The Guide to Dark Kitchens: Everything you need to know
Have you ever heard of dark kitchens? If not, don't worry, we've got you covered. Our Guide to Dark Kitchens will help you understand everything there is to know about them. We will cover several topics related to dark kitchens and shed some light (pun intended) on each of them. Check out the list of topics we will cover below.
What is a dark kitchen?
The concept of dark kitchens revolves around selling meals exclusively through delivery. Thus, they are kitchens optimized for food delivery. Typically, these kitchens are located where there is high demand for food delivery. Characteristically, dark kitchens are fully equipped with everything the staff needs to produce food. These also have no sitting capacity for customers as they demand staff to focus solely on food delivery.
What is the difference between a dark kitchen, ghost kitchen, cloud kitchen, and virtual kitchen?
No matter what name you choose, these all follow the same concept: selling meals exclusively through delivery.
Even though they are the same, different people operate these cloud kitchens differently. Established restaurant owners might rent a dark kitchen to reach people using delivery platforms, increasing revenues without drastically growing operational costs. Restaurateurs can also build virtual brands, meaning their restaurant is only available on delivery platforms rather than having a walk-in, dine-in option. No matter what you call it or how you decide to use this concept, many advantages come with it.
Dark kitchen vs. Commercial Kitchen
Commercial kitchens can be used as a dark kitchen space. As a dark kitchen prepares meals exclusively for delivery or pickup, commercial kitchens can be used to prepare these meals. Commercial kitchens are spaces where chefs can cook without investing in equipment, as these kitchens are already fully equipped and functional.
Although commercial kitchens can also be used for caterers for events or chefs who want to try different recipes, these can also be rented as dark kitchens.
What are the benefits of dark kitchens?
Although ghost kitchens are relatively new, they are here to stay. On top of offering a low-risk, high-return benefit to restaurateurs, these kitchens are flexible and adaptable to many markets, allowing the brand to expand its reach to new customers. Moreover, the start-up costs of dark kitchens are considerably lower than that of traditional restaurants, as dine-in is not an option.
Like everything, they have their flaws. Traditionalists might dislike the lack of in-person contact with their culinary experience, and even operators might find it tricky to manage menus on several online delivery platforms.
Advantages of dark kitchens
Lower start-up costs and operational costs
The most obvious benefit of a ghost kitchen compared to a traditional restaurant is the lower entry barrier and ongoing costs. Rent is lower for two reasons:
There is no need to accommodate guests
Your virtual kitchen doesn’t need to be in a central location
Most are located in suburban residential areas to have access to more customers. Moreover, this makes it easier for suppliers to reach your dark kitchen.
Improve sales with multiple brands.
The ability to simultaneously target multiple market segments with laser precision is another significant advantage of cloud kitchens. Data drives these restaurants, so they continually aim to optimize anything they can to be more effective in what they are offering. This could be adapting what your customers need or how to plan your next move if a competitor is planning a new opening.
Additionally, one dark kitchen could be running many different brands. Out of one cloud kitchen location, you could have a sushi shop, a burger joint, and a desert place, for example. This enables you to target different demographics while benefiting from economies of scale.
Less staff is needed.
As you are not running a dine-in restaurant, the staff required to operate your virtual kitchen is significantly lower than running a restaurant. All you need are chefs who will cook your delicious meals!
Flexibility and agility
Building from previous points and having multiple brands means you are flexible to different demands throughout the day or year. You can see what works and doesn’t throughout your dark kitchen as you have a great deal of data. Thus, it is easy to see where you can make changes to optimize your revenues.
Through the pandemic, we have seen the importance of flexibility within this marketplace. Ghost kitchens are built to be adaptable.
All roads lead to better margins.
All these advantages lead to better margins. Having access to eye-opening data means that you can improve efficiency. For example, you can predict high and low demand levels, which means you can adapt the amount of staff working at your cloud kitchen.
Disadvantages of dark kitchens
Lack of a physical storefront
Not having a physical location can make it hard to cultivate a fanbase for your brand (although not entirely impossible). However, third-party delivery providers help you by providing active users. Although this is a competitive market, you can easily thrive if you have a thorough strategy.
Reliance on delivery platforms
Third-party delivery platforms are often crucial to the success of your dark kitchen. They provide customers with great meals. However, if the delivery platform does not provide you with customers, it is essential to have your digital presence to avoid a huge disaster!
Complicated menu management
To maximize sales potential, virtual kitchens tend to use multiple delivery platforms. However, this comes with a hefty amount of work. Uploading images, writing descriptions for meals, updating the menus, and managing the pricing across the delivery apps can be time-consuming and draining for staff. This sounds like an extensive effort for one restaurant; imagine if you are running four in your cloud kitchen - what a nightmare! Luckily, we have just the solution for you.
How to start a dark kitchen?
Starting something new can seem challenging at first.
But don't worry: we have you covered.
As with any business, a clear plan is essential. Formally describe your dark kitchen concept and your proposal for running the company. Identify your USPs (Unique Selling Propositions). As well as helping you market your product, this will help your brand to attract potential investors.
There are plenty of extensive resources online for writing effective business plans. However, keep the unique operations, needs, and considerations of dark kitchens in mind as you put yours together. Bringing a partner to your operations might also prove highly efficient.
As previously stated, an expensive location near centers of action isn’t as crucial for a dark kitchen as a dine-in restaurant. However, it’s critical to be easily reachable by your suppliers and delivery partners.
Dark kitchens are growing rapidly in popularity, meaning there are more options for well-equipped shared kitchens that you can rent. Or, if you notice an area restaurant that closes after lunch, it may be possible to negotiate to use the kitchen space during closed hours. Creative, disruptive business models like multi-restaurant kitchens, outsourced cooking, and multiple outlets can win you precious time, money, and customers.
