“Perhaps we should stop using the term ghost kitchen. Ghosts are rarely seen, but ghost kitchens? Well, they are popping up everywhere.”
Spoon Editor Chris Albrecht was half-kidding when he wrote that line earlier this week, but he might have been onto something. Ghost kitchens, a concept that only really started turning heads one year ago, are practically unavoidable these days in a conversation about the restaurant industry.
In the past few weeks alone:
- Foodservice distribution giant US Foods launched its own ghost kitchen service that will provide restaurants “guidance and resources” to open their own kitchens.
- Gig economy engagement platform ShiftPixy unveiled a ghost kitchen incubator that connects restaurants with physical kitchen space and the tech to run a ghost kitchen.
- Dubai-based iKcon, raised $5 million to expand its kitchen network and the proprietary tech stack that goes with it.
- Fat Brands announced that Johnny Rockets, a brand it intends to purchase for $25 million, will expand via ghost kitchens, many of them inside the kitchens of other Fat Brands restaurants.
- Sweetgreen said it is testing the ghost kitchen concept out by working from a Zuul kitchen in NYC.
And those are just the highlights.
What’s noteworthy here is not that a bunch more restaurants and food industry companies have hopped aboard the ghost kitchen train. It’s that there are a fast-growing number of options when it comes to where and how a restaurant can open a ghost kitchen. With a company like iKcon, for example, a restaurant’s ghost kitchen essentially becomes a franchisee. Renting space from Zuul or another third-party kitchen provider is another way. Operating one brand out of the kitchen of a sister brand is perhaps the most intriguing concept on this list, and one we’ll see a lot more of in the future.
Add to all that choices around location, technology, and figuring out if they even have enough demand to warrant a ghost kitchen, and restaurants have a lot to consider in today’s off-premises-centric world.
What’s more, those restaurants are being forced to consider their choices when it comes to ghost kitchens. The pandemic has decimated the dine-in business for both large restaurant chains and smaller independent businesses. Recovery from the fallout will be slow, and the idea of most customers returning to brick-and-mortar restaurants seems less possible each week. Given those factors, more restaurants will have to consider either supplementing their existing operations with ghost kitchens or pivoting their entire model to a virtual, delivery-only one.
I suspect this is just the beginning when it comes to types of ghost kitchens that rise out of the ashes of the on-premises restaurant experience. We’ve already seen restaurants employ countless amounts of creativity when it comes to running a restaurant during a pandemic and trying to create a concrete restaurant experience out of virtual tools. With the pandemic still very much a part of our lives, we will now see that creativity head for the ghost kitchen.
SipScience Raises Money to Reinvent the Bar
SipScience, a data analytics company specifically for the hospitality industry, is preparing to launch itself into the contactless payments realm by launching a new platform, Sip.
According to a press release sent to The Spoon this week, there are two sides to Sip. The consumer-facing one comes in the form of an app that connects to a user’s digital wallet. The app lets said user find nearby bars and open a tab from their own mobile device, through which they can order and pay for drinks. When it launches, Sip will be available at participating bars and venues across the U.S. Bonus: those who sign up for a subscription will get half off their first 50 drinks ordered through the app.
For venues, such as bars and restaurants, the app is a new way to drive more traffic, and the accompanying SipSync analytics engine gives these places more data on in-venue customers. Brands, too, are provided with real-time purchasing data, which is not something a payments app normally provides.
The company said this week it had raised $1.3 million in SAFE notes. There is no official launch date yet for the app, which makes sense, given the state of in-person hospitality venues. Bars in many states remain closed, as to venues built to hold hundreds of people.
Granted, no sane person would spend much time in a bar right now. But SipScience’s news suggests that folks start flocking back to their local watering holes, they’ll find a far more tech-driven experience waiting.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
Starbucks launched a digital traceability tool this week that lets customers learn more about their coffee, including where it came from and traveled, and the farmers and roasters involved in production.
Domino’s is hiring 20,000 more employees. That’s on top of the 10,000 the pizza chain said it was hiring right after the pandemic hit, and just goes to show you that the company’s delivery-centric business is alive and thriving.
Grubhub has launched an online petition to commission fee caps and is reportedly going to run an ad campaign that calls the fee caps “food delivery taxes.” Grubhub says fee caps result in higher costs for consumers and ultimately hurt restaurants.
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