Earlier this year, a surprisingly good feta pasta dish went viral on TikTok. It wasn’t the first viral recipe on TikTok, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Now TikTok is going to do something that no other company like it has done before: start a restaurant. Well, a virtual restaurant.
Just like MrBeast Burger, it will be delivery-only, with an assortment of restaurant kitchens doing the actual cooking. The menu will feature TikTok dishes like feta pasta, pasta chips, smash burgers, and corn ribs, with a menu that rotates every quarter.
TikTok Kitchen is more about promoting the platform than starting a restaurant company. And the food will be very different from normal restaurants, featuring the trendiest dishes instead of long-time favorites like burgers and fries.
The restaurant will begin serving in 2022 with 300 locations, with over 1,000 locations by the end of the year. It’s unclear how long this campaign will last; it’ll probably depend on how well it does and how much profit it makes. This may or may not become a permanent restaurant.
TikTok will be running this as a “virtual restaurant” in partnership with Grubhub and Virtual Dining Concepts. Virtual Dining Concepts uses the concept of “ghost kitchens” or “cloud kitchens.”
The ghost kitchens prepare food under different brand names in a single kitchen and distribute it nearby via Grubhub. It’s a sort of “Uber for restaurants,” where restaurants that are struggling financially or want to maximize profits can sign up to start preparing food for other brands, such as MrBeast Burger, in the same kitchen. Any restaurant can fill out a form if they want to start serving TikTok food.
Virtual Dining Concepts has partnered with many restaurants and has worked with Guy Fieri, Steve Harvey, Mariah Carey, Tyga, MrBeast, NASCAR, and others. On the one hand, they help small businesses by giving them an alternative income source. On the other hand, they promote monopolies because small restaurants become reliant on a big company to give them business. Small Businesses don’t get all the profits from their sales, because a significant portion goes to Virtual Dining Concepts, TikTok, and Grubhub.
Is it ethical for TikTok to profit off other people’s work on their platform? TikTok says that they will be giving users credit for their creations and even giving them a cut of the sales. But many questions still remain unanswered.
For instance, the feta pasta was originally created and promoted by Jenni Häyrinen before being posted to TikTok. And what happens if the original creator doesn’t want their dish being used in TikTok Kitchen? I haven’t read the terms and conditions, but it’s likely that users give TikTok the legal rights to distribute and profit off of their content.
While there are some ethical questions, I think this new restaurant is a really great idea. Because they are such a big company, and because this is such an unusual concept, they automatically get publicity - like this article! I think a lot of people will be interested and will check it out, but it will only be successful long-term if it can actually provide value to people. It’s easy to make a virtual restaurant, but it’s harder to make one that feels real; one that people want to keep coming back to.