In a world where in-person dining isn't exactly what it used to be, ghost kitchens present an alternative that works for owners and diners alike. VK's do away with fancy dining rooms in favor of a delivery-only model. Chefs whip up delectable recipes and use Chefs whip up delectable recipes and use delivery services to put their creations in the hands of consumers. Entrepreneurs reap the benefits of lower overhead and a drastically streamlined business model while the hungry masses enjoy access to stellar food at reasonable prices.
If you're thinking of launching your own ghost kitchen startup, use this checklist to guide the planning process and double-check whether your VK is ready for operation.
1. Choose a Concept
If you want to create a ghost kitchen, the first step is to figure out what your concept is all about. Are you going to do a new riff on fast food? Will you specialize in Asian street food or French classics? Perhaps Texas-style barbecue is your passion, or you make sandwiches better than anyone you know.
When choosing a concept, it's vital to consider not only what you or your chef love to cook and eat but also what your target demographic likes and how much they will pay. Market research will tell you if there are any gaps in local food service that your VK could fill. Other factors, such as location, matter too. Opening a ghost kitchen in a college town could be an invitation to create a three-tier concept that includes quick-bite breakfast food, sack lunches, and late-night snacks that'll suit students whether they're partying or studying.
2. Design a Menu
Your ghost kitchen menu is your calling card. It's what every potential customer will scan before they decide whether to place an order. Create dishes that sound delicious but also keep behind-the-scenes details like cost of goods, labor/prep, ingredient utility and equipment requirements in mind. For high volume establishments, which ghost kitchens typically are, it's usually better to stick to a simpler, one-page menu rather than offering so much variety that it becomes difficult for your cooks to keep up and for customers to make a decision.
3. Decide How You Want to Operate
When you decide to create a ghost kitchen, there are couple different approaches you can take.
The first is to build a ghost kitchen from scratch in your own private space. This option gives you the most control over your space, your people and the overall atmosphere. If you want to play heavy metal from open to close, you can. Perhaps you have a specific idea of where you want your kitchen to be or how you want things setup. If you're a loner or highly independent thinker who prefers to work alone (or with a small staff), going solo could be your best bet.
Another more collaborative option is to build or join a cloud kitchen. Cloud kitchens are kind of like hospitality communes; a group of restaurants all share the same space which also means they share the bills, many of the resources and even advice. Cloud kitchens can also be one restaurant running multiple brands.
You may want to start small and independently and grow into a multi-unit entity or community commissary or you may start in a cloud kitchen and realize you want more autonomy. Both are fine, but you must start somewhere and commit until you have a chance to scale.
4. Line Up Your Finances
There are many ways to finance a restaurant. You can self-fun, get a line of credit, bring investors on board or a combination of all the above. However, you want to find money, you'll need a lot of it. It can take a few months to really get going, and you'll want to be able to cover expenses while you're fine-tuning your processes and attracting a larger audience.
5. Put Up a User-Friendly Website
When you build a ghost kitchen online, your website becomes the heart of your business. After all, this is how customers will find you, learn what you're all about and eventually (hopefully) place an order. For all that to happen, you need a website that works seamlessly, especially on mobile devices. Include all the important information such as:
- Restaurant name
- Phone number
- Email address
- Hours of operation
- Link to online ordering
You can also include a little bit about your chef, concept and inspiration. The more customers get to know you the more opportunity for connection and, eventually, loyalty. Loyal customers spend more money so it can greatly benefit your business to establish a rapport early on.
6. Choose an Online Ordering System
All your careful menu planning and strategic shopping is useless if you don't have an idea as to how you'll handle orders. Investing in a ghost kitchen tool that manages online orders is a must. The right user-friendly platform will talk care of everything from 86s and refunds to up-charges and prep times. It's all done in real time so you can swap out guesswork in favor of having your finger on the pulse of your VK 24/7.
Even if you decide to partner with a third-party app like Uber Eats or Postmates, an in-house online ordering system can further streamline operations by bringing all those partners under one umbrella. Instead of switching between apps and trying to coordinate everything manually, your new online ordering manager will do it for you.
7. Marketing Plan
If a ghost kitchen opens and nobody knows about it, you can't expect too many people to start phoning in orders. A great marketing plan for your ghost kitchen will boost visibility and help your brand get traction. Think of it as a first impression except you're trying to impress hundreds or thousands of people at a time.
- Launch a website that's user friendly, responsive and nice to look at
- Set up branded social media pages so you can get the word out ASAP
- Share a combination of scheduled and timely posts so people can get an idea of what you're serving and get motivated to order more often
- Start an email list to communicate specials, menu launches, changes in hours or delivery areas, and even the kind of food you serve
Whether you're launching your VK from scratch or transitioning from a traditional restaurant to a ghost kitchen, being prepared is more than half the battle. Use the list above to keep yourself on track and you'll have all your ducks in a row in time for your much-anticipated grand opening.