You've probably heard talk of "ghost kitchens". They've been a trending topic on social media and in foodservice circles. I thought it was time we dug into this trend a little more, so I looked to our vendor partner McCain Foodservice as well as our very own Chef Steve Tiezzi for information about "ghost kitchens" and what they mean to us here in the Midwest!
What are Ghost Kitchens?
Ghost kitchens are food service businesses operating from low-rent, commercial or noncommercial premises or out of an existing restaurant's kitchen, and these “kitchens” prepare food exclusively for pickup, delivery or limited dine-in service. Menu items are typically optimized for ease of production and food quality reliability when delivered.
Ghost kitchens are the perfect way for operators to expand to new markets and add new concepts at relatively low cost. The growing awareness of ghost kitchens and shift toward delivery-based models will lead to ongoing growth.
“The fundamentals were in place long before COVID – we were seeing delivery naturally grow 20% year over year,” says Kristen Barnett, chief operating officer at Zuul Kitchens, a ghost-kitchen operator in New York. “While COVID accelerated that trend, we believe the growth will continue. Ghost kitchens will continue to grow as restaurants seek out efficient use of capital to grow their business in ways that are now made possible by these new platforms.”
"I was able to rent space at a ghost kitchen a short while back in Omaha, Nebraska," says Martin Bros. Chef Steve Tiezzi. "It was fully functional. All I had to bring was food. I was able to meet with a group of chefs in a great space. We met, ate, cleaned up and left. It was very simple."
Key Points About Ghost Kitchens
- Minimal cost for a startup investment, and a great way to build a guest list and clientele.
- You can learn and grow before signing short- or long-term leases.
- Way to test a market with new products and menu rollout to find out what works well and what does not.
- Able to more easily change the menu as often as you want.
- A perfect way to operate solely on digital/social media promoting and ordering.
- Much lower overhead as restaurants continue to struggle with staff, supply and inflation.
- Opportunity to not be held back by one or more expensive brick and mortar locations.
What does the future of Ghost Kitchens look like?
Virtual, delivery-only brands will continue to grow as operators seek to make more efficient use of their own kitchens. An operator that has a strong lunch business, for example, could add a virtual brand – their own or a concept licensed from another provider – to add a dinner-delivery component to their offerings. Or they could seek to reach a different consumer segment – perhaps a higher-income consumer with a more upscale virtual brand, or vice versa.
Dozens of virtual, delivery-only brands opened during the pandemic, and more continue to be on the way.
"Looking ahead to 2030, the forecast is that ghost kitchens will hold a 50% share of takeout, delivery and drive through, with an increase in ready to cook/reheat meals," says Tiezzi. "I believe we will see more regional food and farmer market focus here in smaller communities supporting local businesses. And I do believe we will see more automation as this movement gains traction."
"I am going to keep a close eye on the rise of ghost kitchens compared to restaurants opening and closing the next few years," Tiezzi continues. "I can see many people thinking they have always wanted to open their own restaurant and that the concept of ghost kitchens may be coming at a great time to test the waters and learn what running a foodservice establishment is all about."