I hosted a panel on dark kitchens at the MAPIC FOOD 2019 event in Milan today. Together with Ajay Lakhwani, VP of Special Projects at Deliveroo, and Stéphane Ficaja, General Manager of UBER EATS for Europe, we discussed what dark kitchens mean for the restaurant industry.
What are dark kitchens?
The term ‘dark kitchen’ (also known as cloud kitchens or ghost kitchens) is relatively new and usually refers to a unit or container in an industrial area preparing food for delivery. Restaurant operators usually have their own staff and cooking areas within the dark kitchen but the space itself is owned by a third party (often a delivery operator).
The pros of using dark kitchens
- Lower costs: The operator doesn’t have to worry about rent, shop-fitting or design, or other property-related costs with dark kitchens. Highly sought-after locations with high footfall and top-class staff are expensive to find and keep. If you don’t have to accommodate diners, employ waiters, or invest in decorative furnishings, then you obviously face considerably fewer costs.
- New channels to market: Dark kitchens can be seen as an opportunity to expand via delivery to areas without incurring the costs of a fully-functioning restaurant.
The cons of using dark kitchens
- A loss of control and consistency: Even if you man the dark kitchen with your own staff, the logistics involved in delivery can affect the quality of the food that your customers end up eating. You may grow top line, but you need to consider if delivery will impact the quality and consistency of the food delivered.
- Decreasing your brand value: Modern diners are willing to pay a premium for a brand that they recognize and value, but what if you remove the actual on-site guest experience that helps to create that brand? If customers never come into one of your restaurants because you don’t have one in their area, how does that impact on their understanding of what you offer? Do you charge less for delivered food?
So, what considerations should you make when looking into dark kitchens?
- How do you package your food to ensure the food arrives fresh and at the correct temperature?
- How do you ensure your delivery partners deliver excellent service?
- How will you price your menu given the contrast in experience between an actual restaurant and having food delivered?
- How do you attract new customers and encourage loyalty without a physical presence?
- Who owns the customer, their data, and the relationship?
- Who takes the blame when service doesn’t come up to standard?
It is important to weigh up the extent to which these considerations will affect the way that guests view your brand and whether the lower cost and location benefits are worth moving to ‘the dark side’.
Dark kitchens are nothing new
The truth is, the concept of a ‘dark kitchen’ isn’t all that new at all, if you think about it. If you collect food from your local takeout, you’re often faced with a counter that backs onto the kitchen doors. No tables and no atmosphere. And many of us don’t even get that far – if we order delivery as opposed to collection we never even get to see the building.
Undoubtedly the model works but not for every concept - think long and hard if dark kitchens could help you. Learn how Oracle Food and Beverage can help grow your restaurant across multiple channels - visit our website or email us at email@example.com.
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