The definition of “ghost kitchen” is changing rapidly as more restaurants go off-premises and even non-restaurant food entities, like grocery stores, hop onboard the trend.
But as was discussed during our ghost kitchen strategy panel at SKS 2020 this week, the common denominator beneath all shapes and sizes of ghost kitchens is the technology powering them. As Ashley Colpaart, CEO of The Food Corridor, said on the panel, ghost kitchens are all about “going direct to the consumer through technology platforms.”
Joining Colpaart and myself were Michael Schaefer, global lead for food and bev at Euromonitor, and Bolt Kitchen CEO Nick Avedesian. Everyone agreed there is a lot of technology being thrown at restaurant owners and ghost kitchen operators nowadays. This makes sense because, as Schaefer said, more of our dining experiences are getting mediated by the smartphone. Keeping that in mind, panelists pointed to a few different areas of tech that are especially important to the ghost kitchen operation right now.
One is software that can integrate the many different channels orders flow through from customer to kitchen. Most restaurants, large and small, work with more than one delivery partner, which causes a deluge of different orders from different channels in what’s commonly referred to as “tablet hell.” Using a delivery integrator (Olo and Chowly are two such companies) lessens the chance of an order getting lost in translation on its way to the kitchen and, Avedesian said, creates “a better experience for your staff.”
It’s not just the back-of-house that needs optimizing, though. Colpaart mentioned the need for “the shopping experience” — that is, the experience a customer has finding and ordering from a restaurant — to be as easy as possible. Along the same lines, restaurants themselves will need technologies that can help them become more visible in this brave new world of online delivery marketplaces and virtual food halls. Some solutions, like Lunchbox, are working very closely with restaurants on this visibility and marketing aspect.
Then there’s delivery, one of the restaurant biz’s most controversial topics right now. Among the (many) griefs with third-party delivery services a la Uber Eats and DoorDash right now is that restaurants can’t control their own branding or customer experience through these platforms. Some white label delivery services, like DoorDash Drive, are emerging to address this. Avedesian said said we will see a lot more of these white label, custom-branded solutions in future.
We may also see more delivery go in-house at restaurants. That trend was actually happening long before the pandemic, with Panera being a notable early adopter of the practice. Now, panelists said everyone from large enterprises to mom-and-pop shops are considering the native delivery experience. One group we may see doing this in large numbers in future is QSRs like the aforementioned Panera or Panda Express, which recently launched its own delivery program.
Not discussed on the panel but something that sprang to my mind is this: Is this shift to native delivery creating an opportunity for restaurant tech companies to improve the in-house delivery experience? And will those innovations be enough to disrupt third-party delivery as we know it?
Stay tuned on that one.