Riding the viral wave: how restaurants can rise on the latest TikTok trends – without suffering supply-chain sorrows

The new key ingredient? Social media

Social media has been dictating diner habits for quite some time now, with foodie hashtags having greater influence over menu planning than many chefs themselves.

With an estimated 1 billion global users, TikTok has become a particularly powerful driver of culinary change, predominantly among younger generations, who are turning to the app as an alternative to Google, TripAdvisor and Yelp. Indeed, digital marketing agency, MGH, estimates that 36% of TikTok users will place an order shortly after their cravings are piqued by content they see whilst scrolling – influenced not just by official videos shared by the establishment but also by the organic reviews that customers have shared, as well.


A unique platform

Less focussed on visual perfection than its older cousin, Instagram, the trends that appear on TikTok tend to be more transparent. Creators draw in likes based on their honest, ‘just woke up like this’ attitude, adding further credibility to any endorsements they’ve shared.


Going viral

It doesn’t take much for restaurants to blow up on TikTok, either. Take the suprême croissant – a circular, croissant-based pastry lavished in icing and filled with flavour – introduced as a rival to the cronut (croissant-donut) by Manhattan bakery, Lafayette Grand Café, back in 2022. What started out as a small-scale competitive edge soon grew into an explosive social-media sensation, meaning that any good bakery worth its salt has since added the treat to its regular rotation.


The same thing happened with butter boards, burn cakes and sleepy-girl cocktails – charcuterie-style bread selections, birthday treats that reveal hidden rice-paper designs and cherry-based drinks designed to help you doze off – are suddenly everywhere to be found.


The fast pace of change

Things move so fast that it can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the for-you-page to keep up with what people demand. Nevertheless, staying abreast of the latest buzzwords is becoming a must for those hoping to thrive and survive in hospitality –  with MGH finding that 51% of people will now visit a restaurant simply to find a highly coveted menu item. Videos of trending recipes have furthermore shown to be enough to make 20% of TikTok users visit a restaurant from a different city – with 52% of those surveyed willing to do so in the future.


Meeting supply and demand

The major obstacle, then, is ensuring restaurants are prepared for the rapid cycling of trends and the potential for a sudden influx of custom, which can just as easily die down. There’s no point purchasing thousands of packets of tofu ready for the next buzzword vegan dish, only to find demand has dropped in a matter of mere weeks, for example. Equally, however, you don’t want to find yourself scrambling for egg replacements if your café becomes the next big vegan destination overnight, thanks to one glowing TikTok review.

Thankfully, better control over supply-chain processes is enough to overcome the challenge, allowing restaurants to ride the viral wave without the risk of over-stocking, under-stocking or contributing to the food-waste problem.


  1. Data analysis:

By incorporating real-time social media monitoring and data analytics into regular demand planning, restaurants can stay abreast of the latest viral trends, adjusting inventory accordingly.


  1. Flexible menu planning:

Fostering a culture of adaptability when it comes to recipe creation is also essential, with the introduction of seasonal or limited-time offers allowing leaders to capitalise on trends, without committing to long-term supply-chain stresses.


  1. Collaboration with local suppliers:

Perhaps the most important strategy of all, establishing good relationships and strong lines of communication with local suppliers allows restaurant leaders to keep vendors informed about potential trends and changes in demand ahead of time, such that they can adjust their own production and delivery schedules in accordance. By restricting to local wherever possible, they’ll not only be helping to save the planet, but can also ensure that ingredients can be easily acquired at shorter notice, giving them greater agility and adaptability to respond, without having to over-order.


  1. Supplier diversification:

Likewise, restaurants should avoid relying on just one supplier for their most critical ingredients, diversifying supply wherever they can to minimise the impact of potential disruptions. It only takes one bad week of under-delivery to lose a sudden peak in TikTok custom for good. Consider diversification of your contingency plan for unexpected surges.


  1. Inventory management:

Finally, inventory management systems must be adopted to provide real-time data on levels of stock. This prevents over-purchasing and potential food waste, furthermore preventing unnecessary strain on fluctuating supply.


Navigating the TikTok tsunami

TikTok has emerged as a formidable force, propelling restaurants from obscurity to overnight success. The platform’s unique blend of honest content and organic engagement has reshaped consumer behaviours and expectations, but the viral spotlight has proven a double-edged sword. In order to navigate sudden fluctuations in supply and demand that the TikTok tsunami is capable of stirring successfully, hospitality leaders must embrace data analytics, flexible menu planning and collaboration with local suppliers. Diversification and robust inventory management are also a must allowing restaurant owners to ride the viral wave with both agility and adaptability – without ever losing their edge.


Nigel Draper the Founder of Sorsco, a leading service provider in supply chain and procurement.

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