Are the benefits of ghost kitchens more spectral than real?
Ghost kitchens are one of the operational innovations that have experienced a drastic increase in interest thanks to the surge in online ordering triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some experts in the foodservice world, however, say that the benefits of ghost kitchens might be more illusory than real for many restaurants.
Despite their growing popularity, operators continue to be uncertain about how well ghost kitchens (AKA “cloud kitchens”) work and for whom, as The Spoon’s Jennifer Marston points out. Ghost kitchens and their ability to facilitate digital ordering and pickup orders emerged as a natural fit for the pandemic because, during lockdowns, delivery and carry-out have represented the only way for restaurants to do business.
However, some have pointed out since March that ghost kitchens may not be ideal for restaurants with no foundational customer base and brand recognition. Ms. Marston details other concerns as well: ghost kitchens could take away from the appreciation of individual chefs and their creativity in higher-end restaurants, could tie restaurants to expensive and limiting deals with third-party delivery services and could contribute to the problem of packaging waste.
Ghost kitchens were already on their way to prominence, particularly in fast-food, before the pandemic, with Wendy’s in late 2019 naming the fulfillment model as central to its planned expansion, according to Business Insider. Around the same time, Chick-Fil-A, Sweetgreen and The Halal Guys announced a partnership with ghost kitchen startup Kitchen United to run some delivery operations from a shared kitchen.
More recently, Chipotle announced that it was opening a pilot “digital-only restaurant” which, like a ghost kitchen, would function solely to fulfill online and mobile pickup orders and would have no dine-in options.
The restaurant space is not the only area where ghost kitchens, cloud kitchens and other new methods of food pickup and delivery fulfillment have grown increasingly popular.
In late 2019, Kroger announced that it would begin utilizing dark kitchens to facilitate speedier food delivery in three urban and suburban test markets. Kroger rolled out the service in partnership with ClusterTruck, a third-party vendor with its own menu of delivery options that has been operating since 2016.
- 2020: The Year the Ghost Kitchen Got Complicated – The Spoon
- ‘Ghost kitchens’ are taking over fast-food chains from Chick-fil-A to Wendy’s – Business Insider
- Will Kroger’s dark kitchens cook up something good? – RetailWire
- Chipotle’s expansion plans include adding ‘digital-only’ restaurants to its menu – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the industry overplaying the potential of ghost kitchens? What determining factors make ghost kitchens a good option for restaurants and how might that change post-pandemic?