Every era has its own iconic food that typifies that generation. For example, a decade ago, avocado toast made news headlines as the millennial dish. Today’s younger generation also has its own food favorites, and a unique way of engaging with food. Are you clued into Gen Z food trends? How many of these dishes have you heard of? Give yourself a point for each dish you are familiar with:
- Baked feta pasta
- Pasta chips
- Whipped coffee
- Smash burgers
- Cloud bread
- Green goddess salad
- Custard yogurt toast
- Avocado, condensed milk, and ice
- Sushi bake
- Corn ribs
- Orange coffee
- Tea bombs
- Bell pepper sandwich
- Pesto eggs
Did you get more than ten points? If you are on TikTok, then you probably did. Food influencers and home chefs introduced every single one of these viral food trends through TikTok. Each dish racked up millions of views and inspired tens of thousands of copycat viral videos.
TikTok has become the number one app for “consuming” viral food content. And ordinary restaurants are flocking to this app to promote their food and content, in the hopes of their businesses becoming the next internet star.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a video sharing platform with around 500 million active users per month. Its user interface and video features make creating engaging content fairly quick and simple.
Videos tend to be short, around one minute or less. When it comes to cooking videos, the top recipes are those that are simple, wholesome, and aesthetically pleasing. And when they go viral, they really go viral.
In 2019, after Finnish food blogger Jenni Häyrinen dropped the recipe for baked feta pasta in a video that was only 38 seconds long, the dish went so viral in Finland that feta cheese sold out locally.
In 2021, food blogger MacKenzie Smith, decided to resurrect the baked feta pasta dish in a video that she uploaded to her TikTok (@grilledcheesesocial) account. Thanks to Smith, the pasta that had overturned Finlands’ feta industry made its international debut. Her video got more than a million views.
A few months later, more than 45,000 cooking videos on TikTok focused on this baked pasta trend, with several getting upwards of 10 million views! Feta became the number one searched term on Instacart. Later data revealed that “baked feta pasta” was the most searched food dish on Google in 2021.
Why did the baked pasta trend become so popular? McArthur Joseph, a senior manager of social-media at the Beekman Social digital marketing agency, and a baked feta pasta fan, has a guess .“To me, it breaks down into a couple of things,” McArthur explains, “(1) an easy recipe, (2) inexpensive/accessible ingredients, and (3) instructions that feel like an art-and-crafts project.” Joseph also credited TikTok with being the “most democratized platform,” where unpretentious dishes and unpretentious users can gain a lot of views.
There’s some truth to that analysis. After all, Smith only had 200 TikTok followers when she uploaded her baked feta pasta video to her account. A few weeks after going viral, she had 40,000.
Should Your Business Go TikTok?
With these viral videos, TikTok is changing the way that youth engage with food. More than half of TikTok users are under the age of 29. TikTok viral food trends are responsible for encouraging Gen Z-ers to try out simple, yet popular recipes at home, and to enjoy healthy, sustainable home-cooked food.
But this doesn’t mean there is no place for non-home cooked food content on TikTok’s platform. Several food businesses are already successfully using the viral video platform to market, educate, entertain, and stay culturally relevant to young consumers.
The Chipotle Lid Flip Challenge and Other Success Stories
The Mexican-style restaurant, Chipotle, became the first major food chain to join the TikTok platform in 2019. A year later, Chipotle’s account already had more than one million followers, and more than 92 million views!
In addition to publishing viral food trends and food content, Chipotle is known for its humorous video comparing the relationship of Boomers and Gen Z’s (its target audience on TikTok) with the taco chain. They’ve also successfully leveraged the viral video “challenge” trend. A “Chipotle Lid Flip Challenge” video earned them more than 230 million views, coverage on major media outlets, and a record-breaking sales day.
With three million followers, and tens of millions of views, Dunkin Donuts is another major chain that’s had success marketing on TikTok. In addition, a collaboration with a 16-year old TikTok dancer and influencer Charli D’Amelio to promote a new drink called “The Charli,” earned the chain a 45% increase in cold brew sales.
Liberty Hall Pizza
IF you think it’s just big brands that can tap into viral food trends and make it big on TikTok – think again. Liberty Hall Pizza is a New Jersey based mom-and-pop pizzeria. When Brandon Murphy, Liberty Hall’s kitchen manager, recorded himself showing how he prepares pizza pies, his video went viral.
Murphy, under the moniker “pizza man bran” now has an entire account devoted to pizza, and his content has grown Liberty Hall’s teenage customer base.
