Virtual kitchens still remain one of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry. They initially began in 2018 but became widely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the national shutdown, restaurants weren't able to have customers dining in. Restauranteurs decided that they would shift the business model to accommodate the changes that were going on.
Instead of just shuttering up, like almost 100,000 restaurants did during the first six months of the initial shutdown, these restaurants moved to a model focused solely on take-out and delivery. They finetuned the menu offerings, which whittled down the menu considerably. Menu items that didn't fare well during transportation were slashed.
Some people thought that virtual kitchens would go away as restaurants began to reopen in a more normal fashion. However, restauranteurs have discovered that keeping virtual kitchens going is still wildly profitable.
A virtual kitchen is simply one that doesn't have an eat-in dining space. Some virtual kitchens are now offering franchise opportunities to investors and restauranteurs. These are often housed in full-service restaurants or fast-food establishments. Some national restaurant chains have established virtual kitchens within their own kitchens. For example, Chili's now has It's Just Wings as its virtual kitchen, and Wing Stop has Thigh Stop as its virtual kitchen.
There are also virtual kitchens that aren't affiliated at all with the restaurant that houses it. Restauranteurs are renting or leasing out unused or little-used spaces to virtual kitchens. This helps the main restaurant by creating a source of revenue when the store is usually not profitable, and it helps the virtual kitchen owner by providing a space that meets current foodservice codes where they can prepare customer meals. These independent virtual kitchens have the added benefit of being able to take advantage of keeping up with the current restaurant food trends.
One important note about these virtual kitchens is that many are now integrating their menu offerings with the restaurants they're housed in. This is a lot easier when the virtual kitchen is a sub-business of the main restaurant. It's possible with other virtual kitchen models, but it might be a bit more complex.
Many people are pulled to the possibility of opening a virtual kitchen because the model seems easy, but there are still risks. Being able to balance out the risks and the benefits of virtual kitchen ownership is important for those who are going to try to build a successful virtual kitchen in their area.
The most basic virtual kitchen models have many benefits that may entice you into either entering into an established virtual kitchen franchise or starting your own virtual kitchen.
The risks of a virtual kitchen aren't as pronounced as the ones with a traditional kitchen. Still, these are important to consider when you're trying to decide if a virtual kitchen is a good business venture for your needs.
The ideal candidate for virtual kitchen ownership has several characteristics. These are all focused on being able to balance the needs of their business with the satisfaction of the customers they're serving.
One of the biggest decisions you have to make when you're thinking about opening a virtual kitchen is trying to decide what type to open. The main difference between opening a franchise and venturing out on your own is that you'll have support and experience on your side if you choose a franchise.
Starting a virtual kitchen franchise means that you're accepting the knowledge of the franchisor. They'll handle many aspects of the business model for you so you can focus on running the virtual kitchen. The downside to this is that you don't have as much control over things like the menu items. You have to be willing give up some of the control of the virtual kitchen in exchange for participating in a proven business model with a well-known name.
If you want to have complete control of the virtual kitchen, including the menu offerings, the virtual kitchen franchise option might not be the best for your needs. The downside to venturing out on your own is that you're starting from scratch and won't have the recognition of an already-established brand.