How Ghost Kitchens Can Help During The Coronavirus
Off-premise delivery has taken on a new dimension since the onset of the novel coronavirus; It’s now the sole means of operation for restaurants around the world. Everyone is struggling right now to figure out the best way to endure the pandemic, which has yielded new solutions from alcohol delivery to pivoting to groceries and beyond. Because of the rise in delivery options, ghost kitchens have become an indispensable feature of the restaurant world. With a ghost kitchen, you can isolate your kitchen workers from the public, allowing them to focus on off-premise delivery options (again, the only choice for now). Let’s look at how ghost kitchens can help during the coronavirus.
The Not-So-Spooky History of Ghost Kitchens
Also known as “cloud,” “dark,” “delivery,” or “virtual,” ghost kitchens are a relatively modern concept developed over the last few years to meet the rise in off-premise delivery orders. For better or worse, third-party delivery services boost delivery sales, which has, in turn, increased the need for separate kitchens to keep up with demand. As that demand grew, separate kitchen operations opened, sometimes as an appendage to a larger operation, and sometimes as a cooperative between brands. Now, many brands have ghost kitchens to help facilitate off-premise needs, which has proven a benefit during the current crisis and will remain an asset afterward as a means of safely operating your business.
Optimizing For Off-Premise
According to data culled from ConnectSmart Kitchen and DineTime, in house traffic has ground to a halt, down 100%. Now that we’re focused exclusively on off-premise, is there anything you can do to help optimize your workflow with your existing tech stack? First, who is doing the delivery work? Are you using in-house or third-party delivery? Many restaurants are still offering curbside or carryout, which isn’t feasible for a ghost kitchen, especially if there is no storefront or brick-and-mortar operation. So either you need to ensure a location for hand-off, or you are moored to delivery. If you have a larger operation, you might transition your existing front-of-house staff to a delivery service. Check with local law to see if there are any rules or regulations for legal delivery.
Part of evaluating your operation for efficiencies is in streamlining for speed, which involves routing. The value of a good Kitchen Display System (KDS) platform is that it can identify where your food is heading, whether that’s delivery, curbside, or carryout, or, once we persevere the pandemic crisis, in-house traffic. Let’s look at how a dynamic system requires fluidity between integrations to run as smoothly as possible.
It’s important that your ghost kitchen operations can communicate back and forth. Since ghost kitchens were designed specifically for off-premise, you need to make sure that you have the right API to communicate with third-party vendors or guests interested in their order status. If you have a KDS currently, check to see if you can deliver real-time order statuses to customers, hungry for a timely delivery. Also, some guest management platforms can coordinate with your KDS to aggregate your off-premise functionality, letting your delivery team and expo station know what’s going on, where, and when.
Less Is More
The beauty of a ghost kitchen is that it allows your operation to run leaner and meaner than ever before. With a ghost kitchen, you can keep your staffing minimal to the cook staff only. There is great value to that both in the immediate future and what’s to come. Right now, ghost kitchens are adequately sealed environments, void of outside contact. With the right sanitizing steps, you can both social distance and minimize any contagions, which gives peace of mind to the public and your staff.
Ghost Kitchens Lend A Helping Hand
Relative to working with less, many restaurant workers have been displaced by restaurant closures. Operations like the LEE Initiative are using ghost kitchen operations to help provide relief to staff who have lost their jobs. As such, ghost kitchens are proving their utility beyond the immediate financial benefits that the industry experienced before the fallout of the virus.
Especially since in-house restaurant closures became widely commonplace, you’ve probably heard the expression “contactless delivery.” The aptly named practice is a means of getting the food to your guests without either your driver or your guest coming in contact. Make sure that you have a means of paying digitally, ideally through the phone or through a web portal, so that the payment also is contactless. And whatever you do, make sure you leave a way for people to tip, which is crucial to any employees still working.
Keep it Simple
Whether you’ve switched from necessity, or you want to start something fresh, keep your menu lean to make it easy to transport your goods. For example, you might not want to offer a lot of soups, but if you do, make sure that you have the means to transport your goods. Consider menu engineering and basing that around your most popular items. Whether you work with a third-party delivery service or not, check to see if you’re listed. If you have elected to work with a third-party, consider that the costs can be high, and build that into your pricing through your menu items.
Don’t get overwhelmed when considering your options for getting started. If you are a smaller operation, you can transition immediately and seamlessly into a ghost kitchen, which as of this writing is a necessity. But once we’ve passed through the COVID-19 crisis –and we will get through this together– ghost kitchens will continue to have value. You can open your ghost kitchen on-premise if you have space, or rent space if that’s possible. You can even share space with existing restaurant operations by operating at opposing hours, or rent space to share with multiple partners at once. For example, you might run a late-night delivery service in a breakfast restaurant without much overlap.
Knowing how ghost kitchens can help during the coronavirus is critical to your long term success. Are you running a ghost kitchen right now? We’d love to hear about your experience. Sound off in the comments below and share your story.
Want the scoop on everything related to COVID-19 and the restaurant industry? We’ve got you covered. Subscribe to our award-winning blog to get weekly updates on the most buzzworthy restaurant industry topics.
About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. He’s at home like the rest of the world right now but finding time to play with the kids and create art.