COVID-19 has rocked the restaurant industry, requiring many operations to adapt and evolve in order to stay afloat. One trend that’s gained significant momentum during this precarious time? Ghost kitchens. Here’s a closer look at this trend, along with things to keep in mind if your restaurant is considering this innovative option.
Meeting Diner Demands in Unprecedented Times
Celebrity chef Eric Greenspan defines the ghost kitchen as places "where virtual brands are produced without a brick and mortar location. They're facilities that are made solely for producing virtual brands." Not a new phenomenon, ghost kitchens have been rising in popularity for years in response to increasing diner demand for food delivery. During the coronavirus pandemic, however, the ghost kitchen model isn’t just about what diners want, but also about generating critical revenue while keeping costs low for restaurants unable to provide in-house dining.
Built entirely for the off-premise dining market, ghost kitchens offer the carry-out/delivery option diners are looking for while supporting growth opportunities for restaurants. Says a QSRAutomations report, “The beauty of a ghost kitchen is that it allows your operation to run leaner and meaner than ever before. With a ghost kitchen, you can keep your staffing minimal to the cook staff only. There is great value to that both in the immediate future and what's to come.” As environments void of outside contact, ghost kitchens are also uniquely pandemic-friendly.
While some restaurants are using their own brick and mortar spaces for operating ghost kitchens, others are turning to virtual kitchen companies like Kitchen United, which provide space for multiple takeout, delivery and catering restaurants under one roof. These restaurants don’t just share facilities, but also overhead costs. Said Smokey Bones CEO James O’Reilly this past spring of the chain’s first virtual kitchen in a Chicago Kitchen United, “That we can open a new urban point of distribution during an economic downturn speaks to our confidence in this strategy and the strength of our partnership with Kitchen United.”
Elements of a Successful Ghost Kitchen
While ghost kitchens have many appeals for restaurants, they also have unique challenges. Through these challenges, quality and service remain paramount -- which is why it’s vital to have the right menu, equipment, and delivery services in place.
For example, regardless of the means by which it gets onto their plates, diners will still have high expectations of food quality and taste. Outfitting your ghost kitchen with the right equipment, such as heated holding equipment, can help to ensure diner satisfaction and the loyalty that goes along with it. By distributing heat evenly and maintaining temperatures without degrading food quality, heating holding cabinets keep orders in optimal condition until they’re ready for delivery or pickup.
Other considerations include marketing, branding and location. Regarding the latter, ghost kitchens are most successful in urban areas populated by digital natives prone to ordering delivery multiple times a week.
Is a Ghost Kitchen Right for Your Restaurant?
Lastly, while ghost kitchens are ideal for many restaurant concepts and their customers, they’re not suitable for all. As with in-house dining, the customer experience should be front and center.
Still not sure whether a ghost kitchen is the right fit for your restaurant? There's one way to get a better idea: Ask the people who ultimately make or break its success. Andrew Park, VP of CX Strategy and Enablement at customer experience intelligence platform InMoment told QSR, “If a brand is on the fence about providing this type of offering, all they need to do is reach out to their customers and ask. Those brands that continually listen and act on the feedback their customers provide through this unprecedented time will come out much stronger brands with strong customer loyalty."