Getting Started on TikTok
For food businesses, big and small, getting started on TikTok can be overwhelming. Tressie Lieberman, Chipotle’s digital marketing VP, explains, “brands can’t expect to succeed with copy/paste content on TikTok. There’s just so much content, and it’s a different expression of content.”
Despite the challenges, opening a TikTok account may be worthwhile. It can help food businesses connect with a younger crowd, and, because there are less restaurants currently using TikTok, there is much less competition than there is on other social media platforms.
Lastly, if the content is engaging enough, and “clicks” with the TikTok culture, the social media’s algorithm allows the video to spread to a wide audience, without requiring the user to spend money promoting it. That means brands have the opportunity for high-impact, low-cost consumer engagement.
What Works on TikTok?
Short videos, paired with trending sounds or music, as well as those that showcase personality and authenticity tend to do best on TikTok. Here are some video formats that businesses are successfully using to connect to TikTok users:
- The people behind the counter: TikTokers enjoy videos that showcase personality, not just food. Try introducing your staff through the platform, and let your customers get to know them.
- Recipes: The feta pasta trend demonstrates just how much TikTokers love popular recipes. Short, engaging recipes that provide accessible, step-by-step instructions, and use simple foods, can attract novice chefs and get them interested in your menu offerings.
- How-to tutorials: Recipes aren’t the only skills that you can share with viewers. Let your staff bring their personalities to the forefront while sharing food related talents and processes.
- Behind the scenes: Take your viewers on an exclusive tour. Show them how food is prepped, how menu items are chosen, how orders are packed, even how your staff washes dishes and sets the table. This is a great way to introduce your followers to back-of-the-house staff, while sharing informative or entertaining content.
- Testimonials: Testimonials from satisfied customers that are fun and interesting can engage viewers, especially if they are funny or tell a good story.
- Collaborate with “influencers”: Collaborating with a recognizable face to create an entertaining or informative video is a good way to build viewership, gain followers, and get people interested in your business.
- Host live events: Have you already built up a sizable number of followers (around 1,000)? You can start engaging your viewers in real time with TikTok “events,” like a contest, or a cooking tutorial. Or, ask your viewers for input in selecting menu items, names of dishes or daily specials.
- Start a hashtag: Get your food trending with a hashtag challenge. Encourage your followers to use the hashtag, and have them challenge others as well. You can also market this as a live event; for example, you can award a prize for the most creative use of the hashtag.
- Challenges: Chipotle boosted its sales by getting the “Chipotle Lid Flip Challenge” trending. Start a challenge of your own and see if your followers can complete it. Or, film your business participating in viral challenges.
- Share special moments: To stay relatable and personable, get your audience celebrating with you. Birthdays, business milestones, even an employee get-together can make your business fun and lively.
- Be authentic: TikTok users value authenticity. Don’t be afraid to create content where you share personal information and stories, such as why you opened the business, how you started in the city that you are in, or any other stories that your brand has to share.
Sometimes it can take a while to find the secret sauce to TikTok viral video success, says Drayton Martin, Dunkin Donuts VP of brand stewardship. Martin emphasizes the need to keep moving and stay flexible. “Don’t wait for a perfect strategy, “ she advises. “See what sticks and continue to build off of that.”
How to Make Baked Feta Pasta
The feta pasta trend is one of the most popular tutorial recipes on TikTok. Whether or not your business is on the platform, you can still enjoy TikTok’s baked feta pasta, and, if applicable, add it to your menu.
- 2 pints of cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 8 ounces of feta cheese in block, drained
- Rigatoni pasta
- 1 clove of garlic, grated
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced
- Red pepper flakes (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a bowl, toss the tomatoes, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the tomato mixture in a 2-1/2-to-3 quart casserole dish.
- Place the block of feta cheese in the center of the pan and season to taste with pepper.
- Bake for about 30 minutes, until the tomatoes have burst and the feta is soft. Raise the temperature to 450 degrees and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes and feta are golden brown.
- Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta, but retain 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
- Stir garlic and red pepper flakes (optional) into the tomato-feta mixture. Smash the mixture into a smooth and creamy sauce using the back of a spoon.
- Pour the drained pasta, and half the basil into the tomato-feta pan. Mix until the pasta is coated with the tomato-feta mixture. (If the sauce is too thick, use the retained pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time, to soften it).
- Season with salt, pepper and basil to taste.
- Upload your cooking video to your social media accounts, and enjoy the results!