While technology was already ushering in a new era of food delivery before 2020 arrived, the logistical necessities of takeout in a pandemic hurried things along. As employment shortages and public-facing sanitary requirements added additional hurdles to fast food and fast casual offerings, new solutions arose alongside the food delivery app revolution: ghost kitchens. Streamlined, scaled-down food preparation points intended to work closely with food delivery services, these virtual kitchen locations worked to speed up meal prep while reducing overhead costs for their brands and operators. The next logical step in that evolution? Bringing together the two sides into one cohesive unit.
Doordash has essentially led the charge in terms of the "heavy hitters" in food delivery, willing to put their money where their mouth is - literally - when it comes to this unique operational strategy. So why would Doordash, an already-prosperous app-based food delivery company, take the leap into the roots of ghost kitchens? While it may seem like they're uncharacteristically anchoring themselves in an ever-moving industry, versatility still reins supreme.
They have several compelling reasons to delve into a hybrid approach to food prep and delivery, all of which support both their own company and those they work with:
The Doordash network, as a whole, encompasses a staggering number of local restaurants and "mom and pop" eateries alongside nationwide brands. While this gives the company an edge when it comes to reaching a wider audience, it can also be something of a headache when it comes to quality control. Outside of their direct supervision, the company has to rely on feedback from food delivery customers to determine if a restaurant is taking an unusual amount of time to prepare food, or if there are persistent quality issues. With a self-assembled ghost kitchen, Doordash can hand-pick high-demand providers, standardize their restaurant tech, and keep a watchful eye on operations for several restaurant providers at once.
When a delivery driver isn't sure where to make their pickup, or has trouble finding a restaurant, that delay can lead to soggy or unappetizing food. This can occur even if the food was prepared fresh at the time: some popular options, like french fries, can be particularly unforgiving. Late or "old" food leads to customer complaints, which lead to refunds, which over time lead to less business. Because drivers can find easy parking and hassle-free pickup at a Doordash-branded, multi-provider ghost kitchen, that ease translates to happier - repeat - customers.
While overall consumer hunger for fresh new food ideas is fairly robust, tight budgets and soaring overhead costs can make even a great restaurant idea difficult to get off the ground. Pop-up style eateries do take some of the financial pinch out of starting up, but finding a short-term lease and equipment in a desirable area is still an uphill battle for cash-strapped restaurant startups. Ghost kitchen and virtual kitchen opportunities, particularly those with the clout of delivery services behind them, help bridge the gap. While some commitment is needed, the threshold is typically a lot more financially palatable for new entries - money saved that can translate into more capital for ingredients, menu experimentation, and advertising to build momentum. Additionally, several new restaurants working side-by-side in a ghost kitchen may be able to take advantage of group orders, ideas, restaurant saas recommendations, and other innovations.
When a fast food giant scouts a new location in the middle of a quiet, but promising neighborhood, they're almost guaranteed to face pushback. While residents like the idea of easy, inexpensive food, they often balk at the idea of a huge set of golden arches being erected a few blocks down. Ghost kitchens, by their nature, are meant to be far less flashy than their sit-down-and-dine restaurant counterparts, making them a better fit in many suburban areas. While there is arguably a bit more traffic flowing in and out of the lot for deliveries and pickups, even multi-restaurant virtual kitchens are still considered less of an "eyesore" by many. Some local governments have also incentivised local restaurant cooperation with delivery apps to minimize pandemic issues - it's a win-win proposition.
The virtual kitchen trend is no longer a trend, per se - it's actually transformed into an entirely new way of doing business. While it might have begun as a way to add in flexibility to a brick-and-mortar restaurant path threatened by pandemic woes, it's become a whole new discipline for aspiring restaurateurs to explore. Armed with the right technology and a finger on the pulse of public demand, ghost kitchens are serving up something that everyone can dig into - delivery services, customers, and restaurant owners alike. While the face of delivery apps may grow and change in the future, the framework they've ushered in is here to stay - for seconds, thirds, and beyond.