TikTok launches viral food takeout business, but the idea has holes

TikTok is launching a takeout business called TikTok Kitchen, and we have questions.

The social platform has plans to let people order delivery for dishes based on recipes that have gone viral, Bloomberg reports. The menu will include baked feta pasta, corn ribs, a smash burger, and pasta chips, and will change when new recipes start to go viral. 

TikTok partnered with GrubHub and a company called Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC) for the venture. VDC is a platform that lets clients license recipes and brands to spin up takeout-only menus made in the kitchens of other restaurants, or in delivery-only restaurants, known as ghost kitchens. In addition to TikTok Kitchen, it’s partnered with YouTuber Mr. Beast to sell viral smash burgers, as well as other influencers, media brands, and celebrities.

There will be 300 kitchens churning out the viral dishes at launch, with 1,000 planned by the end of 2022. 

TikTok has 1 billion users and plenty of money. Even with 1,000 restaurants, we don’t see this being a huge slice of their revenue. In fact, TikTok says it will use the proceeds to pay the creators of the recipes. So what, exactly, is the point of delivering all this lukewarm food? It seems like a marketing stunt based on the novelty of being able to order something you’ve spent countless zoned out hours watching in a vertical video.

Whether TikTok Kitchen is a stunt or money-maker, the concept is questionable.

First, the claim that TikTok will pay recipe creators is nice but has plenty of holes. Viral recipes often have more than one video that popularized them, and those videos aren’t necessarily from the original recipe’s creator. Take baked feta pasta: It first went viral on Instagram in a post from a Finnish blogger, but made the jump to TikTok when @feelgoodfoodie and @grilledcheesesocial clocked the trend and posted their versions of the dish. So who actually gets the credit, and the cash?

The answer seems to be that sometimes individual creators will get paid, and sometimes that money will potentially go to TikTok’s creator fund.

“Proceeds from TikTok Kitchen sales will go to both support the creators who inspired the menu item and to encourage and assist other creators to express themselves on the platform in keeping with TikTok’s mission to inspire creativity and bring joy to its users,” TikTok told TechCrunch.

It’s not clear whether that means the creator fund will be increasing, or whether TikTok will just have to divert fewer advertising dollars to the creator fund. With so few details about how TikTok will identify and pay recipe-makers, TikTok Kitchen seems like another way the company is making money off of the people that actually power the platform.

Next is the question about why anybody would be ordering this food. On the one hand, it makes sense that getting to eat something you’ve watched come to life on your phone would be satisfying. Who hasn’t wanted to slice into an extremely complicated and beautiful cake after watching The Great British Bake Off?

But part of the reason dishes go viral on TikTok in particular is because they are so easy to make. Baked feta pasta gets you a creamy, flavorful pasta sauce just by melting a block of cheese with some tomatoes. Other viral recipes basically require one trip to the grocery store and an air fryer. Why would you order an easy-to-make recipe when that same money could get you something it would take way more time and effort to make yourself?

The answer, of course, is for the novelty of it. Millions of people have watched Emily Mariko turn her leftovers into a visually mouth-watering salmon rice bowl, but probably only a fraction of those viewers have actually flaked salmon for lunch themselves. 

So the logic isn’t sound for why a person would pay money for other people to make something designed to be easily made at home, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be getting those corn rib orders in. In fact, people probably will — and then make a TikTok video of the experience. Maybe this half-baked idea is actually genius. Sigh.

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https://www.cupbord.com/2021/12/19/tiktok-launches-viral-food-takeout-business-but-the-idea-has-holes/

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