The Guide to Dark Kitchens: Everything you need to know
Have you heard of dark kitchens? Here is the perfect place for you to grow your understanding about all-things dark kitchens. Our Guide to Dark Kitchens will tell you everything you need to know to become an expert! We are going to shed some light (pun-intended) on several topics related to dark kitchens. You can see all of the 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 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 chose, 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 decide to rent a dark kitchen to reach people using delivery platforms, increasing their revenues without drastically increasing their operational costs. Restaurateurs can also build virtual brands, meaning that 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 having to invest 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 to be dark kitchens.
What are the benefits of dark kitchens?
Although the concept of cloud kitchens is 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 within 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 barrier to entry and lower ongoing costs. Rent is lower for two reasons, 1) there is no need to accommodate guests, and 2) your virtual kitchen doesn’t need to be located 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 still benefiting from economies of scale.
Less staff is needed
As you are not running a dine-in restaurant, the amount of 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, having multiple brands means that you are flexible to different demands throughout the day or year. As you have a great deal of data, you can see what is working and what isn’t throughout your dark kitchen. Thus, it is easy to see where you can make changes to optimize your revenues.
Through the pandemic, we have seen the importance of being flexible 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.
As with any business, a clear plan is essential. Formally describe your dark kitchen concept and your proposal for running the business. 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 on a partner to your operations might also prove to be highly efficient.
As previously stated, an expensive location near centers of action isn’t as important for a dark kitchen as it is for a dine-in restaurant. However, it’s crucial to be easily reachable by your suppliers and delivery partners.
Dark kitchens are growing rapidly in popularity, which means that 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 its closed hours. Creative, disruptive business models like multi-restaurant kitchens, outsourced cooking, and multiple outlets can win you precious time, money, and customers.
Before making investments 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 are specializing in – your equipment will depend heavily on your needs. Are there niche appliances to source? Do you want to reduce your reliance on specific energy sources such as natural gas? All of 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 you have 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 make their buying choices.
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 with a superb eating experience upfront.
For more details, make sure to check out 10 steps to start running your own virtual kitchen.
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 are crucial for the success of your virtual kitchen. Understanding the different dark kitchen models is key to knowing which suits your business model and is the first step to starting your dark kitchen!
Traditional dark kitchen: This 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 full-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 let us shine some light on a few tips we think would help your dark kitchen.
So where can you start? Increasing your social media presence is becoming vital, as customers are turning into these media to get to know a brand. Paying attention to reviews is now critical as they are the (virtual) storefront of your business, and can lead to great referrals. Making your menu more attractive by focussing on branding, and easier management is also a way to make 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?
Although all delivery platforms are suitable for dark kitchens, here are some of the features that you might want to look at.
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.
Using QR code platforms may also be beneficial for your dark kitchen. By using QR code, customers in bars, restaurants, hotels and more can order items and make payments online, achieving a contactless ordering experience.
As a Dark Kitchen, you could also run your own food delivery service. This could help you be less reliant on third-party providers and help you to create your own branded delivery experience through our delivery drivers.
Point of Sale
Similarly to delivery partners, there is no correct answer for which POS you should work with. The partner you choose should reflect the needs of your dark kitchen. We have put together a few things that might help you out.
Having a POS system that helps you deal with your stock is important, especially as a dark kitchen. You might not realize how much you are using and 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.
Dark kitchens run on data (and cooks), and having a dashboard to easily track key statistics 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.
Although we always hope that things go well in your restaurant, sometimes something happens and you need some help from a support team. Make sure that the POS system you work with is able to readily give you help depending on your needs so that your operations are as efficient as possible.
Dark Kitchen Examples
“I can create and update menus and add new products without having to go on site. It’s very convenient for Uber Eats and Deliveroo, and I hope Takeaway.com will be available for menu synchronization soon!” - Amerigo Delli Bove, General Manager at Casper
“Our revenue has grown significantly since we've partnered with both Deliverect and the different food delivery platforms. We feel that being on multiple platforms was possible only if we had a system like Deliverect, which centralizes all orders and forwards them to our POS." - Cedric Hanet, co-owner of Greenway
“Thanks to our partnership with Deliverect, we are able to decrease the likelihood of human error that would result from working with several different software and tablets.” - José Fabregat, co-founder and CEO of Food Haven
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 amazing examples of dark kitchens that are working with Deliverect.
The success of a dark kitchen is driven by data as it allows you to see trends and adapt to increase your revenues. Deliverect allows you to see all this data and makes it simple for you to see the key 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 demo and one of our experts will give you all the details.