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4 Ways to Profit from Social Media Food Trends

4 Ways to Profit from Social Media Food Trends

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From #girldinner and tinned fish to chopped sandwiches and shrooms, restaurants can use platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to draw in new prospects and drive sales.

This article was written for Fast Casual by Katie Fairchild, Chief Marketing Officer at Restaurant365.

The impact of social media has transformed restaurants, especially when it comes to marketing. Many operators are already familiar with how to increase sales by using platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to draw in new prospects and drive sales within their loyal customer base, but is there any money to be made by cashing in on the popular social media trends?

Let's look at a few viral dishes that also pack a profit potential

As of the publishing of this article, #girldinner has garnered more than 1.3 billion views on TikTok. The popular “girl dinner” is loosely defined as “a minimal-effort meal trend.” For restaurants this could mean a mishmash of seasonal menu items that are currently affordable, items that have been over-prepped and need to go out, or any variety of perishable items that are nearing the end of their shelf life.

Popeyes jumped on the trend last month by featuring side dishes — mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, Cajun fries, coleslaw, biscuits and red beans with rice — to make a meal. In a statement, the chain said its girl dinner has “options packed with robust Cajun flavors that are made with the same slow, time-honored, homemade traditions of Southern cooking that the brand started in 1972.”

Another trend is tinned fish, which has been around for ages but has recently soared in popularity thanks to TikTok. While many of us immediately think of grandma’s sardines, TikTok has given tinned fish a makeover and it is causing higher-end canned seafood such as mussels, octopus and salmon to fly off the grocery store shelves. The good news for a restaurant operator is that these sources of protein can easily be added to a charcuterie board or to salads, pasta, and pizzas as tinned fish is much more cost-effective when compared to fresh fish. Because it is shelf-stable, the use of canned seafood can greatly reduce waste caused by spoilage.

The chopped sandwich is also gaining popularity. It is just like it sounds, everything you would find in a popular sandwich recipe — including the condiments — chopped up very fine like a salad and served in a roll. Any popular sandwiches already on the menu can be offered as a trendy chopped sandwich with little additional effort.

And we can’t overlook pasta chips. Pasta is typically one of a restaurant’s least expensive pantry items. Reinventing pasta as an appetizer is a great way to increase its sales. Pasta chips are created by cooking pasta in boiling water, air frying it to get crispy, then seasoned in a variety of different flavors with herbs and seasonings already in the kitchen.


What is the Average Profit Margin for a Restaurant?

How can operators create profitable dishes from viral food trends?

For operators looking to cash in on TikTok or other social media-inspired dishes, below are a few tips on how to experiment with these trends without damaging your bottom line or disrupting your current menu.

  • Consider dedicated menus, chalkboards, table tents or QR codes to promote temporary specials. They are hard to ignore and less expensive to create than a regular menu. These temporary menus are easy to update as the trends change
  • State that these items are available “for a limited-time” to encourage sales. It is important to keep an eye on the changing trends, but also give each item enough time to perfect the recipe and decide if it is a keeper or not. Rotating experimental items quarterly should be an efficient time to see what is selling and what is not.
  • Include these items in a happy hour menu to encourage customers to experiment with the new items. Many diners will be more likely to try new items when the price and portions are smaller.
  • Properly train servers to promote these new offerings to get customers excited about trying these “viral new dishes” or “as seen on TikTok.”
  • Create a profitable “hack” menu to show your loyal customers’ and employees’ favorite custom orders. Be sure to price these new menu items correctly to avoid misleading employees into ringing up cheaper versions of meals that result in lost profits.

What's next

While it is hard to tell what the next big social media food craze will be, there are some prime contenders to keep an eye on.

  • Mushrooms: The trend of mushrooms in beverages is having a moment. Known for their antioxidants and immune system support, they are popping up in coffees, teas, and mocktails. It is likely this trend will spill over into many recipes due to their unique flavor and versatility. Used as a meat alternative or a flavor additive, mushrooms can be an inexpensive way to add variety to many dishes.
  • Ancient grains: Ancient grains are moving beyond the interest of nutritionists and climate activists into mainstream kitchens. Bulgur, farro, millet, and tabbouleh are a few popular ancient grains which are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, and fiber that are a great substitute for rice or wheat products.
  • Retro comfort dishes: Just like crop tops and episodes of Friends, popular ;90s dishes are making a comeback. Be prepared for nostalgic dishes returning to the restaurant scene with modern twists. Think upcycling tomato soup and grilled cheese with roasted tomato bisque and a gouda, muenster, fontina, or Havarti grilled cheese on sourdough. Or lobster mac and cheese, anyone?

If priced and promoted effectively, experimenting with new menu items can help grow a restaurant’s profits, improve guest satisfaction, and offer great marketing and promotional opportunities.

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