Before investing in equipment, get a good idea of the functional layout of your chosen location. How much space do you have/will you need? Where are the electrical outlets? How is water supplied? Will you need extras to bring power and water to the right places?
Consider the type of cuisine you specialize in – your equipment will depend heavily on your needs. Are there niche appliances to source? Do you want to reduce reliance on specific energy sources such as natural gas? These questions are things to consider before purchasing equipment for your dark kitchen.
A well-designed marketing strategy is a dark kitchen’s best friend. Almost all contact with customers will be online, making online marketing approaches indispensable. Ensure a strong presence on social media platforms and generate regular buzz surrounding your brand and your unique meal offering. Post professional, mouth-watering images of your food, as customers rely almost entirely on pictures to purchase.
In addition to your online presence, investing in offline marketing materials can also boost sales. For example, catering at events can attract new customers by providing them a superb eating experience.
The dark kitchen industry
Although this industry is relatively new, it is growing very fast. The concept of having locations dedicated to food delivery is highly attractive to restaurateurs due to the multiple advantages that dark kitchens possess. The global ghost kitchen market is predicted to almost double from 2019 to a staggering $71.4 billion industry by 2027.
The dark kitchen business model
There are six types of dark kitchen models. Although you may be in the dark about them right now, knowing how they work and their outcomes is crucial for the success of your virtual kitchen. Understanding the different dark kitchen models is critical to knowing which suits your business model and is the first step to starting your dark kitchen!
A traditional dark kitchen is when one brand owns or rents a single dark kitchen location, usually specializing in one type of cuisine. Traditional dark kitchens tend to rely on third-party delivery channels for business.
Multi-brand dark kitchen: This is when multiple brands share one cloud kitchen under a parent company. The brands offer different cuisines and dishes while sharing the kitchen and equipment. This ecosystem allows them to maximize efficiency and keep operational costs low.
Takeaway dark kitchen: These kitchens are similar to the traditional ones, except they allow customers to wait and collect their orders.
Aggregator-owned dark kitchen: These kitchens are when delivery service providers (Doordash, Uber Eats, and Deliveroo +) offer a fully-equipped kitchen for restaurants to rent. These brands can focus on cooking meals while the kitchen owner operates everything else. Many small kitchens can then run in one larger kitchen space.
Aggregator-owned dark kitchen plus: Similar to the prior, this model provides everything and more. Aggregators provide more infrastructure and optimize the kitchen process. This may also include a storefront similar to that in the takeaway model.
Outsourced dark kitchen: These kitchens outsource anything they can, meaning that the people working there only have to add the finishing touches to the meals. This is more customer-facing as it allows the team time to focus on delivering a flawless meal.
How much does a dark kitchen cost?
Many factors come into play when discussing the cost of a dark kitchen. Firstly, this depends on where you are looking to rent/buy a dark kitchen. For example, a dark kitchen in central London will cost significantly more than in the suburbs due to land value. However, once you have covered rent, the operational and maintenance costs are low. Like other industries, the revenue in the first year tends to be lower than in the following years; however, dark kitchens appear to have high revenues after the 1st year.
Although costs might be high, there are simple ways to reduce them:
Perform regularly scheduled maintenance
Incorporating maintenance checklists
Adding condition monitoring
Here's what our customers have to say
How to market your dark kitchens?
Marketing for dark kitchens is pivotal to success as there is no storefront. Digital marketing is your way to create customer loyalty and grow your business. We know this can be hard, but we highlight some tips to help your dark kitchen.
So, where can you start? Increasing your social media presence is becoming vital, as customers turn to these media to get to know a brand. Paying attention to reviews is now critical as they are your business’s (virtual) storefront and can lead to great referrals. Making your menu more attractive by focusing on branding and easier management is also a way to promote your dark kitchen.
These few tips are here to help you get your brand out there. If you have the best food in the world and no one knows about it —what’s the point? We want to make sure this doesn’t happen.
What platform do you need to run a dark kitchen?
Point of Sale
Dark Kitchen Examples
"Our orders go directly to the kitchen display system, and our team is able to focus on the food and delivery prep".
“Whenever we need help with the integration, we can count on our account manager. I must say that Deliverect’s customer service is one of the best things so far - we always get a fast reply, even on weekends.”
“It ultimately gets the ticket to the kitchen faster, speeds up our ability to deliver food to our guests, and also with that speed and that customer satisfaction, we’re able to grow our business because we’re seen as more efficient.”
Revolutionizing Virtual Brands: The Power of Popchew and Deliverect's Partnership
Popchew is a plug-and-play platform connecting content creators with ghost kitchens and restaurants, facilitating virtual brand launching and operation across the U.S. Now, with the help of Deliverect, restaurants and ghost kitchens throughout the country can efficiently process thousands of delivery orders daily, boosting their bottom line.
Our Guide to Dark Kitchens should have taught you everything you need to know about Dark kitchens. You’ve learned about the advantages and disadvantages, how to start a dark kitchen, how to market a dark kitchen, and seen some fantastic examples of dark kitchens working with Deliverect.
Data drives a dark kitchen's success by allowing you to see trends and adapt to increase your revenues. Deliverect will enable you to see all this data and makes it simple for you to see the critical information straight away as we know that as a restaurateur, you don’t always have time to analyze all the data coming in. We are also constantly improving based on customer feedback - so if there’s anything that could facilitate your work, please let us know.
If you want to know how Deliverect can help your business specifically, book a guided tour, and one of our experts will give you all the details.