The rise of food delivery gave birth to an entirely new concept: the dark kitchen. While a growing number of consumers order their food through third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Doordash, Foodora, and so on, most of them might not even know their meal was prepared in a dark kitchen. So what are these dark kitchens?

 

Many names, one concept

Dark kitchens are also known as virtual kitchens, cloud kitchens, ghost kitchens or delivery-only restaurants. While we may use different names to refer to the dark kitchen, the concept remains the same - these kitchens sell meals exclusively through delivery. Rather than cooking for eat-in diners, cloud kitchens cook purely for delivery, so the food that is produced there can only be consumed elsewhere.

It's the success of online ordering players such as Uber Eats, Glovo, Just Eat and many more that paved the way for dark kitchens. These third-party delivery channels enable food businesses to easily connect with customers and quickly deliver meals to their doorstep. Getting food out to the customer has become easier, even for smaller, single restaurants - a change which has led to an increased offer to match the ever-growing demand.

With online platforms intervening, all face-to-face contact between the restaurant and the customer is disappearing. Needless to say, cloud kitchens must harness cutting-edge technologies and new marketing techniques to reach and keep their demanding audiences.

A range of benefits for restaurants

Not having to provide customer seating and waiting areas significantly lowers the cost of rent and additionally, there's no need to hire serving staff either. Ghost restaurants are therefore a great way for restaurants to reduce overheads while increasing their capacity to cater to the increased food delivery market.

Another key value in the dark kitchen model is the ability to easily experiment with new brands, menus and concepts. There are no physical premises to take into account when consumer food trends change, so delivery kitchens can quickly move on to a whole different menu or concept in no time. If a brand isn't landing, they can quite simply create a new one and try again.

With the rise of the dark kitchen come different business models to manage them. Some restaurants pool resources in a multi-restaurant dark kitchen model, while others prefer to cook in their own private ghost restaurant, albeit cooking different brands. Some dark kitchens are owned by aggregators, some are restaurant-owned, and others may even be fully outsorced. Anything goes!

Automating and optimizing the delivery process is crucial to the success of delivery kitchens. When working with multiple delivery partners, all of which have their own systems, and possibly for multiple brands, streamlining delivery management will help to get the food out to the customer in as little time as possible.

What drives this new restaurant type?

Less free time, the rise of online business models, a fixation on convenience and personalized experiences: these are just a few elements that influence almost every industry today – including the food business. The demands of digital-age consumers combined with new technologies are transforming the way restaurants operate from the kitchen floor and up.

Pizza delivery boxes

Technology

Technology has changed the consumer market incredibly in the past couple of years. Today, you can order a product or service from the other side of the world, personalize it, and pay for it online within seconds. Some time after, the product is delivered at the requested time and place. This phenomenon has also been adopted by the food business. It’s the dawn of a new era, where food is ordered via apps and ready meals are delivered at a convenient place and time.

Millennials as consumers

Born between 1981 and 2001, millennials are the consumers that drive the market in almost every sector, including the food industry. Millennials grew up around and with technology and the convenience of applications. For them, waiting is not an option as they are used to overnight shipping, instant online payments and worldwide communication at all times of the day. The food, beverage and restaurant industry needed to reinvent itself to serve millennials and comply with their demands. This is where dark kitchens fill in the gap. 

With the food delivery industry booming - a trend which is expected to continue to grow in the future - cloud kitchens are on the rise. We’re at the dawn of a new restaurant era - an era where ‘dark kitchen’ will become a common term.

Isabelle Hanet
By Isabelle Hanet

Proud vegetarian