What’s the story with dark kitchens?

Restaurants are using ghost/dark kitchens to adapt to COVID-19, changing consumer behaviours, and the increasing prevalence of digital technology.

As traditional restaurants struggle, dark kitchens offer hope—& a glimpse of the future

While many sectors of the food industry have struggled over the last year, one area has seen steady growth: dark kitchens, aka “ghost kitchens.” It’s a relatively new and specific area of the restaurant industry that not only survived but thrived during the pandemic.

In fact, the market research team at Euromonitor predicted that dark kitchens could develop into an over £700 billion business by 2030. Unlike a traditional eatery, ghost kitchens are easier to set up, cheaper to operate, and require less investment to start.

What is a dark kitchen?

Often, dark kitchens begin with an existing brand or restaurant looking to expand into a virtual brand. Restaurants will then use dark kitchens to fulfill online-only orders. To cut overhead costs, businesses usually locate dark kitchens in areas where rent is cheaper.

Dark kitchens deserve consideration because of their ability to keep costs low by moving operations away from traditional restaurant kitchens where costs are higher. Unlike traditional restaurants, dark kitchens do not depend on foot traffic or in-house dining.

A ghost kitchen cook at work.

Compared to traditional restaurants, dark kitchens operate much the same. However, interaction with customers takes place solely online or through food delivery apps. That means ghost kitchens don’t need any of the seating required for in-house dining.

Unlike a traditional eatery, ghost kitchens are easier to set up, cheaper to operate, and require less risk and investment. A London-based ghost kitchen startup called Karma Kitchen recently set out to raise £3M to get them up and running. In the end, the company raised £252 million. The money is there.

The benefits of operating a dark kitchen

When it comes to owning a dark kitchen, operators and brands benefit most from cost savings.  Typically, ghost kitchens operate at a fraction of the cost of a typical restaurant kitchen. By not seating customers on location, ghost kitchens cut back on the amount of space needed to accommodate guests on location. This also means dark kitchens don’t need staff to work the floor or serve food. This situation, of course, cuts way back on labor costs.

Dark kitchens fulfill delivery orders in the easiest, cheapest way possible, and they don’t depend on foot traffic or a physical location to do business or serve customers. Because they don’t depend on foot traffic, dark kitchens can operate in less busy or remote areas where rent is cheaper. This also spares ghost kitchens from the ups and downs that go with fluctuations in foot traffic.

As the pandemic amplifies the demand for online delivery orders, many restaurants and brands have already adopted ghost kitchen models to alleviate their losses from closures and limited capacity. Some dark kitchens complement traditional in-house dining operations, while others exist and operate solely online.

In other words, dark kitchens give businesses room to play. They expand the options businesses have to meet customers where they’re at. And in this climate, customers are on delivery apps.

Ghost kitchens also allow brands and restaurants to narrow their menus. Ghost kitchens will often create separate brands for a single menu item or category (chicken wings, burgers, pizza). This strategy limits the need for a massive menu with complicated recipes and lost items. Limited menus allow for easier execution and fewer costs spent on purchasing ingredients.

Is a dark kitchen right for you?

Like any other business venture, dark kitchens come with their own set of risks and rewards that are worth considering beforehand. Choosing to open a ghost kitchen might be the right choice if:

  • You’re just starting as a chef or entrepreneur
  • You own a small brick-and-mortar restaurant with limited resources
  • You own a food truck
  • You have a large restaurant, chain or are a well-funded chef
  • You are looking for a temporary solution to pandemic restrictions

As with any restaurant, your dark kitchen will need the proper tools to deliver safe meals that your customers can feel good about eating. Tamper-evident labels add a second layer of security to delivery and takeout orders. And in some cities and regions (such as California in the US), the law even requires these security labels with each delivery order.

The State of California now requires restaurants to secure each delivery order with tamper-evident labels as long as they’re delivered by third parties. NCCO manufactures a wide selection of these labels to meet a variety of needs.
Want to learn more about dark kitchens?

Do you have more questions about what it takes to operate a successful dark kitchen? Check out “Need to know ghost kitchen essentials: equipping your dark kitchen for success” for more information.

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