Dark Kitchen, Virtual Kitchen, Virtual Restaurant, Ghost Kitchen--What's the Difference?

As restaurants continue to adapt to the ever-evolving demands of diners, new and often unexpected food trends are changing the way we eat. Dark kitchens, virtual kitchens, virtual restaurants, and ghost kitchens are all terms that have been used with some confusion to describe recent developments in remote dining. But does anyone actually know what these terms mean? Take a look at some of the core concepts behind these new types of business model, and get an in-depth understanding of how they are changing the restaurant world today.

Key Concepts

This restaurant revolution is big business for merchants and food world entrepreneurs eager to give these new types of businesses a try. While they have many features in common, including online ordering and food delivery systems, there are also a few key differences, outlined below.

Brand Ownership

Remote dining businesses can vary widely in terms of how they relate to the brand name they operate under. While dark kitchens produce their own food under their own brand, the kitchen-as-a-service model was developed to prepare food for other brands, allowing larger businesses to keep up with demand. For those unfamiliar with the concept, this can lead to confusion, as many types of ghost kitchen may or may not have a public-facing brand at all.

In-House vs Outsourced

Another key factor in understanding ghost kitchen terminology is the question of labor. While traditional restaurants have their own cooking and serving staff on site, this is not necessarily true for remote dining businesses. For example, virtual kitchens aren't involved in kitchen operations at all, and instead relying on remote teams to produce the menus the create.

Understanding the Terminology

Brand ownership and outsourced labor are the two key factors that differentiate some of the basic restaurant types below. However, it's important to understand that these terms are still new, and many people use them in different ways, depending on the context.

Dark Kitchen

Some say dark kitchens are the original version of the trend, where new or existing restaurants lease pre-existing kitchen spaces. They bring their own equipment, labor, and brand, to prepare menus of their own design. In many ways, they operate in much the same way as a traditional kitchen, with the difference of delivering food to remote diners, rather than operating a physical dine-in space.

Virtual Kitchen

The term 'virtual kitchen' is in some ways a misnomer, as they are not technically involved in kitchen operations at all. Instead, they focus on developing brands and menus, which can then be prepared by outsourced labor in remote spaces. By helping promote name recognition and customer loyalty, they are a good compliment to kitchen-as-a-service models.


The kitchen-as-a-service model is the polar opposite of the virtual kitchen. They own equipment and hire cooking staff to produce food for one or more third-party brands. While the average diner may not be aware of the existence of kitchen-as-a-service businesses at all, they regularly consume the foods prepared at them, under a variety of more familiar brand names.

Kitchen Aggregator

Kitchen aggregators are some of the most hands-off businesses in the restaurant industry, using data driven technologies to bring foods to homes across the country. Examples are well-known food delivery systems like DoorDash and Uber Eats. While they don't have their own kitchens or food staff, they play a crucial role in getting meals to hungry mouths.

What About Virtual Restaurants and Ghost Kitchens?

Both 'virtual restaurant' and 'ghost kitchen' are simply a catch-all terms that can refer to any of the virtual brand business models described above. What they have in common is the ability to receive orders from remote diners, fill those orders via partially automated systems, and deliver them, all in the absence of any public-facing dining space.

The Factors That Make Ghost Kitchens Possible

Of course, dark kitchens, virtual kitchens, virtual restaurants, and ghost kitchens would not be possible without several technological and social factors. As diners continue to crave meals that can be delivered directly to their door, the importance of data-driven technologies becomes even more important. How these these factors will continue to shape the existence of ghost kitchens into the future remains to be seen.

Finding a Ghost Kitchen Near Me

It's undeniable that ghost kitchens have left their mark on the global restaurant industry, changing the way diners get food, and the way business owners think about preparing it. Most experts agree that ghost kitchens are here to stay, so if you're looking to tap into the trend for yourself, chances are you won't have much trouble. As the popularity of these dining hotspots continues to rise, more and more people are interested in getting involved.

If you're looking to get started on your own ghost kitchen, contact the Cuboh team for in-depth information on how to scale your operation.

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