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.

  1. What is a dark kitchen?

  2. What are the benefits of dark kitchens?

  3. How to start a dark kitchen?

  4. The dark kitchen business model

  5. How much does a dark kitchen cost?

  6. How to market your dark kitchens?

  7. Best platforms for dark kitchens

  8. Dark Kitchen examples

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 choose to operate these cloud kitchens in different ways. Established restaurant owners might rent a dark kitchen to reach people using delivery platforms, increasing their 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 go to cook without investing in the 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 cloud 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:

  1. There is no need to accommodate guests

  2. 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 along the way by providing you with active users. Although this is a competitive market, if you have a thorough strategy, you can easily thrive. 

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, in the unlikely event that the delivery platform is not providing you with customers, it is important 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.

1. Create your business plan

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.

2. Pick a safety-checked location

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.

3. Purchase the right equipment

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.

4. Develop a marketing plan

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!

  1. 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. 

  2. 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

  3. Takeaway dark kitchen: These kitchens are similar to the traditional ones, except they allow customers to wait and collect their orders. 

  1. 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. 

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 


Now that you know all about the types of dark kitchen options available and their advantages and disadvantages, you can decide which will best suit your brand.

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?

Delivery Platforms

Ease of menu management

Certain third-party delivery providers make changing your menu difficult. Going through their channel is not efficient and very time-consuming. To familiarise yourself with the features of different third-party providers, you can browse their website.

QR Code Compatibility

Using QR code platforms may also be beneficial for your dark kitchen. Using QR codes, customers in bars, restaurants, hotels, and more can order items and make payments online, achieving a contactless ordering experience.

Own delivery provider

You could also run your own food delivery service as a Dark Kitchen. This could help you be less reliant on third-party providers and help you create your own branded delivery experience through our delivery drivers.

Point of Sale

Inventory Management

A POS system that helps you with your stock is essential, especially in a dark kitchen. You might not realize how much you are using, so keeping track of it and being alerted when stock is low might reduce the chance of unfortunate mistakes, such as people ordering items that aren’t available due to a lack of stock.

Insights

Dark kitchens run on data (and cooks), and having a dashboard to track key statistics easily might be highly beneficial. For example, if you want to know which delivery channel brings you the most customers, you can have a look at your POS or our Delivery Management App.

Support Availability

Although we always hope things go well in your restaurant, sometimes something happens, and you need help from a support team. Ensure that the POS system you work with can readily give you help depending on your needs to make your operations as efficient as possible.

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Dark Kitchen Examples

Casper

"Our orders go directly to the kitchen display system, and our team is able to focus on the food and delivery prep".

Food Haven

“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.”

SPIN

“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.