viral.
For example, in 2022, dalgona, a stamped Korean candy, was featured in Netflix’s “Squid Game” in an episode that went viral on TikTok. MDK Noodles, a Korean noodle and dumpling chain, just happened to sell those candies, and the chain went from selling a few dozen at one location to up to 500 in a month, as reported by Bon Appétit.
Are you wondering who and what is trending in 2023? Let’s take a look.
From the Heart
Lee’s Noodle House in Santa Rosa, CA, was struggling financially. The owners had been through difficult times before, such as the Tubbs fire in 2017 and, of course, the pandemic, holding on, sometimes barely. 2023 marked their 20th year in business.
In January 2023, while helping out at her parent’s restaurant during college break, Jennifer Lee was struck by the sad image of her father leaning on the front counter, waiting in an empty restaurant. Without him knowing, she took a life-changing video and posted it on TikTok along with these words, “It makes me so sad to see my parents just wait for customers to walk through the door to eat at their Vietnamese restaurant. TikTok, do your thing & help support my parents’ Vietnamese restaurant 🙁 my parents haven’t been having that many customers & been feeling stressed dealing with financial issues. If you want to check it out, they make delicious Vietnamese food.:)”
And TikTok viewers responded with a viral video. The business got so busy that the restaurant asked their customers for patience while sending their immense gratitude.
In July 2023, Katia Ramirez posted a TikTok video asking people to eat at her family’s restaurant, Catrina Grill, in Dallas and Lewisville, hoping to help her dad, Luis Ramirez, make payroll. Since then, sales at the two locations have increased by 60-70%, according to KDH News.
While few restaurants could pull this off, Wattana Panich’s famous 50-year-old broth went viral, gathering over 8.7 million views on Instagram. The Bangkok restaurant has a now famous broth in a pot that measures 5 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep. The broth has been continually simmering for 50 years thanks to three generations of family.
For those who are wondering, yes, they clean the pot every evening, removing the soup and leaving a small portion to simmer overnight. Their signature dish, beef noodle soup, is made with fresh meat, tripe, garlic, cilantro root, cinnamon, and about a dozen Chinese herbs.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say what will make a restaurant video go viral. In the case of Café Mars, it was the “Jell-olives.” According to OpenTable, this fun, entertaining, and whimsical restaurant never meant to take the video world by storm. It was an inspired act brought on by the kitchen’s pre-dinner ritual—a Negroni and a bowl of olives. The now-famous dish is made out of Castelvetrano olives suspended in cubes of Negroni Jello.
A Touch of Compassion
Another restaurant showing what they do with leftover food in June 2023 received 350,000 views on TikTok and thousands of likes on Instagram, according to 6abc. The video says, “After a night serving valued customers, we serve the less fortunate.” Gou Restaurant, a Haitian establishment in Philadelphia, shared a video of the staff taking extra food after a catering event to the Kensington neighborhood and distributing it to those in need. The GM, Louis Senat, said they had no idea the response they would receive on social media.
So, what do these few viral videos tell us? It’s the stories with heart and creativity (and, of course, Negroni) that garner attention.
How do I get my restaurant noticed on social media?
It’s important to think out of the box and get creative. Getting in on trending hashtags and challenges is also a great way to increase visibility. Additionally, show people the heart of the matter, what brought you to the restaurant industry, and what makes you stay.
How can I encourage social media posts?
User-generated content (USG), otherwise known as customer-created content, is a great way to get the word out to a large and expansive audience. Consider encouraging guests with creative requests on menus or table tents. Make sure to include your hashtags and tags.