Perhaps we should stop using the term ghost kitchen. Ghosts are rarely seen, but ghost kitchens? Well, they are popping up everywhere.
Case in point: Foodservice distribution giant US Foods announced this week the launch of US Foods Ghost Kitchens. The new service will provide guidance and resources to help restaurant operators open up their own ghost (AKA dark or virtual) kitchens.
For the uninitiated, ghost kitchens are facilities that house delivery-only restaurant concepts. While ghost kitchens have been around for a while, the trend really picked up steam when the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants around the country to shut down dine-in operations.
Off-premises formats like delivery and takeout have been something of a lifeline for restaurants, the majority of which can now only operate dining rooms at reduced capacity (if they can seat anyone at all). Additionally, the pandemic has kept a lot of people at home, ordering in. Ghost kitchens allow restaurants to keep making and serving food without the additional overhead associated with building out full-service brick-and-mortar restaurants. Euromonitor recently projected that the ghost kitchen space will be worth $1 trillion by 2030.
That US Foods would want a part of that market is not surprising, but it also needs restaurant brands to stay alive. The pandemic has forced the closure of a staggering number of restaurants around the country. US Foods can’t sell food, supplies and consulting services if its customers are all gone.
Plus, as my colleague, Jenn Marston wrote last month, winter is coming for restaurants. Literally. That means the outdoor seating options restaurants have been able to set up to scrape a few extra summertime bucks out of, are going away as the weather turns. Restaurants will need to lean into delivery because unlike summer, this pandemic is not going away anytime soon.
According to the press announcement, US Foods Ghost Kitchen service will include proprietary technology, proper menu item identification (a must for wanna be ghost kitchens), marketing support and other consulting services. The company’s website claims that restaurants setting up a ghost kitchen through this new program will need less than $5,000 and can open within three weeks. How well that promise matches reality remains to be seen.
US Foods, however, is entering a competitive market with a number of established players including Kitchen United, and Zuul. One competitive advantage for US Foods is that it’s already a national company that has extensive relationships with existing restaurants, and the aforementioned companies operate in pretty limited geographies. There is, in other words, still a lot of upside in the ghost kitchen space, and US Foods can see it.
If you want to look into the future of ghost kitchens, you should check out The Spoon Plus Guide to Ghost Kitchens, written by our very own Jenn Marston.