What is a Dark Kitchen?
A dark kitchen, also known as a cloud, virtual, remote, commissary and ghost kitchen, unlike a traditional restaurant, is a professional kitchen that only produces food for delivery. It contains the kitchen equipment and facilities needed to prepare food but has no dining area for customers. The dark kitchen business model easily enables the creation and transitioning of a brand concept to be able to target specific demographics.
These remote kitchens are ideal for delivery-only food businesses, for use as a startup kitchen or as a central production unit.
Dan Warne, the managing director of Deliveroo UK explains: “The whole idea is to help restaurants expand into new areas without necessarily having the same cost-base they would have in expanding on the high street.”
The Rise of Virtual Kitchens
Hundreds of dark kitchens are now operating all over the UK with the majority in London and online orders and deliveries are now accounting for around 30% of sales in the food industry.
Restaurant owners are deciding to add a delivery brand to their existing brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen. Taking advantage of an existing kitchen by incorporating a delivery-only restaurant can capitalise on the in-house offering.
Dark Kitchen: the future of takeaway?
The ability to offer multiple cuisines from the same kitchen space is one of the key attractions of a dark kitchen. A subsidiary of Deliveroo – Deliveroo Editions – has developed a network of dark kitchens, located off-site from restaurants to increase the options available to customers and to extend the reach to new places.
The platform also supports the restaurant industry by allowing new chefs to launch for the first time. Uber founder Travis Kalanick has invested in a large number of dark kitchens in London to cater solely to takeaway orders with apps such as Uber Eats and Just Eat.
With the success of the dark kitchen, we will soon see more big brands and organisations trying out their own vertically integrated restaurants and ghost kitchens.
Running a Ghost Restaurant
To get your virtual restaurant up and running, firstly and most essentially, commercial kitchen space is required to rent during operational times. Your licensed brand or concept will need exposure and visibility on a delivery app, delivery supplies such as kitchen equipment and ordering of ingredients and division of labour. Get all the top tips for renting a commercial kitchen with Dephna’s ultimate guide.
Food Quality and Food Safety
With the delivery market booming, to stay ahead of the curve, it’s essential that your delivery-only kitchen abides by the rules set by the Foods Standard Agency and achieves the highest rating on the food hygiene rating scheme. By providing perfect conditions for food to be stored and prepared it will arrive with the customer at the intended temperature for it to be safe and enjoyable to eat.
Local Authority Regulation
Food production is regulated at the local level by your health department. As dark kitchens are still a fairly new concept, regulators may be unfamiliar with the design. It’s important for them to understand the expected requirements of a food service business without sit-in customers.
The Benefits of Dark Kitchens for Restaurants
- Lower Operational Costs: the restaurant industry is notorious for having very high overheads. The cloud kitchen model allows the restaurant to avoid the expense of renting a restaurant space and instead focuses solely on the food, also eliminating the need for service staff.
- Flexibility & adaptability: cloud kitchens can operate from anywhere; no need to chose an expensive prime location and are able to easily adapt to seasonal demand. Smaller businesses can even benefit from joining online delivery marketplaces such as Deliveroo or Uber Eats, eliminating the need to develop their own apps for sales purposes.
- Automation: businesses can also benefit from increased efficiency due to the automated sales process and the ability to focus on food preparation processes rather than service. This efficiency is necessary for food scale-ups and larger companies.
- Food Quality: healthy, high-quality food is essential for today’s customers, hence the reason many of these kitchens have dedicated their marketing to better quality foods at a lower price.
- Technology: cloud kitchens have access to user data and real-time adaptability to determine demand in specific areas.
Cloud Kitchen Business Models
The “traditional” dark kitchen
When one brand owns or rents a single kitchen location and specialises in a single type of cuisine and relies on delivery apps.
Takeaway dark kitchen
Similar to a traditional setup but additionally allows customers to wait for and collect their food.
Multi-brand dark kitchen
To keep operational costs down, multiple brands share one kitchen under one parent company.
Aggregator-owned dark kitchen
Food delivery app aggregator channels are also using the dark kitchen models to offer an empty kitchen space for businesses to rent.
Outsourced dark kitchen
In the most recent addition to the cloud kitchen business model, a restaurant is able to outsource as many processes as they wish to before applying the finishing touches themselves.