Saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse for eat-ins and restaurants would be an understatement. Most restaurants were forced to shut down business for good, whereas others closed business temporarily to focus on delivery and takeout. To survive the difficult times, the ghost kitchen, also known as the virtual kitchen or dark kitchen, has grown increasingly popular among restaurant owners.
What are Ghost Kitchens?
Ghost kitchens are restaurants that provide their services on a delivery-only basis. They do not have the normal things associated with a restaurant such as seating area, servers, or signages. They were in existence even before the pandemic, but their growth was catalyzed when local laws banned in-restaurant dining. More so, even when in-restaurant dining was allowed to resume, the social distancing policy and stringent government regulations make it difficult for smaller restaurants to sustain their operations.
Therefore, this was a blessing in disguise for various food vendors. New creative and exciting dining models have been sparked, and the chances that they will persist past the pandemic are quite high. The growing popularity of dark kitchens can be considered as the next big step in restaurant evolution. This is because more and more customers have become used to the convenient delivery and takeout options facilitated by food-delivery applications such as UberEATS.
The Growing Popularity of Food-Delivery Applications
Whereas the pandemic is seen largely considered as responsible for the exponential rise of ghost kitchens, customers had begun getting accustomed to it and embracing it quite earlier. The reason for this is the growth of smartphone applications in terms of functionality and convenience. Applications such as Amazon, Uber, Grubhub among others have contributed largely to this evolution and accelerated the shift to ghost kitchens.
The in-dining restaurants will always have their place in the market. But even if customers do have the choice to dine out, busy people mostly choose the convenience of food delivery because they only need a few touches on their phone and their food is delivered.
Furthermore, the increasing number of gig workers is supporting the rise of virtual kitchens. This is because drivers are required to deliver the meals to customers. Ghost kitchens employ a good number of the gig workers’ population to deliver means. As a result, the gig economy has been enhanced by the pandemic because many people lost their traditional jobs.
Varieties of Ghost Kitchens
A dark kitchen is a wide term for restaurants that have no dining space. There are several varieties of virtual kitchens namely:
- Pop-up kitchens
- Mobile kitchens
- Shared kitchens
- Virtual restaurants
a) Pop-Up Kitchens
Also known as an incubator kitchen, pop-up kitchens are a part of the traditional restaurant that focuses on preparing food meant for deliveries. Initially, pop-up kitchens were set up for traditional dining, but with the pandemic, they have shifted entirely to online ordering and delivery. They are efficient because the restaurant owner does not require much space to operate.
b) Mobile Kitchens
Mobile kitchens are a blend of delivery services and food trucks. In big cities, food trucks have long been used to deliver food to customers. Instead of customers going to the food truck, mobile kitchens deliver the food right to the customer’s doorstep. A mobile kitchen is suitable for hungry customers who don’t want to queue in long lines at food trucks or simply don’t want to go out.
c) Shared Kitchens
A shared kitchen is a restaurant model where several restaurants utilize the same space to prepare food to be delivered. This arrangement is convenient for aspiring restaurant owners who want to start a restaurant and existing owners that want to make changes without a high capital outlay. Not only do shared kitchens decrease the rent, but they also mean lower upfront costs.
d) Virtual restaurants
The difference between virtual restaurants and normal ghost kitchens is that the former is not housed in a real restaurant (or food trucks). Instead, they are specially developed structures meant for delivering food only. Most of them resemble pod-like structures whose outside appearance looks like a storage unit rather than a restaurant. An example of such a kitchen is Deliveroo that provides its services from public areas like parking lots.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Ghost Kitchens
- A convenient option for customers that want their food delivered to them.
- Existing restaurants can adjust to changing business environments. For example, the covid-19 crisis.
- Low start-up capital requirements and operating costs for new restaurants.
- Restaurants can increase their marketing budget, and create awareness using word-of-mouth and social media.
- With the increasing evolution of ghost kitchens, establishing safety regulations and standards could be a challenge.
- Part of the proceedings have to go to delivery services
The Future of Ghost Kitchens. Are They Here to Stay?
With the paradigm shift that is being experienced in how restaurants get started and operate, restaurant owners will have access to immense opportunities. Such opportunities will allow restaurateurs to experiment, refine and test several changes. for instance, they can launch an entirely new concept through their delivery app, run several concepts from just one location and meet the increasing demand for food deliveries. All this will be more manageable and accessible with the help of digital advancements.
However, the brick-and-mortar eat-ins and restaurants will not go extinct. People will still want to enjoy a dining experience, a different experience from having their food delivered in containers. They will want an experience that wows, and it is successful restaurant owners who will creatively and flexibly differentiate their services on experience.
Many current and potential restaurant owners are considering renting a kitchen to provide their food delivery services. This is because ghost kitchens have huge potential in the market, and they hold exhilarating possibilities for aspiring and current restaurant owners. They are also a creative and flexible technique of providing their services during the pandemic, and fits perfectly with the growing popularity of food trucks and food delivery applications. That said, to rent a kitchen that provides flexibility and has terms that suit you, visit Occupyd.