A ghost kitchen on Halloween night might refer to a kitchen that's haunted. But for our purposes, "ghost kitchen" refers to a new term coined after restaurants were forced to close during the pandemic. Other words being used include:
- Virtual restaurant
- Virtual kitchen
- Ghost restaurant
- Dark kitchen
- Shadow kitchen
- Cloud kitchen
- Delivery kitchen
- Delivery-only restaurant
Whatever term people use, all refer to the same type of business -- a commercial kitchen with no dining room.
The reason for ghost kitchens
Rather than go out of business, as was what ended up happening with many mom-and-pop eateries during the pandemic, many restaurants pivoted and started delivering food to customers.
Some of these restaurants became ghost kitchens -- the kitchen part of the restaurant with no dining on premises (and no waitstaff) -- and some would-be restaurants opened as stand-alone kitchens only, never dealing with a dining room at all. Turns out there might be a place for the ghost kitchen concept, even post-pandemic.
Eating at home
People have been ordering pizza and takeout Chinese food to eat at home for decades. Now, however, any type of food is available to order and be delivered to the home via a delivery app like DoorDash, GrubHub, Uber Eats, and Postmates. These apps don't represent businesses that prepare food; they act as middlemen and facilitate the process of connecting customers with food preparation businesses.
All this variety of food delivery is made possible partly through ghost kitchens, physical spaces that prepare food for off-premises dining. When people order food using an app, the food could come from a brick-and-mortar restaurant, or it could come from a ghost kitchen that has an online presence only and no restaurant for people to actually go to.
A centralized kitchen
A ghost kitchen doesn't need to be just one brand or type of restaurant, although it could be. A ghost kitchen could also be a shared commissary space with multiple types of food providers all working from the same large kitchen.
These commissary types of places are typically located in industrial areas on the outskirts of town, where rent is cheaper. Since these "restaurants" don't have people coming to them, they don't need to pay the expensive rent downtown spaces normally fetch. Chefs of ghost kitchens simply prepare the food people order and then pay a delivery person or service to bring it to them.
In a new type of partnership, some existing restaurants hurt during COVID-19 and are still not receiving the volume of customers they used to are now renting their existing kitchen space to new ghost kitchen operators. This brings in additional revenue to existing restaurants and helps launch the new ghost kitchen brand.
The future of ghost kitchens
Ghost kitchens became popular during the pandemic, when people didn't want to or couldn't dine inside. And it looks as though their popularity will remain even after the pandemic is over, adding another dimension to the restaurant industry.
Millennials and Gen Z are the biggest users of food delivery services. This demographic likes the convenience of ordering their favorite foods, having it delivered to them, and paying for it right from their phones. And you can't blame them, especially if they were raised eating food in front of the TV or while gaming. In fact, 24% of Gen Z order takeout three or four times a week, according to a study conducted by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and the Center for Generational Kinetics.
The Millionacres bottom line
According to Restaurant News, "51% of Americans use delivery services to purchase meals from casual dining restaurants, and 26% order takeout or delivery at least once a week." It looks as though a business that got traction during the pandemic will be here to stay.
Ghost kitchens, by whatever name they're called, provide a service that most people will use, if not regularly, at least from time to time. So there's nothing scary about this type of ghost.