Food Gone Viral

Have you heard of the Ramen Burger before? What about the Cronut? The Rainbow Bagel? Sushiritto? Cruffin? Pizzaception? These are just some of the food trends that have taken social media by storm the past few years.

The Bagel Store is a store in Williamsburg that sells, surprise surprise, bagels. They had been making their rainbow bagels for 20 years when a INSIDER Food video on Facebook showcased the process of how they made their bagels. The video was viewed over 67 million times and shared over 800,000 times on Facebook. People were amazed by these rainbow bagels – so amazed that the Bagel Store had to shut down because they couldn’t meet the increased demand.

Another recent food trend is those crazy milkshakes you’ve been seeing on social media.

 

Also located in New York City, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer creates milkshakes topped with things like cotton candy, slices of cake, and caramel apples. After a BuzzFeed post featured the milkshakes, Black Tap found themselves with a four hour wait of customers lining up to try these milkshakes.

Here, they purposefully tried to go viral. The founder worked with their social media manager to create something that people would find interesting. However, even he didn’t expect the level of attention that the milkshakes would end up getting. The staff at Black Tap had to figure out ways to manage the lines so that the crowd wouldn’t be blocking any walkways.

However, while Black Tap’s manager had tried to go viral, many businesses aren’t the ones who tried to initiate the trend – it’s other people causing them to go viral. Influencers (including celebrities) who post about these places are able to spread the word to their thousands of followers, which encourages the food trend to become, well, a trend. In the case of the Bagel Store, they had been making these rainbow bagels for 20 years. It was people who started posting pictures of the bagels on Instagram that caused them to go viral.

Word of mouth has been a trusted source for ages, but through word of mouth you could only tell a handful of people at a time. With social media, it becomes easier to spread the word about something new and cool to thousands of people at a time. Instagram especially has become a place for “foodies” to post pictures of the delicious looking food they get to eat.

Although I bet most restaurants appreciate the added publicity, it does cause a problem. Most of these places offering the trendy food items are small and cannot keep up with the insane level of demand, as shown by what happened with The Bagel Store.

The Ramen Burger was sold at a small stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg – it didn’t even have its own store. Lines got insanely long and people would wait for hours to try the burger.

It’s not just managing the lines that can be an issue for the businesses – it’s also a matter of being able to stock enough supplies and have enough staff on hand to be able to respond to the increase in demand. Plus, you still want to make sure your product is of high-quality, and not let the increased production negatively impact the quality.

In the case of Black Tap’s milkshakes, when the owner tried calling his supplier to get more ice cream, his supplier told him that he had already purchased everything available. He had to adjust his ordering amounts as well as restructure his employee shifts so there would be enough hands on deck to cover the demand.

During the time they were closed, the Bagel Store rearranged the kitchen to make more room and to make the process more efficient. The owner was so overwhelmed that he had to take time off to restructure everything.

What’s the takeaway here for businesses? Well, to be fair the chances of going viral are incredibly slim. But thanks to social media, it’s definitely possible. Although the odds of it happening to most business are rare, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a game plan in mind just in case one of the Jenner sisters ‘grams your food. And if you want to go viral, New York wouldn’t be a bad place to be.

11 comments

  1. I’m not sure it has to “go viral” for these lessons to apply. it can just increase demand faster than the company can increase demand, and nothing like scarcity to drive up demand.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post. It has been interesting to see how social media has been immersed into food. I liked how you discuss what makes food posts viral as well as examples of foods that have gone viral. Your cronuts examples reminds me of an example of a Keeping Up With the Kardashian episode where they go to get cronuts. The line is hours and hours long. Similarly, I went to Georgetown undergrad, and I remember how long the line also was for Georgetown Cupcakes. The line would literally go around the block on a summer day. Furthermore, I live close to the North End, and Mike’s Pastry’s is a similar case. No matter what the weather, time, etc the line is always super long. These are a few examples of viral foods. While Cronuts may have benefited from social media, the case of Georgetown Cupcakes and Mikes Pastry, may be more a result of word of mouth and history. Overall, interesting post- I liked your perspective.

