Applebee’s just became the latest restaurant chain to hop the ghost kitchen bandwagon. In an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Steve Joyce, CEO of Applebee’s parent Dine Brands, said the company was “experimenting” with the concept.
To be honest, the development isn’t terribly surprising. At the end of 2019, we predicted that ghost kitchens would become “the norm” for larger restaurant chains, since they not only to help them fulfill more delivery orders but also to let them reach areas of the country where they might not have a brick-and-mortar presence. Chick-fil-A is a good example. The company has expanded its presence in Northern California — where it has few brick-and-mortar stores — by renting space in DoorDash’s Redwood City ghost kitchen facility. Doing so lets the chain reach a potentially wider audience without having to invest the time and money into building out full Chick-fil-A locations.
Dine Brands’ Joyce suggested his company is looking into a similar strategy for Applebee’s, telling NRN that he’s hoping to use ghost kitchens to increase Applebee’s presence in “underserved cities,” particularly those in the Midwest. He also said the company was looking into different kinds of ghost kitchens: operating its own as well as partnering with third-party kitchen providers.
My crystal ball tells me Applebee’s probably will team up with DoorDash to realize at least some of its ghost kitchen ambitions. The chain already has a national delivery partnership with the service. Renting out space in DoorDash’s ghost kitchen facility could greatly expand Applebee’s presence in the California Peninsula area, where currently it only has a few locations.
As for the rest of the country, Applebee’s would have to partner with another provider. Kitchen United has open locations in Chicago, Southern California, and Phoenix, and has more facilities in the works. Zuul Kitchens is currently focused on the NYC area, as is Kitopi.
Whether restaurants should be betting their entire off-premises strategies on VC-backed ghost kitchen facilities is a debate for another day (stay tuned). For its part, Applebee’s has said it is looking into a combination of ghost kitchen types, which means it isn’t going to rely solely on third-party providers. Glancing a moment into the longer-term future, that’s probably the smartest bet right now for big restaurant chains.