A ghost kitchen is a professional food and meal preparation facility that operates like a conventional restaurant kitchen. Instead of providing a dine-in space and serving customers, ghost kitchens only fill delivery and catering orders. Also called a dark kitchen, virtual kitchen, cloud kitchen, or delivery-only restaurant, these establishments lack storefronts and indoor seating.
They also lack location-based branding and may function as a food preparation space for different and competing restaurants. Ghost kitchens are a relatively new concept in the foodservice industry. They have become more widely utilized with the growth of meal delivery services. Although ghost kitchens are mainly intended to fulfill delivery orders, some are also functioning as take-out, take-away, and drive-through locations.
Dark Kitchens Vs. Cloud Restaurants
Dark kitchens are not to be confused with a virtual foodservice concept that’s known as a ghost restaurant, cloud restaurant, or satellite restaurant. They do, however, share many similarities with ghost kitchens in the way they fulfill only delivery orders and do not operate any dine-in or table service to customers. Cloud restaurants will prepare food in existing restaurant spaces during periods of no or low-capacity dining, such as during the lockdown periods of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This enables existing restaurants to maintain business and continue to utilize their space, labor, and ingredients to serve customers under a variety of brands. Recent examples of virtual and cloud restaurants are Neighborhood Wings, The Burger Experience, and Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings, which operate out of the kitchens of Applebees, Chili’s, and Chuck E. Cheese, respectively.
Cloud restaurants advertise to local customers through food delivery apps, directories, and other digital sources. Once orders are placed, they are fulfilled by the existing kitchen staff and delivered through the meal delivery service. Since the return of full capacity dining and the end of lockdowns, cloud restaurants many continue to operate in ghost kitchens.
The Ghost Kitchen Concept And The Food Service Industry
Ghost kitchens and restaurants have increasingly affected the food industry. They grew as food delivery services have become more widely used and restaurant closures and restrictions resulted from the Coronavirus. There are now more than 1,500 ghost kitchens located in the United States and thousands of others operating globally.
For corporate restaurant brands, the ghost kitchen concept has been highly profitable. Ghost kitchens require considerably less overhead to operate compared to dine-in, take-out, and food trunk based establishments.
The cost of real estate, labor, equipment, and other business essentials is substantially less than what’s needed for conventional restaurant operations. Although they have been lucrative for some brands, the ghost kitchen concept and its implementation have been subject to scrutiny and criticism.
Concerns have arisen over a lack of transparency in the marketing of establishments that give the impression of a traditional restaurant despite having no brick-and-mortar dining or pickup locations. Instances of poor working conditions in some ghost kitchens, particularly those set up in windowless industrial spaces that are not regulated or licensed to operate as a food preparation space have also been uncovered.