  3. I enjoy reading this post. On social media sites like Instagram, there are a lot of big food accounts that highlight these unique plates. I enjoyed how you analyzed different restaurants and their virality. I common trend that you see is most of these foods go viral after being featured on Insider Food and other similar platforms. I do think though that for some of these unique foods, the scarcity of product makes it even more valuable to get. So for owners, if they see their line wrapped around the block it may not be a bad thing not serve all the customers – forcing them to come back the next day.

  4. francoismba · ·

    It’s always fun to hear of the newest food craze and what they entail. Although the trends typically show up in my news feed, some just seem too out-of-the-box to even taste good. Also, I’m not willing to stand in line for 4 hours just to try a mix between a donut and a croissant. Social media helps to spread the word of a new trend; however, I wonder how review sites such as Yelp play into it. Also, these food trends tend to die off which can have a huge impact on business due to declining demand.

  5. wfbagleyiii · ·

    I really appreciate the insight in your blog. I feel like this whole food craze began around 2007 with Georgetown Cupcakes – who had a show on the Food Network and boasted lines for blocks. I would be interested to find out how much social media influences business decisions when introducing new products – Dunkin’ Donuts now has the cronut, etc.

  6. cattybradley · ·

    Cool post – When I saw the title I immediately thought of Black Tap. I lived close to it this summer and would always see the lines. I went one time (waited out the line) and I thought it was a tad ridiculous how much the waitresses carried about customers getting the perfect Insta. Instead of asking “how was it?,” they asked, “did you get the photo you wanted?” I think social media has definitely changed how consumers interact with resturants. While in NYC, I would often find myself looking at restaurants’ Instagram accounts before visiting. I think for desserts it is even more popular (Magnolia’s bakery, I-CE NY).

  7. As a food lover and foodie, this was a very interesting post! I consistently use my social media accounts, especially Instagram, to find new food/trending food. I follow a lot of food blogs and food influencers, all who have great influence on where I go next and what I should try at these places. Social media does really help small business spread their word fast, but I wonder how food apps/sites like Yelp or Opentable could utilize this and highlight viral food dishes.

  8. I immediately clicked on this post upon seeing the title, as I am such a foodie and follow wayyyyy to many food accounts on Instagram. Although I never get to these places to try them out (even though I lived in NYC this summer), I often find myself creating lists of all the “foods gone viral” that I want to try. What I think is great and the novelty of these foods is that they are all smaller “mom & pop” or specialty stores and Instagram gives them the awareness and marketing they otherwise would never achieve. Being featured on a blog gets these small places out there making them essentially “insta-famous.” I never though about the supply side and not being able to meet demand so I think you highlighted that very well, definitely brought out the potential downside of such fame. But what I still love is that it gives these smaller food establishments a chance to compete with large chains and brands. I find it funny that large companies invest so much money in true attempts to go viral with certain foods and have teams dedicated to this as a business model, but as a “anti-big” culture food bloggers try to find the next “big” thing from the tiniest place that is unknown. I think in general this type of phenomenon in food says a lot about our generation.

  9. katieInc_ · ·

    Awesome post! As a self-proclaimed foodie, my Instagram feed is primarily comprised of “food instas” like the ones who mentioned. In addition to influencers like the Jenners, specific accounts or bloggers can also increase the popularity of a specific restaurant. Bostonfoodies, for example, is an account I follow to get new restaurant ideas in the city of Boston. They’re latest promotional effort is to Instagram story an entire meal at the restaurant they are visiting. It is a great way for restaurants to showcase both their menu items and the restaurant’s ambiance.

  10. olearycal · ·

    This is definitely a trend that I see. There is an ice cream place that opened in my town called Milkcraft that sold really cool looking ice cream cones. People went so they could take a photo and post it on Instragram even though each cone costs 8 dollars and doesn’t taste very good. That being said, I think social media is a great way to find cool, interesting places to eat.

  11. polmankevin · ·

    These food trends are awesome. I love to see businesses innovating their menu’s to try to stand out in the crowded restaurant market. It’s no wonder that most of these trends come from New York City, an area where you can’t walk more than a block without seeing a bar, deli, or restaurant. It’s interesting to see businesses who were able to create successful viral strategies, but even more interesting to see businesses get viral recognition for something that they’ve been doing for a long time. Social media helps people stand out, it’s an awesome tool to promote unique and exciting ideas. Great post

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