The term “ghost kitchen” has surged in popularity over the past year. In this first section of The Beginner’s Guide to Ghost Kitchens, we outline what a ghost kitchen is and what sets it apart from the rest of the dining industry.
Ghost Kitchens: A Definition
A ghost kitchen is a food facility that operates exclusively for online and delivery orders. Instead of offering seating at a brick-and-mortar restaurant location, ghost kitchens are used for to-go food, cutting out the overhead and expenses of a physical dining location. Orders are placed through online food ordering platforms. The kitchen then prepares the food, which is dispatched to the customer’s location.
Ghost kitchens are an example of the food industry’s evolution beyond the traditional restaurant. While ghost kitchens still serve food, there is no front of house, waitstaff, or storefront. They allow restaurateurs to diversify through takeout and curbside options, while still giving customers what they want.
Features of Ghost Kitchens
The basic idea behind the ghost kitchen model is to provide customers with an optimized to-go menu for off-premise consumption. Essential characteristics of a ghost kitchen include:
- No physical presence — customers do not eat on premise
- Less risk than a physical restaurant — startup and operational costs are lower
- Minimal waste — inventory costs and food waste are reduced
- An adjustable menu — menu changes are made on the fly based on demand
Dual Benefits: Savings and Growth
Because of their simplified operations, ghost kitchens employ only a few chefs. They need fewer tools and resources than traditional dining. There are no chairs to put up; there’s no lobby to sweep at the end of the day.
Since the focus is on preparing food, many ghost kitchens operate in areas with lower rent costs. (That said, it’s a good idea to find a relatively high-density area to operate in — and deliver to.) Some are located in nondescript factory buildings. As long as they can serve their customers, they can generate a profit.
Ghost kitchens are designed to capitalize on shifting customer behavior. Customers are ordering online more, and restaurateurs are looking for ways to reduce costs. Ghost kitchens are the sweet spot where customer and restaurant needs overlap. They allow entrepreneurs to optimize, while giving customers a convenient way to get the food they love.
The Difference Between a Ghost Kitchen and a Virtual Restaurant
Ghost kitchens are also known as dark kitchens, cloud kitchens, delivery-only restaurants, commissary kitchens, and shadow kitchens. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with “virtual kitchen,” “virtual restaurant,” or “virtual brand,” although there are some notable differences between these terms.
In this guide, we provide guidance on how to launch a delivery-only food business. We’ll refer to that as a “ghost kitchen” for simplicity and consistency.
A ghost kitchen is a facility that supports virtual brands — that is, brands that sell exclusively through food delivery apps. Ghost kitchen companies, such as Kitchen United and Cloud Kitchens, provide kitchen space for rent. For example, Kitchen United has a turnkey model whereby kitchen space is offered with complete cooking implements and appliances. Other companies in the ghost kitchen space include Virtual Kitchen Co. and DoorDash Kitchens.
Virtual restaurants, unlike ghost kitchens, do not rent from third parties. Instead, they have their own established brick-and-mortar locations, where they use their kitchens for delivery-exclusive menus. A virtual restaurant is often tied to a specific restaurant brand. Ghost kitchens can be used for multiple brands.