Posted in Millennials on November 28, 2023
For restaurants and convenience stores that are looking to both increase profitability and brainstorm creative dessert ideas, social media may be the answer.
The connection between buzzworthy menu items and greater foot traffic — the top reason operators’ dessert sales grew in 2022 — has been well-documented. When a new food, flavor or dish starts showing up more often online, in conversations or on menus, 72% of consumers say they become interested in tasting it to see what all the hype is about.1,2
Social media posts about novel menu items can particularly resonate with younger generations. Nearly 80% of Gen Z and 69% of millennials say they’ve tried a food or flavor because they saw it on social media.2
Platforms like Instagram and Facebook, though, offer more than just promotional opportunities. They can also serve as a key source of inspiration for new dessert dishes — giving operators a sense of what ingredients and formats are gaining popularity and how users feel about them, based on their comments and likes.
To ensure you’re making the most of your social media experience, consider adopting some of the following approaches.
Moving Beyond Menu Posts
In addition to displaying upcoming offerings on social media, some operators also use it to inspire consumers about the type of food they serve.
Eric Shomof, co-founder of Mondelēz Foodservice Brand Ambassador The Dolly Llama, said the waffle-and-ice cream franchise’s social media posts help consumers understand the main ingredient on its menu is more than just a breakfast item.
“The Dolly Llama’s Instagram page features photos of waffles topped with chocolate sauce or fruit, being served as if they were donuts or cupcakes or any other treat,” Shomof said in an interview with Mondelēz Foodservice.
Instagram’s visual structure makes it an ideal outlet for luscious photos of milkshakes piled high with toppings, cookies with mouthwatering fillings and other eye-catching treats. A third of consumers say they’re interested in trying trending extravagant, Instagrammable desserts.1
Operators’ social media posts, however, don’t need to solely focus on food.
Sharing images of an eatery’s festive design elements — such as the signage and “wanted llama” prints that line the walls at The Dolly Llama — can showcase the unique dining experience it provides.
More than two-thirds (42%) of TikTok users say they visited a restaurant because a post on the platform made it seem like a fun place to go with friends or family; 36% have dined somewhere because the atmosphere looked cool in a video they watched.3
Curating Effective Content
While algorithm-based elements like TikTok’s “For You” feed of suggested viewing selections can possibly help restaurants expand their audience, additional social media options can also extend their reach.
Some operators have signed up for social media venues’ advertising services. A beta version of TikTok’s brand-oriented ad offering, for instance, reportedly increased c-store chain Wawa’s amount of followers by more than 1,800% in a year.4
Getting an influencer to share content can help introduce your restaurant to new patrons or allow you to promote a limited time offer.5
Encouraging other social media users to post about your menu, service or other distinguishing features is another way to spread the word.
The #ShowUsYourBombos hashtag that Mondelēz Foodservice Brand Ambassador BomboBar posted last November alongside a question — “Bombos are our motivation … hbu?” — has been a playful way to engage the eatery’s audience, according to Luke Domask, marketing manager of DineAmic Hospitality.
Both the eatery and its customers have since shared images of BomboBar’s Italian bomboloni donuts and mega-milkshakes.
“Allowing users to be a part of your story on social media helps personalize the content a bit more and promotes the perspective of the customer,” Domask told Mondelēz Foodservice. “I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like their story or post [getting] reposted by a brand on its feed. Call it a ‘digital hug’ or thank you, but it goes a long way in establishing a stronger connection with your audience.”
Turning to Social Media for Ideas
Social media is also the perfect platform for branded collaborations, especially for limited-time dessert menu items.
This fall, for example, BomboBar served a Campfire S’mores Gelato made with OREO Cookie Pieces and a Campfire S’mores Gelato Shake made with CHIPS AHOY! Cookie Pieces.
Operators might find specific social media platforms helpful when they’re searching for new menu ideas. Domask feels TikTok and Pinterest currently supply the best inspiration.
TikTok seems to have carved out a particular niche within the foodservice segment: 36% of its users — and 65% of its creators, which are akin to influencers — have ordered something from a restaurant after seeing a video about it on the app.6
Additionally, 78% of restaurants that market on TikTok said they achieved a positive return on investment from their ads within the first six months.7
Maintaining a presence on more than one social media site can allow operators to track engagement patterns and pinpoint where specific posts may have the biggest impact; they can also obtain a bird’s-eye view of food-related social media activity — which may help them identify fads that would be well-suited for an LTO — and spot emerging trends with long-term menu appeal.
Yet while observing what inclusions are — or aren’t — successfully being offered elsewhere can provide some valuable insight, ultimately, operators will need to assess if a flavor or format is the right fit for their market and menu.
“It is incredibly important to be mindful of the current trends, as well as how something may be perceived on social media,” Domask says. “But I do not necessarily think it should drive decisions. You also want to be original and separate yourself — because in the end, that’s the differentiator on social media.”
Interested in hearing more about emerging ingredients and formats? Check out our 2024 trends report.
1 Desserts: Keynote Report, Datassential, 2023
2. 2023 Midyear Trend Report, Datassential, 2023
3 “TikTok is Becoming a Food Industry Influencer,” The Food Institute, March 23, 2022
4 “How Wawa Gained 2.6M Social Media Followers,” C-Store Dive, October 3, 2022
5 “Cheesier, Saucier, and Drowning in Caviar: How TikTok Took Over the Menu,” Grub Street, May 17, 2023
6 “(SURVEY) How TikTok Influences Restaurant Dining Behavior,” MGH, September 21, 2022
7 “A Primer on TikTok for Restaurants,” Nation’s Restaurant News, February 2, 2023